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Don't Worry, He'll Be Back
Joe Montana will play again, because the elbow injury that has sidelined him for the season isn't nearly enough to TKO his career. He has come back from major surgery before, remember. In 1986, eight weeks after having undergone surgery to remove a ruptured disk and widen his spinal column, Montana threw three touchdown passes in a 49er rout of the Cardinals. If he needed only eight weeks to rehab his back, imagine what nine months will do for his elbow.
Montana will play again, because, as best as can be determined, the Oct. 9 operation to reattach the common flexor tendon to the bone in his right elbow was a success. He had partially torn the tendon while throwing in training camp, and seven weeks' rest did not heal the injury. On Oct. 5, Montana tested the elbow with short passes, but the first time he aired one out, the tendon tore completely. Two days later, team physician Michael Dillingham advised him to have surgery. With CIA-type secrecy, Montana flew to Houston and to Lexington, Ky., to get second opinions from other orthopedists. Surgery, they said. Let's do it, he told Dillingham.
Montana will play again, because, surprisingly, Dillingham found there was no additional damage when he opened up the elbow. He drilled three or four holes in the bone and tied the tendon securely. Done. Throughout Montana's career, the joint was always getting banged up and swelling to the size of a grapefruit. (In fact, several years ago the Niners insisted that Montana wear an elbow pad whenever he played on artificial turf. He hated the pad because it affected his throwing motion, and he was fined after a couple of games for not wearing it.) In addition, Montana had a bursa removed from the same elbow in 1988. But Dillingham liked what he saw inside the Most Valuable Elbow. "There was nothing else wrong," he said, "or else, obviously, we would have fixed it."
Montana will play again, because he is used to playing with pain. One former 49er teammate told SI last week that Montana had had at least 50 pain-killing injections in his right elbow for previous injuries in his 13-year career. Like any number of NFL players, Montana has taken needles to help him get through a game with an injury.
Montana will play again, because he will pay whatever price it takes in rehab to return to the game. He's not ready to quit yet. That's probably the biggest reason of all. "I got here in 1986," says offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, "and the first game in my first year, Joe went down with the back injury. I thought, I'll never have a chance to coach Joe Montana now. Two months later he was back, and he's given me five years. So there's not a doubt in my mind he'll be back."
Stats of the Week
? Redskins wideout Art Monk, whose seven catches in Sunday's 42-17 victory over the Browns gave him 756 in his career, needs to average 7.1 catches a game for the rest of the season to break Steve Largent's NFL career record of 819.
?In the 11 quarters since Jim McMahon went down with a strained knee ligament, Eagle quarterbacks Brad Goebel and Pat Ryan have thrown 10 interceptions and no TDs. Of 37 Philadelphia possessions in those 11 quarters, none reached the end zone, and Goebel and Ryan have combined for a quarterback rating of 16.4. McMahon is expected back next week.