Joe Montana is a professional talker now, but you probably never hear him. He works the corporate circuit, giving 30-minute speeches to companies or trade associations, followed by questions. The first part is easy, but the Q&As, and the mingling afterward, can be a challenge.
Part of Montana's appeal is that he makes people feel relaxed around him, but after two hours they can get a little too relaxed. They start asking silly questions. That would put most people in an awkward position, but the reason you hire Joe Montana—the reason he is a legend—is that for him, no position is awkward. "I don't think I've ever seen him embarrassed about anything," his daughter Elizabeth says.
What kind of player does a company get for the $65,000 to $100,000 fee Montana commands? Well, in 15 NFL seasons he threw for 40,551 yards. But 12 quarterbacks (including Kerry Collins!) have thrown for more. He had 273 touchdown passes, but that's only 11th all time (behind Vinny Testaverde!). Montana's 92.3 passer rating is excellent, but nine players (including Tony Romo!) have a better career mark.
He keeps dropping lower on these lists. What does it do to his legacy? Nothing, that's what. The Montana aura is not about numbers. It is about a feeling.
Two minutes left, and you need to score: Who is your quarterback? Joe Cool, man. No doubt. The game evolves, rules get tweaked, records fall. But the feeling lingers. When Montana goes out, people flock to him, and it's not the usual hey-I-see-a-celebrity flocking.
"You may not vote for him for class president, but you certainly would get on your knees to have him as your best friend," former 49ers president Carmen Policy says. "If you had a chance to go out with anybody, anytime, and really feel good about yourself, it's Joe Montana you want to be with."
Montana retired in April 1995. That week SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's cover featured him, his wife, Jennifer, and their four children, with the billing DADDY'S HOME! Today Jennifer says, "We didn't really have a plan," except to raise the kids. They are all out of the house now. Montana fills his time with the speeches, real estate ventures—"a bunch of stuff," he says over lunch at Boulevard, an upscale restaurant near his apartment in San Francisco's financial district. He sounds content. But maybe that is just how we want to see him. His friend and former 49ers teammate Keena Turner says, "I wouldn't say content."
What does Joe Montana mean to you? He quarterbacked the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories. He won three Super Bowl MVP awards. Then he retired and ... well, he didn't quite disappear, but he isn't in your face, either. In 21st-century America that is an achievement.
Look at his best quarterbacking comps for starters. You won't have to look far. Terry Bradshaw, the only other QB to win four Super Bowls, has been goofing around on the Fox NFL Sunday set for nearly 20 years, dropping trou on the occasional movie set in his free time. Ask a football fan what he thinks of Bradshaw and you will probably hear something about his on-air personality, not his Hall of Fame playing career.
Troy Aikman, the only other retired quarterback to win three Super Bowls, is Fox's No. 1 color commentator; next February he will broadcast his fourth Super Bowl, surpassing the number in which he played.