SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The final resort for Joe Montana finally came to be: After weeks of speculation and concerted efforts to avoid the knife, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback underwent elbow surgery last evening.
A three-man surgical team -- led by 49ers team physician Michael Dillingham and associates Dr. Gary Fanton and Dr. Warren King -- performed the operation to repair his injured right elbow, beginning about 5:30 p.m. at Stanford Medical Center.
Dillingham reported the surgery, which lasted about 1 hour, 30 minutes, went well and said Montana was resting comfortably. Montana, 35, is expected to be released later today.
Team president Carmen Policy said the surgery -- the nature of which he would not detail -- and subsequent rehabilitation would mean Montana will not return this season. But Policy added the team fully expects Montana back in 1992.
"The prognosis at this point . . . is that Joe should be able to be back in full stride, maybe even stronger, next season than he was when he reported to training camp this season," Policy said of Montana, who has been on injured reserve since Aug. 27 with a torn tendon in his elbow. "And we're praying that is the case."
A similar injury and surgery performed on former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw ended his career at age 35. 49ers coach George Seifert said there is a possibility Montana won't be able to return next season.
"From what I understand, there certainly is always that chance," he said. "I'm going to think optimistic, as I've thought optimistically through this entire process."
Seifert, who initially spoke glowingly of Montana's return then became more guarded in recent weeks, said surgery was something he never really expected.
"We were wrong. It turned out to be more serious than previously thought," Seifert said.
The decision to proceed with surgery came about after Montana, the 49ers and Dillingham reviewed the second and third opinions they obtained the past two days. Policy acknowledged Montana "personally visited at least two other physicians."
The decision to proceed with surgery ultimately rested with Montana, Policy said.
Montana, who has a long history of problems with his right elbow, injured the joint again throwing a 40-yard pass in practice Aug. 13.
On Aug. 19, during warm-ups for the San Diego Chargers exhibition game, Montana again experienced pain. He did not throw again until last week, when he participated in four sessions of catch with the 49ers' conditioning coach.
Last Saturday, Montana experienced severe pain and swelling, prompting the 49ers to curtail his practices and consider surgery.
Injuries have plagued the three-time Super Bowl MVP throughout his 13-year NFL career. Yesterday's surgery is Montana's eighth, the third on his right elbow. In 1983 and 1989, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. In June 1986, it was arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. In January of this year, he underwent surgery on his throwing hand after fracturing it in the NFC championship game.