NEW ORLEANS -- Joe Montana vows to return to the San Francisco 49ers next year, unless his elbow does not totally heal from surgery.
However, if he is forced into a substitute's role, Montana said before the 49ers' loss to the Saints on Sunday, he would consider finishing his career with another team.
During his first lengthy interview since elbow surgery last month, Montana described the severe pains of his injury and of not having the chance to return this season.
Montana said he hoped to test his throwing arm as early as January and his golf swing by entering the AT&T Crosby afterward.
Asked about speculation that his career may be over, Montana, 35, said:
"I want to come back. I've never looked at it that way. The only way that would ever occur to me is if I did do all this rehab and prepare myself and then didn't come back to 100 percent. Then I would think about it. But, from what the doctors are telling me, that's not a problem. It will be easy for me to get back to 100 percent."
It would not, Montana said, be easy for him to assume a role as Steve Young's backup next season.
"Only if I felt I wasn't 100 percent," Montana said of serving as a backup. "If I felt I was 100 percent, I don't think I would want to sit still for being a backup."
Did that mean he would consider playing elsewhere?
"If that's what it took . . . I wouldn't go past it," he said. "[But] I don't want to go anywhere else."
Montana was on his first road trip since the operation. He signaled plays from the sideline as his buddy Steve Bono made his first non-strike start during seven years in the NFL.
The Saints won 10-3.
Montana must wear a hinged brace for the next five weeks, even though it irritates his skin. Montana said he could lift his children, but "the only thing I can't do is lift with my palms up."
He said "there's really no timetable" to resume throwing but said he "probably won't throw until after the season." After doctors repaired a torn tendon, the 49ers said Montana would not throw again until next spring.
Montana admitted to feeling "apprehensive" until he could test his elbow again. The last time he tried to throw, Montana said, he "felt like a key or a sharp object being twisted in the elbow joint . . . and a real burning feeling."
The most pain Montana feels is going through rehabilitation with no hope to return this season. Montana, who would be in his 13th season, has never missed more than eight games. That was because of back surgery in 1986.
"Recovery-wise, this is probably even worse, because I have no real chance of coming back and playing this year," Montana said. "With the back surgery, there was at least a little bit of light. Here, there's no chance of being able to come back.
"I have no doubt I'll be back," Montana said. "The only thing that would stop me is if it didn't heal. Otherwise, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't come back."
Of the state of the 49ers, Montana said:
"We've just been making a mistake here and a mistake there that have cost us close ballgames. Like last week [at Atlanta].
"There's not a whole lot you can do with a type of play like that," he said, referring to the Falcons' game-winning Hail Mary touchdown in the last minute.