Montana runs out of elbow room in S.F.

November 19, 1992|By Michael Ventre | Michael Ventre,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- The San Francisco 49ers might occupy their customary spot atop the NFC West with an 8-2 record, but there's an unsettling piece of business that needs to be ironed out before the 49ers can move on.

Joe Montana.

You remember him. He's the greatest quarterback of all time. He's the Notre Dame comeback kid, the 49ers' legend, the idol of millions.

Right now he's out of uniform. Doesn't seem right.

Yet the 49ers have made a commitment to Steve Young to carry them into the franchise's next era. That means Montana is out of commission, whether he's healthy or not. And whether he likes it or not.

He should not only understand that, he should accept it.

The 49ers come to Anaheim Stadium on Sunday to play the Los Angeles Rams. Normally this is Joe Montana's All-You-Can-Score Buffet. Montana has never lost there as a starting quarterback. Usually the game is on a Monday night, designed so that the most viewers nationally can see Montana play. Instead, this one will be on Sunday afternoon, and much of the nation will have to wait until a highlights show to find out how Young did.

Is Montana getting a raw deal? Is it right to shove aside a god because of a little arm soreness?

First off, Montana says he's ready. The 49ers aren't convinced. They have a good thing going with Young. Why botch it? And why create a public-relations nightmare by putting Montana in a football suit on the sidelines in order to give fans the opportunity to scream for him at the slightest indication that Young is faltering?

Again, Montana says he's ready. But how do we know that? How do the 49ers know that? Montana throws at the 49ers' facility in Santa Clara under a shroud of secrecy. He throws early in the morning, before most observers arrive. He slips in, he slips out.

Lately he's been telling club officials that he's throwing with no pain. But that's what he said last summer, and since then he's had minor surgery on his elbow twice.

Meanwhile, the Niners aren't the Niners of old, but they're winning.

You don't see Young to Jerry Rice with the same frequency or effectiveness as Montana to Rice, since the offense has been modified to fit Young's skills and that has lessened Rice's role. And you see more near-interceptions than you ever have, which is something that will keep Young-bashers chanting for Montana even if the 49ers reach the Super Bowl.

But you'd better get used to it.

Montana isn't coming back to the 49ers. They don't want him. You'd have to be blind not to see the signs. They've made it as clear as they can without insulting him and causing riots in the Bay area.

Montana is 36 years old. He's had one major surgery and two minor cuts on his throwing arm in the past year. He's got two young and talented replacements ahead of him on the depth chart in Young and Steve Bono. He's on injured reserve and is scheduled to be placed on the practice squad next week, which means it's almost a cinch he'll be inactive through the regular season.

So chances are, if Joe Montana makes a comeback, it won't be this year. And it won't be with the 49ers.

He suggested as much in September. The 49ers put him on injured reserve against his wishes. Then, he whispered to those close to him that he wanted out of his contract so he could go someplace where he could play.

He should again ask out. This would be a way of saving face. Because if Montana comes back and dresses for a game, and Young goes down, the next quarterback off the bench is named Bono, not Montana.

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