49ers offer Montana old job as starter Seifert reverses field concerning MVP Young

April 19, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers decided yesterday to give Joe Montana not only what he wanted, but also a lot more. In a stunning change, the team said Montana could have his old job back as the starting quarterback. Montana is expected to accept the offer today, ending months of speculation about his future.

News of this latest twist came just one day after trade talks between the 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, Montana's team of choice, broke down, and only three days after coach George Seifert restated his long-held position that Steve Young, last year's NFL MVP, was the starting quarterback.

Seifert said the decision to name Montana as the starter was his -- and his alone.

He said he realized last week that initially naming Young as the starter was wrong, and that Montana, though he has played only one half of one game in the past two years, still deserves the position.

Owner Ed DeBartolo Jr. relayed that news to Montana during a meeting Saturday at DeBartolo's home in Youngstown, Ohio.

Montana's reaction? "He was stunned," said 49ers president Carmen Policy.

DeBartolo and Montana are close, with a relationship that goes beyond the normal warm feelings between a star quarterback and the owner. But Seifert, who recently agreed to a two-year extension as 49ers coach, running through the 1995 season, said DeBartolo did not pressure him into reinstating Montana as a starter.

"I feel like Joe can play," Seifert said. "Joe is healthier than he's been in a long time, and he deserves the shot if he's going to be with the club."

Young, who is undergoing law school finals at Brigham Young University in Utah, did not return a phone call seeking comment. But his agent, Leigh Steinberg, took the latest news with surprising equanimity, saying, "The fact that the organization is being solicitous of Joe's feelings, we understand."

Montana and DeBartolo flew back to the Bay area in a private plane yesterday and met with Seifert and Policy. Policy said Montana planned to go home, talk it over with his wife, Jennifer, and make an announcement today. Seifert said he had no reason to think Montana would not accept his offer.

Until yesterday, in repeated interviews since the end of the 1992 season, Seifert identified Young as the 49ers starter. He last reiterated that stand publicly as recently as last Thursday, explaining it was a logical starting point since that's how last season ended.

At the same time, however, Seifert, Policy and DeBartolo have steadfastly maintained the 49ers also wanted to keep Montana on the team.

Policy called that an "organizational decision," adding, "although strictly football considerations might justify trading Joe, this particular scenario takes us outside of the business-as-usual proposition that we usually apply."

Through the off-season, Montana's only public demand to stay with the 49ers had been a chance to compete with Young for the starting position, not a reversal of their roles. In the absence of a so-called "open competition," Montana hardened his position that he would not return as Young's backup and sought a trade.

Seifert said he did not want open competition because it would create a circus atmosphere in which onlookers compared the performances of Montana and Young in camp every day. Seifert said he told Montana that he would not have to be looking over his shoulder every time he made a mistake.

"I told him this is not a situation where the first time he throws an interception, I'm looking to pull him out," Seifert said. "That's not the situation."

Montana, who will be 37 in June, did not play at all during 1991 and played only the second half of the final regular-season game in 1992. Nonetheless, he remained extremely popular with the fans, many of whom even called for him to be inserted ahead of Young for the playoffs last season.

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