Experience should tell 49ers that Montana isn't their No. 1 QB

April 19, 1993|By Glenn Dickey | Glenn Dickey,San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO -- In promising Joe Montana that he will be the starting quarterback if he returns to the NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers are committing suicide.

All you have to do is look at what has happened the last two seasons.

Two years ago Montana was unquestionably the starting quarterback going into training camp. Midway through, he developed a twinge in his elbow. When Montana was sidelined, Steve Young became the starting quarterback, for which the 49ers were totally unprepared.

The offense was geared to Montana's abilities, not Young's; it took the 49ers weeks before they even changed their offensive thinking to accommodate Young throwing with his left arm. That was a big factor in the 49ers' stumbling start, which eventually cost them a spot in the playoffs.

Though Young led the NFL in passing in '91, Montana was again designated the starting quarterback when the 49ers went into training camp last summer.

Again, Montana went down.

This time, the 49ers were better prepared. Young went on to become the league's MVP as the 49ers went 14-2.

So now, the 49ers are going to give Montana still another chance to let them down? It doesn't make sense.

The Montana idolaters among fans and the media act as if their hero is the same quarterback who won the MVP award in the Super Bowl four seasons ago.

In fact, though, this is a quarterback who will be 37 in June, who has played only one half of a regular-season game in two years, who has gone through six operations in that period and who was not much more than an average quarterback in the second half of his last healthy season. He is no longer mobile and cannot escape a hard rush, and anybody who thinks he can survive a season is dreaming.

If the 49ers had no other choice, Seifert would be forced to play Montana, but he has a very good quarterback in Young. It is unfair to Young to force him to prove himself all over again after an MVP year, and this move will be divisive to the team.

Some would argue that the 49ers owe Montana for the success he's brought them, and they're right -- but Montana also owes the 49ers, who have provided him with the supporting cast that has enabled him to be successful, and a system in which he has thrived. Nobody can know what Montana might have done with another club, but almost certainly he wouldn't have been as successful.

The 49ers also have paid Montana very well. The last two years, they've paid him perhaps $7 million though he hasn't played. I think they've paid any debt they owe him.

More than that, the 49ers have gone the extra mile for Montana, even before this last decision.

The reality of pro football is that athletes have not had any say in their careers, except for a handful of free agents this year. They go to the team that drafts them, and that team has the right to play them, trade them or retire them. The 49ers have had several stars -- Dwight Clark, Wendell Tyler, John Ayers, for instance -- who wanted to play longer but were told their careers were finished.

The 49ers haven't done that with Montana. Since the end of last season, their position has been that they will do whatever he wants. Though both owner Ed DeBartolo Jr. and club president Carmen Policy have said repeatedly that they'd like Joe to stay, they've also told him they would try to trade him if that's what he wanted.

There has been little interest because other clubs know how fragile Montana is. Only Phoenix, which desperately needs a high-profile player, made a good offer, the 20th pick in the first round. The 49ers sorely need that pick. The defensive player they could get with that pick would be much more help than Montana will be at this stage of his career.

This has been a very sticky situation, but the blame lies with Montana, not the 49ers. He has orchestrated this situation, using the fans to put pressure on the club.

Montana has always wanted what's best for Montana. That's not a surprising attitude for a star, and it's only fair to say that, until the last two years, what was best for Montana also was best for the 49ers.

It isn't now, and yet the 49ers seem prepared to buckle in to public pressure and let Montana make the call.


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