Today is show time for Montana, Chiefs

January 08, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, MO — KANSAS CITY -- Joe Montana, who has done just about everything there is to do in the NFL playoffs, is now ready to tackle what might be his toughest task: making Marty Schottenheimer a playoff winner.

Schottenheimer, the Kansas City coach, and Montana, who'll play his first playoff game in a Chiefs uniform against the Pittsburgh Steelers today, are something of an odd couple in the playoffs.

Montana is one of the most successful playoff performers in NFL history.

He and Terry Bradshaw are the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls, and Montana is 14-5 in playoff games as a starter.

For Schottenheimer, by contrast, the playoffs are a nightmare.

His record in regular-season games is 94-56-1, third highest among active coaches.

In the playoffs, he's 3-7. You remember "The Drive" (John Elway's magic in the 1986 AFC title game) and "The Fumble" by Earnest Byner (in the 1987 AFC title game). Schottenheimer certainly does.

When he was in Cleveland, those back-to-back AFC title-game losses to the Denver Broncos cost him a pair of Super Bowl trips. If he had won either one of them, he probably would still be coaching in Cleveland.

In Kansas City, he hasn't even gotten that far. He's 1-3 in the playoffs -- twice losing first-round, games including a 17-0 shutout at the hands of the San Diego Chargers last year.

Schottenheimer is candid in admitting that the playoff failures are a blot on his record. The great coaches are the ones who win in the playoffs.

"In my own mind, in all honesty, yes, it does [diminish his record]. Whether it should or not is for others to decide. But in my mind, it does. A lot of people get excited about going 10-6 and going to the playoffs every year. Well, I've been there every year but one."

Where he hasn't been is the Super Bowl and he admits he thinks about it.

"Rarely, but . . . yeah," he said. "But I just keep going on. . . . My approach is very simple, very fundamental. Your charge is to win championships. If you don't do that, you're not getting the job done. The standard's very, very high."

Schottenheimer has tried to analyze where his teams have gone wrong and he has tried to make changes. The Chiefs haven't practiced in full pads late this season.

Schottenheimer is trying not to wear out his team before the playoff grind starts.

"Maybe I've been too overbearing in terms of the amount of work we do on the field. I'm a detail freak. Maybe I try to put too much information into the minds of the players. I don't know," he said.

If the Chiefs are to do it this year, it probably has little to do with pads and detail.

It has a lot to do with Montana's right arm. He was brought in to give the Chiefs a lift in the playoffs. This is his stage. Nobody doubts his credentials.

As Schottenheimer said, "You know because of his history that he always gives you a chance to win, and he always gives you a chance to make a comeback."

In a way, though, this might be Montana's toughest challenge. He's 37, played only one half the last two seasons and has been bothered with injuries.

At times, the magic hasn't been there. On Dec. 12, he couldn't rally the team in the last two minutes in Denver. His last drive went for only 25 yards and the Chiefs lost, 27-21.

On Dec. 26 in Minnesota, he passed for only 121 yards and the

Chiefs were drubbed by the Vikings,

30-10, even though they clinched the division title earlier in the day because of Broncos and Raiders losses.

"I thought I played one of my worst games," Montana said.

He did come back to complete 18 of 28 passes for 210 yards in 2 1/2 quarters in the season finale against the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday before he called it a day.

He said he thinks he has his touch back.

"You have to feel that way," he said. "We're in sync as much as we possibly could be."

But this isn't San Francisco and his receivers aren't Jerry Rice and John Taylor. They're Willie Davis and J. J. Birden, who aren't exactly household names.

"I was used to those two," Montana said of Rice and Taylor. "I am getting used to these two. It's a matter of time. They are talented. It's a matter of getting them the ball and letting them do things with it, which we haven't been able to do as much as we would like."

He also admits that there's a big burden on him. At times, even for Montana, it's difficult not to press.

"Down toward the end, all the pressure to win the division, it seems like everything was put on my shoul

ders. That's OK. I understand that. I accept the role."

The one thing the visiting team, Pittsburgh, doesn't have to worry about is pressure.

The Steelers are eight-point underdogs and had trouble just preparing for the game when a 20-inch snowstorm hit Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

With Three Rivers Stadium buried under the snow, they tried to take buses to Pitt's indoor facility. The buses couldn't make it up a steep hill and they wound up practicing in an old gym at Pitt, which is usually used for intramural basketball.

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