Montana takes aim at Bills, but Young is secondary target

January 21, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

Nine months after the trade that made him a Kansas City Chief, Joe Montana hasn't exactly cut himself loose from his San Francisco roots.

The 49ers are still on his mind, if not in his heart.

"I keep up with some of the guys," Montana said this week. "I was there for too many years not to. But it's not my main goal and focus."

Then came the question about Montana's successor in San Francisco. "How about Steve Young?" he was asked. The answer was revealing.

"No," Montana said. "I couldn't care less."

Winner of four Super Bowls, two-time MVP of the NFL, the legendary quarterback still is fighting the personal war he once waged on a daily basis with Young. It was one of the few meaningful losses Montana ever suffered. In part because of injury, in part because of age, Montana couldn't hold off the Young era in San Francisco. And now, apparently, he can't forget, either.

If he can somehow pull the Chiefs through one more crucible in the AFC championship game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, he could get his shot at Young and redemption and a fifth Super Bowl ring.

Out of respect for the Bills, he walks gingerly around the issue of a Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl. But he knows the sentiment is out there because he hears it often.

"I've had a lot of calls from people wishing me a lot of luck," Montana said. "There seems to be a lot of support, and I appreciate that. If we make it, I don't care who makes it [from the NFC]. That's all I'm concerned about. Who cares who the other team is if we have the opportunity to go?"

This was the reason the Chiefs traded for Montana, 37, last April. They wanted his decision-making on offense, his steely leadership in the fourth quarter, and whatever was left of his fragile quarterbacking skills for another playoff run.

Mostly, they wanted him to show his new teammates how to win a big game in January. They had been in the playoffs the past three years without making it past the second round.

They are paying him $4.2 million this season to get over that psychological hump. So far, it's money well spent.

Overcoming a series of injuries that kept him out of five regular-season games, Montana has the Chiefs poised for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1970, when they toppled the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7.

He had a record of 8-3 in the regular-season games he started. Once he hit the playoffs, it was vintage Montana, invincible Montana. He brought the Chiefs (13-5) from behind to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Oilers, logging the 28th and 29th fourth-quarter comebacks of his career.

Joe Cool was rarely cooler than in the fourth quarter (and overtime against Pittsburgh) of those games: He completed 21 of 28 passes for 257 yards, with three touchdowns, 38 points and one interception.

In the process, he showed the Chiefs how.

"It's his poise," said running back Marcus Allen, who already knew how from his glory days with the Los Angeles Raiders. "He just maintains his poise in the worst of situations, and that's one of his greatest strengths."

John Alt, the Chiefs' All-Pro offensive tackle, agreed. "There's a calming effect in the huddle and at halftime," Alt said. "You don't want to have to come from behind. But now we know we can do it."

He does it despite appearing almost frail on the field. He took two painkilling shots for injured ribs before the Oilers game. He has a tender left wrist. He suffered a mild concussion against the Steelers. His surgically reconstructed right elbow, still swollen, has left him with less than a cannon for a throwing arm.

Still, he keeps winning the games that count most. His aura has become pervasive. But he strongly rejects the notion this is a one-man band parading into Rich Stadium.

"One of the things those guys in there [the locker room] know is that I never speak to those terms or never even think in those terms," Montana said. "They know that I know that it takes 47 guys, and we, by no means, are a one-man team.

"The one thing I've always said is the defense is the mainstay of this team, period. People tend to overlook it because other things make better headlines."

After sitting out most of two seasons after elbow surgery, Montana appreciates one more chance to show he's still king of the NFL hill. He'll take a 4-2 record in conference championship games to Buffalo.

"You play 16 games to get to this position," he said. "You rarely have that opportunity to be in this position. Some teams have had a lot, but in most cases, most players don't get a lot of opportunities to be in this game or [go] farther. So you cherish everything that goes with the game and enjoy it. This is what everybody plays for."

Montana just does it better.

MONTANA IN PLAYOFFS

Games started.. .. .. .. .. 21

Record .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 16-5

Attempts .. .. .. .. .. .. 674 *

Completions .. .. .. .. .. 425 *

Completion pct. .. .. .. ..63.1

Yards .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 5,333*

Yards per attempt.. .. .. .. 7.91

Touchdowns .. .. .. .. .. .. 43*

Interceptions .. .. .. .. .. .19

* Playoff record

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