Chiefs' Montana proves again he's definitely not just another Joe

PRO FOOTBALL

January 23, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

The NFL's conference championship games this year are featuring America's Team and America's Quarterback.

The Dallas Cowboys, the self-proclaimed America's Team, are probably the most popular club in the league, and there's no doubt Joe Montana is the most popular player in the league.

Is there anybody who's not a Buffalo Bills fan who isn't rooting for Montana today?

At 37, Montana is a living legend. Even if he under-throws a pass, it helps the Kansas City Chiefs get a pass-interference call.

Nobody even argues that he has replaced such icons as Johnny Unitas and Otto Graham and is considered by most to be the greatest quarterback ever.

There were a few strange twists, though, for Montana on the road to becoming a legend.

Everybody has forgotten that five years ago, at 32, he was struggling and there were questions about whether he could still do it.

It's forgotten that he lost playoff games in 1985, 1986 and 1987, and the last two were embarrassing -- a 49-3 loss to the New York Giants in 1986 when Jim Burt virtually knocked him out of the stadium, and a 36-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in 1987 when coach Bill Walsh pulled him for Steve Young in the second half.

Going into the 1988 season, he had won two Super Bowls, but nobody was suggesting Montana was the best quarterback of all time. They were wondering whether he should still be the San Francisco starter.

Walsh benched him on occasion that year, saying Montana was "fatigued." The joke at the time was that he was fatigued because he was sick and tired of Walsh.

The team was off to a 6-3 start when Young was trying to run out the clock late in the game against the Phoenix Cardinals, protecting a 23-21 lead in the 10th game.

But Young scrambled out of bounds on his last possession, giving the Cardinals enough time to pull out a 24-23 victory on a late field goal.

Walsh then went back to Montana, who was ineffective in a 9-3 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders as the team dropped to 6-5.

The next week, the 49ers played host to the Washington Redskins, who also were struggling at 6-5 as the defending champions. Walsh stuck with Montana and the 49ers won, 37-21, with the help of John Taylor's punt return for a touchdown.

Montana directed the 49ers to six more victories that season and a dramatic 20-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

Walsh then retired, George Seifert took over and Montana led the team to a 17-2 season and a second straight Super Bowl victory. Montana had become a legend.

But if Young had protected that lead against the Cardinals and held the job, he might have gotten the team on a roll and maybe Montana would not now have a city named after him in Montana.

The funding

Though Gov. William Donald Schaefer made it obvious last week that he'll embrace the Canadian Football League and may drop his opposition to the Redskins building a stadium in Laurel if an NFL team doesn't decide to move to Baltimore by Feb. 14, that doesn't mean it's over for Baltimore on that date.

Even if the CFL comes to Baltimore and Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke gets his stadium in Laurel, Baltimore would still be a candidate for an NFL team as long as the General Assembly doesn't repeal the funding for a football stadium at Camden Yards and doesn't use up the bonding authority to build it.

Anybody who understands the Washington-Baltimore market knows that a Redskins stadium in Laurel wouldn't prevent an NFL team at Camden Yards from selling out. They are two different markets. And the CFL isn't asking for exclusive use of Memorial Stadium, so an NFL team could use it while a new stadium was being built.

If Schaefer can keep the funding in place in the final year he's in office, Baltimore will have a chance regardless of what happens on Feb. 14.

The governor, though, didn't help matters last week when an off-hand comment publicized the meeting between Herbert Belgrad, the head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, and John Shaw, the executive vice president of the Los Angeles Rams.

Shaw wants to keep a low profile because the Rams have to play a lame-duck season this fall and he doesn't want any negotiations to become public.

Baltimore has the best deal on the table, but Shaw and owner Georgia Frontiere could decide it's easier to go to St. Louis now that the New England Patriots aren't moving there. The league isn't expected to oppose a Rams move to St. Louis.

Rooting for the Cowboys

It's strange to have the Redskins rooting for their old rival, the Dallas Cowboys, but that's what they'll be doing today.

Since they're going to hire Dallas offensive coordinator Norv Turner for the head coaching job, he'd have more stature if he arrived a week from now after going to the Super Bowl than this week after losing the NFC title game.

Despite Turner's success, it's puzzling that the Redskins haven't interviewed any other candidates.

There's no question Turner has done an excellent job in his three years in Dallas, but he has an all-star cast there.

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