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Two great quarterbacks with a coach caught in the middle.
The barely contained rivalry between Joe Montana and Steve Young is easily the most heated camp battle in league history. While the two great quarterbacks vied for supremacy more than once, the competition was most intense in 1988.
In the classic case of the old master being chased by the young upstart, Montana found himself being nudged aside by a rather obnoxious understudy.
What made the rivalry great was that Young didn't respect reputations. Despite the aura surrounding the man that was "Joe Cool," Young made it clear from day one that he should be starting.
This presented legendary head coach Bill Walsh with his greatest dilemma. His handling of this battle in 1998 can be read in two ways.
If it wasn't master manipulation of two highly competitive egos for the good of the team, it was a nervous flip-flop, induced by the fact the contest was simply too close to call.
Each quarterback made double-digit appearances for the 49ers that season. One was often replaced by the other during games.
Aside from age against youth, it was a fascinating clash of styles. Young was the more dominant physically, yet Montana's instinct for the game was unmatched in the history of football.
In the end, the old master reminded everyone that he still had it. In one of the NFL's greatest stories, Montana took his job back and again led the 49ers to glory.
The cerebral precision of his game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII was perhaps the best moment in a brilliant career.
Young's time would come, but it wasn't really his position, or his team, until Montana finally left San Francisco in 1993.