Rarely is a guy afforded the opportunity to meet and talk with an athlete that spent almost a decade as a poster on his wall. I was so lucky earlier this week. Joe Montana was at a benefit for the Kraft Huddle to Fight Hunger (more on that here) and the legend was so kind as to grant me a few minutes of his time.
Joe Montana was, and still is, cool as a cucumber. He walks and talks with that same gentle breeze that glided through his arm as he led the 49ers to four Super Bowls and one of the most dominant decades in NFL history. He looks you in the eye. He smiles with genuine heart. And somewhere in his answers and quick laughs, you somehow know, feel perhaps, you're talking to one of the greatest football players to ever step on the field.
So you looked good handing off all that food, I assume you’re all recovered from your truck accident?
Montana: Yeah, I broke the head of my fibula, got stitches and separated my collarbone. And it wouldn’t have happened if I’d had a seatbelt on. But yeah, everything’s fine now.
Obviously you know something about turning a franchise around; any words of wisdom for Jim Harbaugh?
Montana: Jim’s been there. He’s already done it at Stanford. But it takes time. It would have helped tremendously to not have the lockout happen. Installing a new offense is harder than a new defense. It just takes time. A lot of adjustments to make.
And the tumultuous 49ers’ quarterback position with Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith?
Montana: Once the quarterbacks figure out that system, and he learns that other guy’s role and that other guy’s role, big plays will happen. But you don’t have to make it happen every time. Just keep the ball moving. Keep the completions coming. I think you’ll see a difference as the year goes on.
Would you start Kaepernick this year?
Montana: Why would you want to start him? What you did in college doesn’t always transfer. That’s the biggest thing everyone expects. You bring in a guy like Cam Newton, the first pick of the draft, and they play him because they’re paying him so much money. Half the time they don’t want these guys to play yet. Some of those guys just aren’t ready. Some guys just don’t make the transition. So you can’t just stick someone in like that.
He may be able to make it; I don’t know. But I’m not sure if you want him starting over someone who’s played.
With the West Coast offense coming back to the Bay Area, any thoughts?
Montana: When Stanford was recruiting my youngest son, [Harbaugh and company] were telling me the plays and they were word for word [laughs] for what we used to call when I played for the 49ers. They probably have their own twist; I'm sure it's evolved. But the essence of the base is still there.
Do you think it’ll help Alex Smith?
Montana: Any quarterback that understands what the offense is really about is going to succeed. There are always options, and that’s what these guys have to understand.
Your old defensive nemesis, Bill Belichick, is still coaching and calling tough defenses, do you see a lot of similarities to what he’s doing today and what the Giants did to stop the 49ers back in the late '80s?
Montana: Not really. The game’s changed. They still play a little two deep, evolved into what they call four across now, or a version of that. And different types of cover two—the Tampa 2 as they call it, with those weak spots in the middle of the field.
There’s also a lot more pressure on the outside. It’s almost like seven on seven. You can get to the quarterback—but not as often. The quarterback’s a little safer, gets his timing and you can’t bump the receivers as much.
Thanks so much for your time, Joe.
Montana: You bet, man.
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