The Best Ever? The story of 'Joe Cool'

01/01/2005

2000 Enshrinee: Joe Montana

Page Three

The result was a now famous 92-yard game-winning drive. The key play was a 27-yard pass to Jerry Rice that brought the ball to the Cincinnati 18-yard line. Joe hit John Taylor for the final 10 yards and the winning touchdown with just 34 seconds remaining in the game.

Montana drops back to pass late in his career against St. Louis

A defense holds its breath as Montana 
drops back to pass (NFL Photos)

Although his teammates and the millions of fans watching were unaware at the time, at one point during the drive, Joe hyperventilated and nearly passed out. "I guess it was the excitement, maybe a little bit of the weather (the heat in Miami). At that point you couldn't hear, so I was yelling at the top of my voice?I had to call everything about eight times and it took everything I had," he recalled. To the world, however, it was just another example of the "Montana Magic" performed by "Joe Cool."

Montana was as tough as he was even-tempered. Two weeks into the 1986 season he suffered a back injury that required surgery. Doctors suggested and even recommended that Joe not play again. He was back in the lineup 55 days later.

The 1989 and 1990 seasons were banner years for Montana. Voted the league's MVP in both, he led San Francisco to two consecutive 14-2 regular season finishes. His passer rating in 1989 was an incredible 112.4, a then-NFL best. That year the Niners cruised through the playoffs, defeating the Minnesota Vikings by 28 points and the Los Angeles Rams by 27, on the way to their fourth Super Bowl appearance.

His near perfect performance in Super Bowl XXIV - he completed 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards and a then-Super Bowl record five touchdowns - earned him Super Bowl MVP honors for a record third time. During the three-game playoff run leading to the Super Bowl, the sure-fire quarterback completed an amazing 78 percent of his passes for 800 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Montana's best year statistically, however, may have been 1990. Working his magic, Montana, in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints completed four passes for 60 yards on the game's final drive to set up a game-winning field goal. In each of the next four games he threw for more than 300 yards, which ranks second all-time to the five consecutive 300-plus games he threw in 1982. Again the 49ers advanced to the NFC championship game. Unfortunately, a fourth quarter hit sent Montana to the sidelines with a concussion, bruised sternum, and broken finger. The Giants mounted a come-from-behind drive of their own and defeated San Francisco, 15-13.

In training camp the next year, Montana suffered an elbow injury that ultimately sidelined the future Hall of Fame quarterback for 31 consecutive games. Then, in the second half of the 1992 season finale against the Detroit Lions, Montana came off the bench and once again demonstrated why so many referred to him as the "best ever." To the delight and wonderment of a national television audience, Montana, showing no signs of the almost two-year layoff, completed 15 of 21 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, as the 49ers defeated the Lions 24-6.

Although Montana felt he could still be a starter, the 49ers in 1993 felt it was time to turn the reins over to Joe's long-time understudy Steve Young. Hoping for yet another shot at a Super Bowl, Montana signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Although the team never reached the Super Bowl, for two seasons Joe continued to deliver his patented magic. In 1993, he orchestrated fourth quarter come-from-behind rallies in both the AFC Wild Card Game and the AFC Divisional Playoff Game. Three times during the regular season he was voted the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. That year he also hit a career milestone becoming just the fourth quarterback to record 3,000 pass completions.

By the time he retired following the 1994 season, Montana ranked fourth all-time in career passing yards, attempts, and passing touchdowns. His 3,409 completions ranked third all-time, and his career passer rating of 92.3 still ranks second in the NFL's record book. Thirty-nine times he passed for more than 300 yards in a game, including seven times in which he surpassed the 400-yard mark. His six 300-yard passing performances in the post-season remain an NFL record. Eleven times he led his team to the playoffs. Eight times he was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.

"We say, 'He's the greatest quarterback I ever saw,' or 'He's the greatest quarterback this and that,' said former Oakland Raiders coach John Madden. "I say with no disclaimers, 'This guy is the greatest quarterback who ever played.'"

Whether or not Joe Montana was the "greatest ever," will be the subject of debate for the game's pundits and historians for years to come. However, his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in just his first year of eligibility is testimony to the irrefutable fact that Joe Montana absolutely ranks among the very best to ever play the game.

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