Hello once again football fans. Yesterday was the 59th birthday of Joe Montana, possibly the greatest Quarterback of All-Time. And it got me thinking back to a Sunday night in January of 1989, when a lifetime passion of interest and research got started while staring at the TV with wide eyes.
The first game that I really remember watching was Super Bowl XXIII. Here was this 6 year old kid being absolutely mesmerized by what Joe Montana was doing on the field. I remember being completely captivated and glued to the TV during that final drive culminating in the game winning pass to John Taylor for the score was pure magic. Joe Montana became my favorite player.
I was just beginning to get into football and being able to know who some of the players were as well as what was going on in the game. I know that I had watched many games before Super Bowl XXIII with my Dad, but this was the game that stuck in my memory. Joe Montana looked in total control leading the 49ers down the field against an excellent Bengals defense to win it all. I couldn’t be moved from the screen as I watched each play. Passes to Roger Craig, John Frank and Jerry Rice and then finally to Taylor in the end zone captured the imagination of this 6 year old. Joe Montana was already The Comeback Kid and it was his 3rd Super Bowl win, but it was a new beginning for me.
The following season in 1989, I tried to watch as many 49er games as I could. But, growing up in the Northern Virginia area made this very difficult as I had to hope that we would be lucky enough for a game to be on as the late double header or on Monday Night. The Niners appeared on Monday Night three times in 1989 against the Saints, Giants and the Rams and won all three. My Dad would at least let me stay up long enough to watch some of the game. Obviously not all of it on a school night, which bummed me out quite a bit back then but I was 7. What did I know? I knew that I wanted to watch Montana and those 49ers as much as I could.
It was a great run for San Fran in 1989. 14-2 during the regular season and the top seed in the NFC in the playoffs. At this point, I was finally able to sit down and watch the games. The first was the Divisional Matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Watching the pregame show I learned about how good the Vikings were. With Herschel Walker in the backfield, Steve Jordan and Anthony Carter catching passes the Vikings had an offense that could move the ball at will. But the bigger threat was the Defense. I didn’t know it at the time but the Vikings had an incredible defense that was known for getting after the Quarterback in historical fashion. With future Hall of Famer Chris Doleman, Defensive Player of the Year Keith Millard, Al Noga and Henry Thomas the Vikings defensive line looked like it could be the second coming of the Purple People Eaters. I was nervous in the beginning but that disappeared very quickly. In the 1st quarter San Francisco took the lead when Montana hit Jerry Rice for a 72 yard touchdown. Joe then proceeded to hit Brent Jones, John Taylor and Rice again as the 49ers scored 27 unanswered points. Ronnie Lott added insult to injury for Minnesota with a 58 yard Interception return for a score in the 4th. Roger Craig added one more touchdown as the Niners won 41 -13. The ground game from the Vikings was not a threat as Walker ran for 29 yards on 9 carries and Steve Jordan was the only player for Minnesota to have a good game offensively with 9 catches for 149 yards. And as for my worry about the Vikings D, Joe Cool wasn’t sacked once. I could breathe a sigh of relief and try to keep my excitement of the anticipation for the next game in check for another week.
The 49ers took on their old NFC West rival the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship. The Rams had squeaked by the Giants the week before 19-13 and were coming into Candlestick to take on the 49ers for the third time that season. Now, I knew about the Rams. I tried to pay attention to the teams in the NFC West and the Rams were one of the two losses the 49ers suffered during the regular season. San Francisco got payback winning the second matchup in LA on a Monday Night 30-27. That night John Taylor achieved history becoming the first player in the long tenure of the NFL to have two receiving touchdowns of 90 yards or more in the same game. So how would this game go? The Rams featured a 1,000 yard rusher in Greg Bell, 4,000 yard passer Jim Everett and two amazing deep threats in Henry Ellard and Willie “Flipper” Anderson. Both Ellard and Anderson gained over 1,000 yards at more than 18 yards per catch which is a rare occurrence. Not to mention the Rams featured a run stuffing defense and the maniac Kevin Greene on the outside blitzing the QB. Which team could make the adjustments from the previous match-ups and make it to the Super Bowl?
Once again I was nervous. A 7 year old watching his new found favorite team attempting to get into the Super Bowl for the 4th time (even though it was only the 2nd one that I remembered) could be a little nerve wracking. It was a battle in the 1st quarter and the Rams came out on top after the opening period 3-0 from a Mike Lansford field goal. I remember thinking how can that guy kick a football with no shoe on (card to the right)? That has to hurt but Lansford booted it right through. The Niners offense got going in the 2nd quarter and was not stopped. Once again, my nervousness subsided and instead I sat grinning from ear to ear watching Montana take the team in for score after score as San Francisco rolled up the next 30 points. Greg Bell only gained 20 yards for the Rams. Ellard and Anderson were held in check so much that Fullback Buford McGee ended up as the leading receiver for the Rams with 7 receptions for 53 yards. The Rams had a shot with Anderson deep downfield but Lott got there in just the nick of time to tip the ball away from what would have been a surefire touchdown for LA. The Rams 5th ranked rushing defense allowed the 49ers to run for 179 yards and a score and Kevin Greene never sacked Montana. I should have realized that the offensive line of Center Jesse Sapolu, Guards Guy McIntyre & Bruce Collie, and Tackles Harris Barton and Bubba Paris would protect Montana the same way they did against the Vikings. With the 30-3 dominating win, I was going to get to watch my favorite player and my favorite team play in the Super Bowl once again.
The two weeks of waiting for Super Bowl XXIV was excruciating. I couldn’t wait to see my favorite team led by my favorite player in the Super Bowl for the 2nd straight year. Plus, how many 7 year olds have the patience to wait two weeks (much less 2 seconds) for anything. The 49ers were taking on the Denver Broncos and its own star at QB in John Elway. The Broncos sported the best defense in the NFL and the 49ers had the best offense. Several of my classmates at school were telling me that Denver was going to kill Montana and that the 49ers would lose. I knew I had watched two very dominating playoff wins but, eh here come those butterflies again.
This time there was never a moment of doubt or worry once the game got started. The 49ers blew away the Broncos in record breaking fashion. Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice, Brent Jones and John Taylor for a total of 5 touchdown passes, a new Super Bowl record. All of my favorites were getting into the act as both Roger Craig and Tom Rathman scored rushing touchdowns. The defense dominated Elway and the Broncos as Kevin Fagan, Don Griffin, Pete Kugler, Larry Roberts and Daniel Stubbs all recorded sacks. Chet Brooks and Mike Walter grabbed two interceptions and virtually shut down Denver 55-10. It was all smiles on the 49ers sideline and it was the same in my living room as well watching this performance. As I have gotten older I don’t like to see the Super Bowl this one sided, but as a 7 year old who fell in love with the 49ers and the game it was quite enjoyable.
A few months after Super Bowl XXIV, I found the NFL Films video for the 49ers season entitled “Masters of the Game” and I couldn’t stop watching. Every time my parents would take me and my sister over to Blockbuster to rent some videos I always picked that one out. I watched it so many times that I became so familiar with almost every player on the 49ers roster and how the games came out. I could also recall (and can still hear) numerous game calls from the great Joe Starkey “TOUCHDOWN 49ERS!!!” I can still name every starter from the 1989 San Francisco 49ers all these years later and then several backups as well.
The 1990 season ended in a disaster for me as a fan. Montana got knocked out of the NFC Championship Game against the Giants and San Fran lost on its opportunity at three consecutive trips to the Super Bowl. For years if I heard the name Leonard Marshall it would make me growl because of that hit. It burned me up and even sometimes I still find myself with a little snarl when I hear his name, but as a fan of the game of football I can look back and acknowledge that Marshall was an exceptional player for many great Giants defenses for so many years.
I was upset when the 49ers traded Montana to the Chiefs, but as he went to Kansas City I started looking more at the Chiefs and realizing what a great team it was. They had just grabbed Marcus Allen as well and had players like Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, Dan Saleaumua, Will Shields, Tim Grunhard, Willie Davis and J.J. Birden. I had a new team to cheer for as Montana got very close to taking KC to the Super Bowl for the first time since after the 1969 season. Still I watched history happen.
On Monday Night October 17, 1994 I was allowed to stay up once again and watch Montana magic as he and John Elway had an amazing battle to the end at Mile High. I remember once again being on the edge of my seat as I wanted to see my old hero come through in what was possibly his final season (and it was). The Chiefs broke the 21-21 tie in the 4th quarter with a Lin Elliott Field Goal. But then Elway did what he does best and took the Broncos down the field and he crossed the goal line himself from 4 yards out to give the lead back to Denver with time winding down. That is when Joe Cool is at his best. With the clock dwindling, the Chiefs drove down the field with Montana at the helm brining back memories of Super Bowl XXIII. Finally Montana hit Willie Davis from 5 yards out, and with a quick switch of the ball from his right hand to his left, the referee threw his arms into the air. Joe Montana had done it once again. It was one of the greatest games I ever watched and I would still put it up there as one of the tops I have ever seen in my life.
Joe retired after the 1994 season. He had spent 13 seasons by the Bay and 2 more in America’s Heartland. He was still my favorite player and even though his career was over I was still trying to get my hands on as many Joe Montana cards as I could. I started collecting football cards in 1990. My first cards were a few 1990 Pro Set that came in boxes of Wheaties. At Christmas my parents bought for me the complete set of 1990 Topps and this is where I got my first Joe Montana cards. For my 11th birthday my parents really helped with the quest for Montanas, as they bought me 43 different Joe Montana football cards. My collection now stands at over 220. With of course the most prized possession, his rookie card from 1981 Topps. As a kid when you see that a card is worth $200, you never really think that you have a chance to obtain the tough rookie. Except finally one summer day in 1997. I just came home from a trip to a friend’s house for a week and my Dad handed me the Valley Trader which has ads for many things for sale
throughout the Shenandoah Valley. He had circled that someone was selling a Montana rookie card for $80. I looked at him puzzled because they always told me that spending that much on one card was ridiculous. But he said if I think the card is in good enough shape, and obviously paying with my own money. that if I really wanted it they would take me over. We drove over to the guy’s house and I took a look at the card. It wasn’t in Mint Condition but then again he wouldn’t be asking $80 if it was. I thought it was a fair asking price and bought that 1981 rookie. It was a card I had dreamed of obtaining for several years and I just kept looking at it the whole ride home as I couldn’t believe that I finally had the #1 card from my Most Wanted List.
A few years later, in 2000 Joe Montana was to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I was there with my Dad of course.
Watching Joe Montana captured my imagination and fascination as a kid and really got my interest in the NFL to grow exponentially. The more I watched Montana and the 49ers, the more I saw players for other teams and of course with the help of NFL Films, collecting cards and watching games with my Dad it all peaked my interest to want to know as much as I could about all the teams and players. Football cards were a big help with finding out about players and their careers. I wasn’t just interested in collecting Montana cards, but to get any that I could. I now have well over 40K football cards at the last count.
And now, I research the NFL with any chance I get. I read whatever I can find and watch pretty much everything that involves the history of the league. I love to try and spread the knowledge that I have gained to my friends and anyone who will listen. My friends all know that if they want to know something about a player, a team or a stat to ask me. Even in this time of smart phones where you can find anything you want at your fingertips, they still come to me. That is the main reason behind this blog and the many different aspects of the game with history, bizarre and rare stats and stories that I love to share. I have always tried to tell people that you must look at the history of the game and the players that came before the ones you are watching now to truly understand the greatness. I have been successful in getting some of the younger generation to look into the greats of the past and not be forever blinded to the stars of today. It puts a smile on my face every time that I have started someone on looking more into their favorite team or the league in general. And now it has also spread to my time with the Marshall University Softball Team in writing about the greats of the past and coming up with trivia questions and allowing fans and our own players to see and appreciate who came before them.
All starting with a wide eyed 6 year old kid, sitting on the living room carpet late one Sunday night in January 1989, watching Joe Cool take the 49ers down the field with 3:04 remaining to win the Super Bowl.