Five interesting Joe Montana nuggets for the 49ers legend’s 66th birthday

On January 28, 1990, shortly after Joe Montana and the 49ers minced the Broncos defense in Super Bowl XXIV, there was little debate as to who was the greatest quarterback in NFL history. The blowout win gave San Francisco its fourth Super Bowl win since 1981. The win also earned Montana a third Super Bowl MVP award, as the man known as “Joe Cool” became the only quarterback alongside Terry Bradshaw to score a 4-0 Record flaunted as a starting Super Bowl quarterback.

Three decades after winning his last Super Bowl, Montana was back in the big game when he was hailed as one of the NFL’s 100 Best Players during a pregame ceremony. And while other great quarterbacks have come and gone since he threw his last NFL pass over a quarter-century ago, Montana remains in the conversation as one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.

To celebrate his 66th birthday (he was born June 11, 1956), we decided to list five things you might not know about Montana, a player who, as the late Stuart Scott would say, was cooler than the other side of the pillow .

1. A member of Western Pennsylvania’s “Cradle of Quarterbacks”

Western Pennsylvania has produced some of the greatest quarterbacks in league history, including Montana, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. A two-year-old high school freshman from Monongahela, Pennsylvania (about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh), Montana was named a Parade All-American as a senior. Although Montana received plenty of basketball scholarships, he chose to play quarterback at Notre Dame instead. As a member of the school’s 1977 national championship team, Montana offered a foreshadowing of what was to come in the NFL during his final collegiate game. In the 1979 Cotton Bowl, Montana, playing despite hypothermia, led the Irish to 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to lead Notre Dame to a 35-34 victory.

Six years later, Montana went up against fellow western Pennsylvania compatriot Dan Marino in Super Bowl XIX. Marino, the reigning league league MVP, got off to a hot start, throwing an early touchdown pass and giving the Dolphins an early lead. Undeterred, Montana and the 49ers responded with enthusiasm, with Montana leading the 49ers to three scoring drives in the second quarter to give San Francisco a 28-16 lead at halftime. Montana, who threw for a then-Super Bowl record 333 yards (while also rushing for 59 yards, a then-Super Bowl record for a quarterback), sealed the win — and his second Super Bowl MVP honor — with that touchdown pass to Roger Craig in the fourth quarter. Montana and Marino would throw for 651 yards combined, a Super Bowl record at the time.

2. An early inspiration for Brady

Tom Brady, the man many believe surpassed Montana as the greatest quarterback of all time, was a huge Montana fan as a child growing up in San Mateo, California. In fact, on January 10, 1982, a 4-year-old Brady was at Candlestick Park when Montana found Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone that gave the 49ers a 28-27 victory over the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. The track, forever remembered as “The Catch,” propelled the 49ers to their first Super Bowl win, a 26-21 win over the Bengals two weeks later at Detroit’s Silverdome.

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“I was fortunate to grow up in the Bay Area back then,” Brady said recently, looking back on his time as a 49ers fan. “I will always remember going to all the Super Bowl rallies and my mom would get me out of school and bang pots and pans on the El Camino after they won Super Bowls. Those memories never go away.”

On February 5, 2017, Brady overtook Montana by winning his fifth Super Bowl win as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. Fittingly, Brady pulled off a Montana-style comeback to earn the win as New England overcame a 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons 34-28 in overtime. A few years later, Brady, now the proud owner of seven Super Bowl rings and five Super Bowl MVP trophies, stood alongside his NFL hero as members of the NFL 100th Anniversary team.

3. No Super Bowl interceptions

In four Super Bowl games (and 122 pass attempts), Montana has never thrown an interception in the big game. In Super Bowl competition, Montana completed 68% of his passes for 1,142 yards with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. While his Super Bowl XVI numbers weren’t anything special (he threw for 157 yards, almost half what his Cincinnati counterpart, Ken Anderson, threw on a losing try), Montana’s last three Super Bowls have been an art.

Four years after defeating Marino’s Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX, Montana threw for a then-Super Bowl record for 357 yards in a rematch against the Bengals. Trailing 16-13 with just three minutes to go, Montana led the 49ers on a 92-yard drive that won the game and culminated in his 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor. Ironically, this is the only Super Bowl in Montana Not win MVP; The award instead went to Jerry Rice, whose 215 yards remains a Super Bowl record that day. Montana would eventually pick up his third MVP a year later after throwing a then-record five touchdown passes in the Broncos demolition in San Francisco. In fact, the 55 points the 49ers scored in the game and their 45-point winning margin remain Super Bowl records.

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Montana nearly threw a Super Bowl interception. Bengals cornerback Lewis Billups, who was trailing 13-6 at the start of the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXIII, dropped what would have been an interception in front of Montana in his own end zone. Montana, as he often does, made the most of his second opportunity, beating Rice for the crucial touchdown pass two games later.

4. Giants issues at center of QB ‘controversy’

As quarterback for the 49ers, Montana won nearly three times as many playoff games (14) as he lost (five). Along with his 4-0 record in the Super Bowls, Montana had a 2-0 playoff record against Mike Ditka’s Bears and defeated Chicago in the 1984 and ’88 NFC title games. His performance for 288 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears in the 1988 title game, played in freezing temperatures at Chicago’s Soldier Field, is one of the most underrated accomplishments of Montana’s career.

If there was one NFC team that seemed to help Montana and the 49ers, it was the New York Giants, led by head coach Bill Parcells, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, and an aggressive defense that also included Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson included pro bowlers Carl Banks, Leonard Marshall and Jim Burt. After defeating the Giants in the ’81 and ’84 postseasons, Montana and the 49ers were beaten by the Giants in the ’85 and ’86 postseasons as San Francisco were beaten in those games by a total of 66-6. In their 1986 loss to the Giants, Montana was knocked out by Burt as New York ran away 49-3 en route to winning the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.

The hits seemed to take a toll on Montana, who missed 10 games through injury in the ’86 and ’87 seasons. Against the Vikings in the second round of the 1987 playoffs, Montana was benched in favor of Steve Young, who was acquired through a trade with the Buccaneers the previous offseason. Young’s success against the Vikings (albeit in defeat) sparked a quarterback controversy that couldn’t be resolved until head coach Bill Walsh decided to stay with Montana after watching Young and the 49ers play a Week 10 23-0 lead against the Cardinals gambled away the ’88 season. With Montana back under center, Walsh’s team would only lose more games this season as the 49ers would defeat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, Walsh’s final game as San Francisco head coach.

With Young playing occasionally, Montana was the team’s undisputed starter during the ’89 and ’90 seasons. Playing some of the best footballers of his career, Montana led San Francisco to another Super Bowl victory in 1989 before leading San Francisco to within one game of his third straight Super Bowl appearance in 1990. But against the Giants in the NFC title game, Montana was knocked out of the game by Marshall with the 49ers holding a slim lead. After Montana was out, San Francisco committed a costly turnover that resulted in the Giants kicking the game-winning field goal after time ran out.

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An elbow injury sustained during the 1991 preseason kept Montana on the sidelines for most of the next two seasons. Montana’s injury opened the door for Young, who won league MVP honors in 1992 and led San Francisco to all but one game of the Super Bowl. With Young now firmly ousted as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, Montana re-emerged in Kansas City, where he led the Chiefs to their first playoff win in 24 seasons in his first season with his new team. Montana led the Chiefs back to the playoffs in 1994 before hanging up his boots for good. That season, Young, who lost to Montana’s Chiefs in the regular season, led the 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl title, with Young breaking Montana’s Super Bowl record for touchdown passes in San Francisco’s 49-26 win over the Chargers .

5. The John Candy Story

Younger fans may not know all the details of Montana’s infamous John Candy storyline during the final stages of Super Bowl XXIII. With 3:04 remaining and with the 49ers backed on their own 8-yard line and the Bengals trailing the Bengals by three points, Montana shared an interesting observation with his teammates as they entered the scrum, a scrum , which was made even longer by a TV timeout.

Harris Barton, the 49ers’ right tackle at the time, recalled what happened in the scrum during a 1988 NFL Films documentary about the 49ers.

“Joe looks at me and says, ‘Hey H,'” Barton said. “I’m going, ‘What?’ He says, “Look at it… Look down there in the other end zone. Do you see him? … There’s John Candy down there in the end zone.” And sure enough, the whole group turns and looks down there, and there’s John Candy eating popcorn at the other end of the stadium. We’re like, “Yeah , this is John Candy, look at that?” And then the official blows his whistle and the game begins.”

With Candy and the rest of America watching, Montana calmly led the 49ers to the game-winning touchdown for 92 yards in 11 moves. The game, as well as his moment in the huddle, is now part of Super Bowl lore.

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