Montana, Joe (1956—)

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Montana, Joe (1956—)

A third-round pick in the 1979 draft, Joe Montana became one of the best quarterbacks in National Football League history. He retired in 1995 after playing 16 seasons, during which he compiled four Super Bowl victories, the highest quarterback rating (92.3) of any non-active passer in history, 273 touchdowns, 3,409 completions, 40,551 passing yards—an astonishing career record. Described by 49ers broadcaster Wayne Walker as "cooler than the other side of the pillow," Joe Montana was best known for his ability to perform under pressure.

Born in western Pennsylvania—the same region that produced other NFL quarterbacks such as George Blanda, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino—Montana played baseball, basketball, and football in high school; however, despite being offered a basketball scholarship to North Carolina State, he chose Notre Dame and football. Montana left high school a Parade All-American and began his collegiate career as one of nine quarterbacks for Notre Dame. He got his first look at playing time in the third outing of his sophomore year against Northwestern when the starting quarterback left the game injured with Notre Dame trailing 7-0. Joe came off the bench to lead the team to a 31-7 victory. Two games later, against North Carolina, he drove the offense 73 yards to tie the game 14-14 in the fourth quarter, then threw the game-winning touchdown pass with a minute remaining. A week later, against Air Force, he entered the game as a relief quarterback for the last time and overcame a 30-10 deficit in the fourth quarter, leading Notre Dame to a 31-30 victory and securing his spot as the starting quarterback. By only his second year in college Joe had earned his nickname, "Captain Comeback." In 1978, after finishing the season 8-3, Notre Dame faced Houston in the Cotton Bowl. Behind 20-12, Notre Dame was in trouble and Montana was on the bench with a severe flu. By the fourth quarter, when Joe entered the game, Notre Dame was losing 34-12. After Notre Dame scored on a blocked punt and a two-point conversion to make the score 34-20, Joe ran for a touchdown and completed another two-point conversion. With less than two minutes remaining in the game and his team still behind by 6, Joe fumbled the ball. But Houston couldn't score to put the game out of reach, and Montana gained one last chance. With no time left, he threw to Kris Haines in the end-zone, tying the game. Notre Dame won the game after scoring the extra point.

Despite his 25-4 record at Notre Dame, Montana was not highly regarded by the pro scouts. Selected in the third round of the 1979 draft, he had taken over the San Francisco 49ers' offense by the end of his second year. In 1979 the 49ers finished with a record of 2-14. In 1981 Joe led them to a 13-3 record, and they went on to defeat the New York Giants in the first round of the playoffs and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC title game, when Dwight Clark made "The Catch"—a leaping, fingertip six-yard grab at the back of the end-zone that sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl where they beat the Cincinnati Bengals. Another glorious year for Montana and the 49ers came in 1984 when the team finished 15-1, and Joe passed for over 3,600 yards, completing 28 touchdown passes. The same year, however, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino set two single-season records, throwing for 48 touchdowns and 5,084 yards. Montana and Marino were to meet in Super Bowl XIX. Although that game began with the 49ers and the Dolphins trading points, the 49ers scored three consecutive touchdowns in the second quarter, going on to win 38-16. In 1988, a difficult year for the 49ers, they faced the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII in a rematch of Super Bowl XVI. With less than four minutes left in the game, Montana drove the 49er offense 92 yards to win the 49ers' third Super Bowl championship of the 1980s. In 1989 the 49ers did it again, defeating the Denver Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV, and Joe was named Super Bowl MVP for the third time.

After a somewhat bitter split from the 49ers, Joe Montana finished his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. His debut was a success—he led the Chiefs to a 27-3 victory—but injuries kept him out for much of the year. In 1994, against the Denver Broncos, Montana proved himself "super Joe" once again. With less than two minutes remaining, the Broncos led 28-24. Joe drove the Chiefs 75 yards and with only eight seconds to go, hit Willie Davis to give the Chiefs a 31-28 victory. Montana's performances in the post-seasons alone have virtually guaranteed his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He even has a town named after him: Joe (formerly Ismay), Montana (pop. 22).

—Austin Booth

Further Reading:

Montville, Leigh. "An American Dream: What Kid Doesn't Want to Grow Up to Be Quarterback Joe Montana?" Sports Illustrated. December 24, 1990, 90-108.

Wulf, Steve. "The Passing of an Era." Time. April 24, 1995.

Zimmerman, Paul. "Born to Be a Quarterback." Sports Illustrated. August 6, 1990, 62-75.

——. "The Ultimate Winner." Sports Illustrated. August 13,1990, 72-84.

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Montana, Joe (1956—)

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Montana, Joe (1956—)