As a kid, I had a Steve Young poster hanging beside my room. (actually, that poster is still there) Everyone loved Joe, but I fought for Steve (this was before he became the starter) – I thought Joe should have been nicer to him. When Young finally took over for the 49ers, I hated that he didn’t get the respect he deserved – he could run and pass, come on! It wasn’t his fault! Over time, as I grew older and better understood human dynamics, I empathized with Joe.
However, I was always curious about the details of the rivalry behind the quarterback controversy. Best of Rivals: Joe Montana, Steve Young, and the Inside Story behind the NFL’s Greatest Quarterback Controversy gives us that behind-the-scenes coverage but also provides us information about how each player grew up and what molded them to become Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Ultimately, Young is still my NFL favorite player of all time, but he just wasn’t as a good as Joe. I always felt he should have won a second Super Bowl.
Here are 10 things to learn from the book about Joe Montana, Steve Young, and the 49ers:
1) [About Joe] Abramski also wanted the quarterback there to strengthen a scrawny, 6-foot, 165-pound frame. “He was a frail young man, but as frail as he was . . . I’ve never seen a guy with a vertical leap ever that that kid had,” said Chuck Smith, a teammate and Ringgold lineman. “The thing that I remember most about Joe was how he threw the football. He just had an accuracy.”
2) At the urging of the franchise’s scouting director Tony Razzano and vice president John Ralston, Walsh grudgingly selected Montana. “We kept going back and forth, and Tony kept insisting on Montana,” Ralston said years later. “Bill yelled at me and said, ‘Get me one more recommendation on Joe Montana.’ I called Dan Devine, the coach at Notre Dame, and he said, ‘John, if I had Joe Montana, I’d still be head coach in Green Bay.’
3) “Bill never would get close to his players because he’d have to cut them, and you want to be able to make an objective decision and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the team. He would say that too often too many coaches keep veteran players one year longer than they should, and it hurts the team,” said Guy Benjamin, a quarterback who played for Walsh at Stanford and with the 49ers.
4) “First of all, they made the football argument that behind Ken Anderson in Cincinnati he would sit,” Leigh Steinberg remembered. “And [with the Express] he’d be able to play immediately, he would have coaching with the best quarterback coaches available, he would have a great line, he would be able to flourish and learn at the quarterback position. And Steve was all about participation. He didn’t want to sit behind anybody, because his life was about participation.”
5) Express agreed to pay Young an intricate four-year $40 million contract that included a $2.5 million signing bonus, a $1.5 million tax-free loan, and an annuity starting at more than $30 million.
6) “People always think that we fought,” Young said years later. “We never had a cross word, never had an argument, and I’ve always said to people that it went as well as it possibly could with two hypercompetitive people. But it wasn’t easy; it was difficult, difficult for both of us.” “It’s not that there was bad blood,” Montana said in 2011. “I guess the only way you can explain it is if you go to work every day in an office . . . you’re not always best friends with the guy sitting next to you. You’re friends, but you’re not best friends. And while we were friends, we wouldn’t hang out together. . . . It had nothing to do with the game or the competition; it’s just our personalities are different.”
7) “I’ve been in the playoffs enough to know whether you’re hot or not doesn’t make a damn bit of difference,” Montana told the media. “It’s how you play that next week.”
8) “Steve irritated Joe,” Paye added. “Steve’s very hyper, and Joe is ‘Joe Cool.’ Steve’s hyperness, whether it was on the field where he needed to play and sweat or . . . when we played on Astro Turf, he didn’t like the feeling of AstroTurf because it wasn’t real football. So he would take a cup of dirt and he would get his hands in the dirt so he could grip the ball better to throw, so all those little things. Steve had this superhuman athletic body, and he was anxious to run or throw, and Joe was more methodical, Joe Cool.”
9) “Bill [Walsh] always had the adage, ‘Get rid of a player a year early rather than a year late,’” Carmen Policy later said.
10) [in 1994, in which the 49ers would later win their 5th Super Bowl. I remember this game vividly] The 49ers disastrous home loss to the Eagles in Week 5 stunned the Bay Area, so much so that KGO-AM (the 49ers flagship station) radio host Bernie Ward conducted an on-air poll asking listeners if George Seifert should be fired and replaced with former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson. More than seven hundred people called in; 85 percent were in favor of the move.