The Joe Montana Era in Kansas City lasted only 619 days — from April 21, 1993, when the trade was announced, until New Year’s Eve the following year, when the Chiefs played their last game with Montana under center: the 27-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins in their 1994 Wild Card playoff game.
619 days. That’s all.
Looking back, it seems like a lot longer. And somehow... a lot shorter, too.
I know my editor, Pete Sweeney, is counting on me — as the old man on the Arrowhead Pride staff — for an interesting story about where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.
Unfortunately, I can’t write that story.
I just don’t remember.
Don’t misunderstand. I clearly remember the two seasons in which Montana elevated the Chiefs to a team with genuine Super Bowl aspirations. I’ll never forget watching the touchdown pass to Willie Davis against the Denver Broncos at Mile High... the incredible overtime win over Pittsburgh... the drive against the Houston Oilers in the playoffs, culminating with Keith Cash scoring a touchdown and spiking the ball into that huge Bum Phillips poster... I could go on.
But in the spring of 1993, I wasn’t an NFL fan. I was a Chiefs fan. There’s a difference.
And having been raised in the 1960s as an AFL fan — all the games I watched were on NBC, with Curt Gowdy making the call, rather than on CBS with Pat Summerall — I still regarded NFC teams (that is, original NFL teams) as coming from another planet.
I didn’t understand the alien teams or know much about the lizard people who played for them.
Oh, sure... the Chiefs played some interplanetary games against them. But because lizard quarterback Montana had played for one of those teams from planet NFCesium, I just didn’t appreciate what a bombshell his trade to the Chiefs really was.
Not at first, anyway.
Four months later — as I stood, microphone in hand, among a gaggle of reporters on the practice field at Chiefs training camp in River Falls, Wisconsin — I had come to appreciate what had occurred. Since April, the local sports media had been All Montana, All The Time. I had learned what a Big Deal this was.
So I was more than a little nervous that my first-ever press gaggle was one surrounding JOE FREAKING MONTANA!
I let others ask questions for a little while. Then I gulped and piped up: “So... how are you adjusting to your new teammates?”
The other reporters didn’t laugh. But as I would come to learn, they were just being polite. They were all groaning inwardly because this fool had just asked Stupid NFL Interview Question No. 6.
You see... there are stupider questions to ask an NFL player — just not very many.
But Montana laughed, and he told a funny story about Bennie Thompson putting shaving cream in his helmet.
That’s who Montana was — and is. Friendly... easygoing... funny. A guy towards whom other people gravitate. A natural, instinctive leader. You can literally feel his presence when he walks into a room, but once he’s there, he has the ability to instantly put everyone at ease.
Even a greenhorn reporter.
These days, before talking to the media after a game, every NFL quarterback makes sure to be fully dressed in a fashionable suit. Somebody has told them they have to do this in order to exhibit leadership — and that’s probably true.
But Montana used to come into the media room in his underwear and half of his pads, and everybody could still see that he was the unquestioned leader of his team.
People talk about intangibles in a quarterback. Does a quarterback have It — an ability to lead his team... to inspire them to rise above themselves... to play a kid’s game in the No Fun League?
Tom Brady is a ruthless gunslinger. Talented? Absolutely. Successful? Boy howdy! But a leader? He let the ball boys take the rap.
Peyton Manning is a calculating machine with a faster processor than anybody else. Effective? Bet your life on it. But a leader? When things go badly, leaders don’t throw petulant fits in front of God and everybody.
John Elway? Well... he really is an alien in disguise, sent from another planet so the lizard people could be amused on Sunday afternoons, watching the primitive TV signals coming from Earth. They thought it would be hilarious to watch as Elway made fools of the hapless, inferior Earthlings who tried to compete against him.
All Montana had was some arm talent. And It.
I’d take him over those other guys any day.
So... my apologies. I just don’t have a good story about where I was when I heard about the Montana trade.
But I’d bet you do.
Where were you?