Ok, I know from the outset this is a settled case, right? I am not saying Brady is not the GOAT I am just saying I do not think this is a shut and closed case. I also realize I grew up during the 70s and 80s and that skews my outlook a lot. I know for example that no matter who came along that my dad would always say nobody could ever beat Muhammad Ali, much like my grandfather who said nobody could beat Rocky Marciano, and so on… So here is my attempt to make a case for Joe Montana as the true GOAT.
The Game was different
Quarterbacks were not babied at near the rates they are today, Montana really only played ten complete seasons because of this. On multiple occasions, his season was ended early with bone-crunching hits that would not be allowed today. In a lot of cases, the only way to beat Montana was if you knocked him out of the game, and that’s what teams tried to do.
The receiver’s rules were also much tougher than today and football was more of a vertical game.
More teams today water down the competition and in the 1980s the NFC was as tough as it gets with Parcell’s Giants, Gibbs Redskins, Ditka’s Bears. Let’s take a look at Montana’s seasons during the 8os and exactly how tough the competition was?
The 49ers in 1981 were coming off almost a decade of futility and Montana leads them on a magical run to the playoffs. When they got to the playoffs they beat a Lawrence Taylor lead defense 38-24 in the divisional playoffs and then followed that up with a last-minute drive that culminated with “the catch” by Dwight Clark that helped the 49ers win their first-ever NFC Championship 28-27 over the Dallas Cowboys.
The 49ers then beat an excellent Bengals team 26-21 in the Super Bowl. Now remember this 49ers team did not have Jerry Rice or John Taylor catching the ball and no Roger Craig running the ball. The leading rusher for that 49ers team was Ricky Patton who ran for just over 500 yards so the running game was not outstanding, so this was not a star-studded offense the way most people would make you think, but in the playoffs, they scored 92 points in three games against 3 above-average defenses and Montana was the main reason why.
Once again still no Rice or Taylor and the Niners went all the way to the NFC Championship games to play the defending World Champion Washington Redskins. The Championship game saw Montana lead the Niners back from a 4th quarter deficit of 21-0 to tie the game at 21 before the Redskins won the game on a Mark Mosley field goal in the last minute of the game. Montana threw 3 TD passes in that fourth quarter. The officials played a huge hand in stopping a dramatic 49er come from behind win also. Late in the fourth quarter when Ronnie Lott was called for holding on a 3rd-and-5 from the San Francisco 13. Lott’s infraction was nowhere near the play and it enabled the Redskins to run out more clock before Mark Moseley kicked the go-ahead field goal with 40 seconds to go.
In 1984 the Niners fielded one of the greatest teams in NFL history and no this team did not have Rice or Taylor in this season either. In the playoffs, the 49ers beat Bill Parcells Giants in the Divisional playoffs and shut out Ditka’s Bears in the NFC Championship game. The Super Bowl was maybe the greatest matchup of Quarterback talent in Super Bowl history as Dan Marino who had a season for the ages in 1984 faced off against Joe Montana. By the middle of the third quarter, there was no doubt that “Joe Cool” was the best quarterback on the field that day.
The 49ers finally had Jerry Rice but it did not help as they were shut down by the Giants in the Wildcard game 17-3. The playoff losses that the 49ers suffered in the seasons they didn’t win it all are kind of the point I am trying to make. Sure Montana only won 4 Super Bowls but just getting to the Super Bowl for Montana was much easier than it was for Tom Brady and the Patriots.
This season epitomized the toughness of Joe Montana who suffered a back injury in Week 1 and was lost for two months after surgery. Because the injury was so severe, doctors tried to force him to retire. However, Montana did return for Week 10 against the then-St. Louis Cardinals. Montana shared Comeback Player of the Year honors with Minnesota’s Tommy Kramer at the end of the season. He leads the Niners to a western division title but ran into an all-time great defense when the Niners were beaten 49-3 and Montana was knocked out of the game early on. Going into 1987 a lot of people thought that Montana should retire, but luckily for 49ers fans, Montana would continue on.
The 49ers were the best team in the regular season going 13-2, but then they ran into a red-hot Anthony Carter and the Minnesota Vikings and in the second half benched Joe Montana for Steve Young and a lot of people thought that Montana was on borrowed time.
At one point in 1988, the 49ers were 6-5, and calls for Steve Young were getting louder and louder. Then Montana got on fire and ran off 4 straight wins to finish the season with another divisional title. In the playoffs, a rematch with the Vikings loomed and the Niners left no doubt who the better team was. This led to a matchup in frigid Soldier field against Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears. Montana destroyed the Bears in Bears weather 28-3 in one of the most dominating team performances that have ever been seen in NFL history. Next up the Niners would play the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl. The game was close and low-scoring throughout, then Montana solidified his legend on the final drive of the game. With 3:22 left in the game, Montana started at his own 8-yard line and three minutes later who would be a legend forever as he drove the 49ers on one of the greatest clutch drives in NFL history.
This was Montana and the 49ers at their dominant best as they cruised through the regular season and then in the playoffs, they took it to a level very rarely ever seen. In the Divisional playoffs they blew out the Vikings and then in the Title game, they smashed the Rams. I the Super Bowl Montana was as close to perfect as you can get in a 55-10 win over another legendary Quarterback John Elway.
What could have been? Leonard Marshall’s hit knocking Montana out of the game may have changed NFL, I say that because if Montana is knocked out he may have won his 5th Super Bowl in 5 tries, and with that, I think a lot of people would pay a lot closer to Montana.
Montana would not play this season because of an elbow injury. The Niners had a still-standing NFL record of 18 consecutive regular-season road game victories spanning the 1988–90 seasons, that record was snapped in the first road game of the 1991 season played of course without starter Montana. This was the end for Montana as a 49er and most once again thought that this would be it for Montana’s career, and once again they would be wrong again.
Kansas City here I come!
In 1993 Montana switched to Kansas City to play for the Chiefs and damn near got back to the Super Bowl! In the Wild Card game, Montana was clutch leading the Chiefs to a 27-24 win in OT. Then Montana waltzed into the Hose of Pain in Houston and upset the Oilers 28-20. The AFC Championship game would result in a loss to the Buffalo Bills, Montana was knocked out early in the third quarter with a concussion and from there the Bills would roll to an easy win.
After an opening day win over the New Orleans Saints, the Chiefs faced the San Francisco 49ers and Steve Young on September 11. Facing his old team, Joe Montana led the Chiefs to a 24–17 win at Arrowhead. But after opening the season at 3–0, the Chiefs dropped 2 in a row to the Rams and Chargers.
On October 17, a 6-yard pass and a tightrope run into the end zone ended the Chiefs’ 11-year drought in Mile High Stadium. Joe Montana and the Chiefs faced a 4-point deficit on Monday Night Football. The final drive in the final 82 seconds took nine plays, all of them Montana passes except one run of 10 yards by Marcus Allen; Montana’s final pass was a five-yard score to Willie Davis for the 31–28 Kansas City win. For the game, Montana hit 34 of 54 pass attempts for 393 yards and 3 touchdowns. Montana would have another great season, passing for 3,283 yards.
Montana or Brady?
Montana retired after 1994 and I am not making the case that he is better than Brady, but I will make the case that if I needed a Quarterback on the field for my team down 6 points with two minutes left I will make the case that Montana is the guy I want! Montana’s toughness in an era of football much rougher than today is unquestioned. His nickname was “Joe Cool” for a reason. Times are different, the game is different so a comparison is hard to make, but remember this Montana played tougher competition Bears, Giants, Redskins, Rams, Vikings, he was exposed much more physically than Brady is and on multiple occasions, he recovered from injuries that would have ended most careers. My point is this if we are playing a game right now and I can have anybody in their prime to be my Quarterback I will take Montana and you can have the GOAT!