Smack Talk Wednesday: Where Have You Gone, Joe Montana?


You young folks may not believe this, but there was a time when the San Francisco 49ers were the greatest franchise in the NFL.

Dig back through the annals of pro football, my children, and you will see that it is true.  The 49ers, from 1982-1995, were in the Super Bowl five times, winning it on all five occasions.

You will also note that two of those victories came against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Yes, Grasshopper, it is true:  the Bengals have actually been in the Super Bowl.

And did you also know, my students, that there used to be no internet?  No, I don’t know how we survived either.  We spent a lot of time rummaging through our friends’ fathers’ Hustler stashes, that’s about all I can remember.

But today’s lesson isn’t about the joys of pre-electronic, mysteriously-stained pornography:  It’s about the 49ers as they used to be.

Long ago, before you were born (yes, things happened before you were born), the 49ers were the proudest team in all the land.  They ran an offense called the West Coast (yes, the very same), developed and taught by a man named Bill Walsh, and executed by a quarterbacking genius named Joe Montana.

No relation to Hannah Montana.

Joe Montana was a hero to many a child, back when Ronald Reagan was president, and Mr. T had his own cereal.  He was our generation’s Tom Brady.  Except he wasn’t an asshole.

Actually, he was better than Tom Brady.  He won four Super Bowls, while Brady has only won three.  Of course, number of Super Bowl titles isn’t the only measure of quarterbacking greatness.  Otherwise people would think Trent Dilfer was better than Dan Fouts.

No, it was more than just the titles that made Joe Montana great.  It was the command.  It was the charisma.  It was the way his hair stuck out the back of his helmet.

And it didn’t hurt that, for two of those four championships, he was throwing to a wide receiver named Jerry Rice.

I know you children have heard of Jerry Rice.  He played for the Raiders, Seahawks and Broncos.  Your dad probably sat on the couch with you and gushed about how great he was back in the old days “with Frisco.”  And your eyes glazed over because you wished you were playing Xbox instead.

There is a reason your paunchy, beer-chugging father gets so misty-eyed thinking about Jerry Rice.  He was the greatest of all-time.  Not just the greatest receiver of all-time, but the greatest anything of all-time.  Ever.  In the whole world.

And he played for the 49ers.  He helped the great Joe Montana win two titles.  Then he helped the somewhat-less-great Steve Young win one title.  Then he set every record for receiving that anyone has been able to dream up.  Then, he danced with the stars.

Oh, children, how wonderful it was to be a 49ers fan way back when.  You knew you were going to be in the playoffs every year.  You knew you were probably going to make it to the Super Bowl.  You knew Chris Berman was going to pick you and the Bills at the beginning of every season because Chris Berman once thought it was funny to pick you and the Bills at the beginning of every season.

Yes kids, some things are still the same as they were back in those prehistoric times before texting, sexting and cell phone cancer.  Chris Berman sucked then, sucks now and will always suck.

The difference is that, instead of slurping the Patriots, Berman and his sportscasting ilk used to slurp the 49ers.

Nobody even cared about the Patriots in those days, kids.  In those days, the Patriots were the team that got bitch-slapped by the Bears in the one Super Bowl, and had the dumb-looking helmets and that was about it.

The 49ers were the team everyone looked to as a model of excellence.  Bill Walsh, not Bill Belichick, was the great coaching genius who with the mere power of his brain-waves could make inferior coaches dissolve into little puddles of ick.  And Bill Walsh was actually greater than Bill Belichick, because he dressed like a grown-up and didn’t cheat by videotaping other teams’ signals.

It probably stuns you, pupils, to learn that a team can achieve greatness without cheating.  Well, it’s true.  And baseball players once hit home runs without steroids.  And dumb action movies once had special effects achieved using little models wired to big firecrackers.

Now everything is HGH and CGI.  And the 49ers are no longer the 49ers of my youth.  Now, the 49ers are the also-rans of the NFC West.  It has been years since the were anything like a serious contender.  In the decade-and-a-half since they last appeared in a Super Bowl, the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams have all been in at least one.

There was a time, children, when the thought of the 49ers getting owned by the Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals would’ve seemed laughable.  Almost as laughable as the idea of a black president.

But times change, children.  Pecking orders shift.  Fortunes rise and fall.  Hairlines recede.  Beerguts swell.  Moms pack all their stuff and move in with their boyfriends named Chet who play in country bands and haven’t held down a real job since they were fired from Hardees at 18 for giving free fries to their friends.

Chet’s a rebel.  Chet’s his own man.  Chet is anti-establishment.

Chet used to love the 49ers, until Young left.  Then they had Jeff Garcia, and that little bitch Terrell Owens, and then even those guys left and there was only Alex Smith.  Even Rice was gone.  That was when Chet realized he always really liked the Patriots.

And your mom tried to give you Chet’s old Montana jersey and you were like, “Who wants that smelly old thing?  Are you smoking pot?”

Yes, your mom smokes pot now.  And she’s pregnant with Chet’s baby.  And you’re seriously contemplating taking off for California with your friend Ethan in his hand-me-down Focus.

You have a lot on your mind.  Life is confusing.  I feel for you, my green little buddy.  I myself remember a more innocent time, a less confusing time.  A time when Bill Cosby was not just an angry old man ranting to Larry King.  A time when Axl Rose was – believe it or not – considered cool.  A time when having a phone in your car meant you were extravagantly rich and something of a dickhead.

A time when the San Francisco 49ers were more than just the team that drafted Michael Crabtree and then couldn’t sign him.

My God, that was a looooooong time ago.