Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports
February 1, 2016
SAN FRANCISCO —
Joe Montana laughed, flashing back to the pressures of Super Bowl week.
“Once everybody gets into town, you think you’re squared away,” Montana told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday, pondering family and friends that come for the show.
“But then it’s, ‘I don’t like my seat.’ Or ‘I don’t like the hotel.’ And ‘I want to go to that party.’
“Jennifer was a lifesaver,” the living legend added, referring to his wife.
Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers arriving Sunday to ignite a week of hype, glory and anticipation leading to a milestone Super Bowl 50, there may be no better person on the face of the earth to put it all in perspective than the Bay Area icon also known as Joe Cool.
“It’s really another game,” he said. “The challenge is not to let the hype of the game affect the way you play. That’s a hard thing to do. There will be a point in the game where you have to draw on that.”
This is a great week for nostalgia. Montana guided the
San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl titles, was named the game’s MVP a record three times and was voted by a panel of experts as quarterback for the NFL’s Golden Anniversary Super Bowl team.
Asked how the experience of playing in Super Bowl helped him, Montana quipped, “I learned not to get on the last bus.”
Niners won their first Super Bowl at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., on a frigid day in 1982, Montana was on a bus that was stuck in traffic to accommodate the motorcade for then-Vice President George H. W. Bush.
“Other than that, once you feel the excitement of winning a Super Bowl, it’s like being a kid in a candy store,” Montana said. “Once you get some candy, you want some more.”
Montana thinks that analogy is part of what drives
Peyton Manning, still trudging along at 39 in a quest to win his second crown. The Old School vs. New School dynamic pitting Manning and Cam Newton, the presumptive NFL MVP, is not lost on Montana.
“The game is exciting enough for both of them,” Montana said. “The difference is, people may say Cam is hungrier, but he doesn’t know what it’s like to win it. Peyton knows. Once you give him his candy, and he’s tasted it, you know what you’ve been missing.”
Montana figures the game will hinge on whether the Broncos’ No. 1-ranked defense can contain Newton, the sparkplug who ignites the NFL’s highest-scoring team.
Take it from Joe Cool — as prolific as offenses can be, defense still wins championships.
“People took our defense for granted,” Montana, who never threw a Super Bowl interception, said. “But that’s the real question for Denver’s defense: Can they stop Carolina from starting fast and set the pace of the game? Because I don’t think they can beat them in a shootout.”
Super Bowl XXIV, the 49ers trounced the Broncos 55-10. With Montana and Jerry Rice going off, they overshadowed the job the defense did in dismantling John Elwayand crew.
“Same thing about the ’84 team,” Montana said, referring to the outfit that beat the Dan Marino-led
Miami Dolphins 38-16 in Super Bowl XIX. “Everybody talked about our offense. Nobody talked about our defense. Ronnie (Lott, Golden Team safety and Hall of Famer) to this day will tell you that was the best defense he ever played on.”
Montana has been a part of even more Super Bowl weeks over the years as a dignitary. On Sunday, he’ll be at
Levi’s Stadium as the Golden Team is honored.
“If it’s raining, I’m leaving at halftime,” Montana declared. “You can never get to watch the game anyway. Even if you’re in a box, people are talking when I’d rather watch the game. That’s why I like to be at home, watching the Super Bowl with the kids.”
Of course, this one is a bit different.
“My only regret is that I’m not playing,” he says.
Montana is stoked that the big game is back on his home turf — 31 years after he outdueled Marino at Stanford Stadium, the last case when a team played a Super Bowl in its home market.
On Saturday, Jennifer (who will spend the week co-hosting a daily Super Bowl show for a local TV station) and Joe were on hand for the opening of “Super Bowl City” — the blocks in San Francisco dedicated to NFL-themed activities and entertainment — and had a blast. After dinner, they went back for the fireworks show.
“This is great for the city,” Montana said. “What better place could you have this particular game in? You might say New York City, but they’ve probably got two feet of snow. Or they did.”
After all of these years since he played on the big stage, one thing hasn’t changed: People still ask Montana for Super Bowl tickets.
“I tell them, ‘I don’t have access to tickets,’ Montana said. “They say, ‘Well, you should.’
“It doesn’t matter. Because even if you do, you don’t get a dollar discount. It’s the NFL.”
(Editor's note: A previous version of this story claimed the 49ers were the only team to play a Super Bowl in their home market. The Los Angeles Rams played Super Bowl XIV in Pasadena, Calif.'s, Rose Bowl.)
Follow NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell