Time reveals patterns: patterns of shape, patterns of structure, and patterns of least resistance. Even your body, at its most elemental level, follows such time-instigated patterns. The most notable: the circadian rhythm. A rhythm of intervals approximately 24 hours apart. No matter light, no matter darkness, this pattern occurs.
It is internal. It is time. It is inevitable.
And so is history.
This is no metaphor. This is fact. Proven in hollowed cemetery grounds and mausoleum walls. Proven on hallowed fields and pitches. To be proven again when shrewd men blind themselves to grasp glory.
This is the pattern prompted by Johnny Unitas and the San Diego Chargers. The pattern continued by Joe Namath and the Los Angeles Rams. The pattern written into history by the Ken Stablers, the Jim McMahons, the Jeff Hostetlers, and the Brett Favres.
The pattern is simple: no quarterback in NFL history has ever won Super Bowls with two different teams. This, of course, includes Joe Montana.
The similarities between Joe Montana and Peyton Manning are staggering.
In 1992, Montana had missed almost the entire season due to an elbow injury, which many believed would cause him to retire. Still, that off-season, Joe was ready to return and to show the NFL that he had regained his old form.
The fear, as in Manning’s case, was that the injury had robbed Montana of his arm strength. Montana’s former coach Paul Hackett would word offer a defense that rivals that of Manning’s former coach David Cutcliffe.
“He’s stronger than I remember,” Hackett claimed. “I see more zip on the ball. His foot speed has really diminished, but I still see good movement in the pocket. He’s still quick, and his niftiness is still there. His mind for the game and his enthusiasm for the challenge are absolutely wonderful.”
So, that off-season, the 49ers, like the Colts, were faced with a difficult decision: the future or the past, Montana or Young.
Mayhem ensued, as Montana’s agent Peter Johnson would note, Montana was greeted by a Michael Jackson-esque mania.
The 49ers would ultimately decide on the more youthful Young. Montana would be sent to Kansas City along with safety David Whitmore and a third-round draft pick in the 1993 NFL Draft in exchange for the Chiefs’ first-round selection.
In acquiring Montana, the Chiefs abandoned their offensive philosophy. They went so far as to hire Montana’s old quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett as their offensive coordinator. Hackett had never coordinated an NFL offense before, and had certainly never directed a transition from a power-running scheme to the West Coast offense.
The results for the Chiefs speak for themselves. The Chiefs (11-5) managed to win just one more game than they had in the year prior despite the additions of Montana and Marcus Allen. Though they would make it to the AFC Championship game, Montana — who had already missed five regular season games due to injury — would be knocked out in the third quarter with the Chiefs trailing by 14 to the Buffalo Bills.
The following season would be worse. Montana would lead the Chiefs to a 9-7 record and an early exit in the playoffs.
Montana retired after the season, much to the pleasure of his Kansas City teammates.
According to Jason Whitlock, who covered the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, “Montana’s legend, presence, media-seducing aura and $4-million paycheck destroyed team chemistry – player and coaching chemistry.”
This is where the similarities strike closest. The 49ers are predicated on self-effacing players, on a group identity, on the team, the team, the team. Of course, that Manning would change this is no fault of his. It is simply as inevitable as time.
It certainly was for Montana’s Chiefs.
Despite Montana’s “lack of ego and his ability to make everyone around him feel like the most important people in the world,” he still detracted from the team.
“I’m not trying to take anything away from him,” chief receiver Willie Davis said, “but when Joe was here, the focus was all on Joe. This was Joe’s team.”
Manning is a great quarterback, as was Montana. And just as Montana was an upgrade over Dave Krieg, Manning is an upgrade over Alex Smith. But history has proven such acquisitions don’t work.
As the late linebacker Derrick Thomas said in regards to Montana: “you know, in the NFL, just because you got the answer, doesn’t mean you’re going to solve the problem.”
Manning would solve no problem. He would yield no better result than Smith. He would simply reinforce the patterns of time, while proving Baalke and Harbaugh’s blindness.