Shutdown Corner

The Shutdown Corner Interview: Joe Montana

Joe Montana, throwing balloons at darts in Super Bowl XXIII. (Getty Images)

When it comes to playing quarterback in the Super Bowl, who would you rather talk to than Joe Montana? Shutdown Corner had that exact opportunity this week, as Joe Cool sat down to talk with us about a number of subjects -- the evolution of the quarterback position, the new 49ers, Joe Flacco's ridiculous postseason run, and the Tide commercial aired during the Super Bowl that featured the Montana "miracle stain." The commercial came in second place in USA Today’s AdMeter, trailing the eventual winner by only one one-hudredths of a point -- proving that the Montana name is still pure gold.

It was our distinct pleasure to talk football with the best quarterback in Super Bowl -- and perhaps NFL -- history.

[Michael Silver: Young stars found spotlight during NFL season]

Shutdown Corner: So, the "Miracle Stain" commercial was very funny, but you weren't actually in it -- just your salsa replica. What did you think of it?

Joe Montana: No, I'm not. My good-looking stain is in there, but that's about it. I thought it was really great - kind of unique, and being able to play on both teams that were in the Super Bowl, and giving both a plug. That's very unusual -- it's usually one side or the other, or not at all, So, I thought it was a pretty unique idea.

SC: Now, you played in a lot of mud games. Did you ever fall or slide in the mud, get up, and notice that you had some sort of interesting replica on your uniform? Maybe you, or someone smart like Harris Barton says, "Hey Joe -- that mud stain looks like something else?"

JM: Only when we slid on our rear ends.

Montana at the 2013 NFL Honors during Super Bowl week in New Orleans. (AP)

SC: Yeah, that's not a resemblance you want. And on that note, let's talk some football. It was your record that Joe Flacco matched, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in a single postseason. Your own good self aside, have you ever seen any quarterback in a postseason groove like that?

JM: His whole playoff run is how you would like to hope that it happens. Those are few and far between, because he played pretty darned near perfect. That's what you need to win, and that's part of the reason they were able to do what they did. Because some of the throws he made, especially in the Super Bowl -- they were tight. A couple of those drives, he had crossing routes with a couple of guys on [the receiver's] back, and you've got to know how to get it in there. It doesn't take arm strength; it takes touch, And you saw with the first throw, that first touchdown to [Anquan] Boldin. He has all the throws in his bag, and those are the guys who have the success for the most part. But the guys with the big, strong arms, they try to use that all the time, and you can't do that.

SC: That throw to Boldin was ridiculous -- right over NaVorro Bowman and Donte Whitner, and right in the basket. As you intimated, touch is the rarer commodity, as opposed to just having the zipgun arm. You came out of Notre Dame, not highly regarded, a third-round pick. But when you got in the NFL, when did it lock in for you? When were you able to say to yourself, "I've finally got what I need to succeed?"

JM: I think it took a while -- I mean, you always think you have the array of stuff. But the best thing to happen to me was Bill Walsh, because he kinda talked me through it. He worked fundamentals, which is a lot of your footwork, and he never let those go. He wanted perfection, and he talked to you about the type of throw that you needed to make on this play or that play -- "This one's got to be on the line" or "Put some air under that one." That's how I was taught. Little did he know that I didn't have a cannon anyway, so it wasn't like I was going to throw it 30 yards downfield on a rope.

You watch a lot of these guys with big arms... their receivers are running across the field shallow, and they just try to throw it hard. The defender gets a hand in there, and those are things that make a difference when you're keeping a drive alive -- putting a little touch on the ball in front of [the receiver], and letting the guy run into it. It takes little things, and you don't really notice when you're watching the game unless you've been taught a lot of that stuff.

SC: My favorite quote of yours is when you said, "I don't throw darts at balloons, I throw balloons at darts." It seems to summarize what you're talking about -- when you get to that high level, and it's understanding not just the need for velocity, but the need for variances in velocity, I guess. You time your receivers, and you where they're going to be, and you're a pitcher throwing different speeds.

JM: You have to be able to anticipate that it's going to be tight, and make those kinds of throws. Flacco did that, and he played against a pretty good defense. You're not going to be able to hold the ball as long as you want, and wait for the perfect timing, because you run out of ... those three seconds you have back there go pretty fast.

SC: I've heard this phrase a lot, and people have different definitions, so I thought I'd ask the guy who did it better than anybody else: What does it mean to "throw your receivers open?"

JM: A lot of times, you'll see guys ... let's take a post route, for example. You have a receiver running a post, he's going downfield on your right side, and he's supposed to "keep it high," as they say -- he's going to keep it on the right side. You've got the defender running on his right shoulder. Now, if you try to throw the ball on a line to him and the defender steps underneath, he knocks the ball down. But what happens where you're supposed to throw the ball -- you're supposed to throw it further left, keeping him on line, and let him bend over to the ball, if there's no free safety. That's one of the ways -- it's the easiest way to explain it. But you're throwing the ball and actually pulling him away from the defender with the throw. The closer to get [to the receiver], the more touch you have to have. Because the defender won't move, and if the ball's coming in too hard, it's tough for the receiver to move and make the catch. So, that's what they mean by that.

SC: I'm curious to know your thoughts about San Francisco's current offense -- it's pretty different from the West Coast offenses you and Steve Young ran. It's more power/counter/trap, option and pistol, heavy inside run game, a lot of pre-snap motion. When you watch that current offense, what are your thoughts?

JM: Well, they're fun to watch. They'll do a little bit, and some of those [West Coast] concepts because of what they did at Stanford, but the thing that'd different about Jim Harbaugh is that he runs a lot of different formations and personnel matchups at you, to try and create favorable matchups. That's sort of what Bill did, but in a different way. Jim's fun to watch -- give him a couple of weeks, and he's going to come up with all kinds of crazy stuff.

SC: You were a very mobile quarterback -- your most famous play was a "Sprint Right Option" to Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone in the 1981 NFC Championship game. You had to run and then throw a lot. What are your thoughts about the new wave of mobile quarterbacks -- Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, et al?

JM: I think that when you look at those three guys, they're pretty unique because they can all throw the football. That's different to what they do. The only scary thing about it is what happens to guys who run around. Like RGIII -- eventually you take a couple of hits, and a couple more hits, and it's really hard to protect yourself as much as you would like to out there. It's inevitable -- that's what's going to happen, I'm sure the team owner cringes every time he runs out of the pocket, with the money he's got invested. But they're playing really well, those three guys. They're moving on, and I think you'll see a little bit of that in everyone's offense when they can do it. But I don't think the traditional guys are going away, either.

SC: Right -- Flacco's certainly proven that. Let's talk a bit more about Kaepernick, the next man up in that formidable 49ers quarterback legacy. He's got 10 NFL starts and he's still putting it together, but what is your take on his so far?

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JM: You know, I think he's got the ability to be very good or great down the line. Like I said, you're just got to hope he stays healthy. He's got a little bit more size that RGIII. I'm curious to see next year, when he's the starter from the beginning -- how he approaches that part of it. I'm sure it won't change much. That style of offense is a little different -- he's throwing to guys who are open, and it makes it a little bit easier, throwing the ball when you can run it like him. But he had a great year, or half a year, or however you want to look at it. We'll see where it goes next year.

SC: He's kind of emblematic of a lot of young quarterbacks who struggle in red zone situations -- it was clear in the Super Bowl that he was having issues with the touch passes in or near the end zone. Why do quarterbacks sometimes have issues with that? I mean, you did that to a fairly impressive degree (obviously huge understatement) in your career, How do the required attributes change when you're in the opponents' 10-yard line?

JM: Well, everything gets squeezed. There are no deep threats, so the safeties and cornerbacks are squatting on all of your throws. So, accuracy, touch, and timing all come into play, more than anywhere else on the field. It can be hard when you're not throwing it all the time down there, but they've got a good running game, which should really help him down there. With guys like Frank Gore and LaMichael James, but especially Gore.

SC: Did you have any issues with that final series of playcalls in the red zone, ending with the fade to Crabtree? A lot of people are still wondering why they didn't run it, or implement more of their diverse blocking in there. They're beating that Baltimore front four pretty frequently, Haloti Ngata is hurt, and all that.

JM: You can go back and ... I know he hits the guy in the flat once , and he may have had the guy [Crabtree] in the end zone, though it's hard to see on the TV versions of it. When you throw a fade, you're doing that because you feel you have a good matchup. That's not a call from the sideline most of the time. Could have been, but that's usually part of it. You usually have other places to go, and I don't remember if he had pressure on him right away [Ed. note: He did, from Dannell Ellerbe in the B-gap], but I know they put pressure on him down there every time they got a chance.

SC: The 49ers were 5-0 in Super Bowls before this loss, and you had quite a bit to do with that. When this game was over, was there any disappointment for you that the perfect Super Bowl record was gone?

JM: There's no disappointment -- it's sad for us that it's gone, but that's life. Records are always there to be broken, and it's just a matter of getting back there. They can't worry about that. They just have to worry about finding another way to get back there. Records like that are nice, but they're also there to be aimed for. It's hard to stay there.

SC: Do the 49ers seem pretty set up for long-term success in your mind?

JM: Oh, yeah -- I think so. They have a bunch of draft picks coming, and they're fairly young. Gore's getting up there, and a few other guys, but they should be okay.

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