(Reuters) – Getting agreement on the greatest NFL player of all-time may be a lost cause but it would be hard to argue that anyone was more consistently prolific on the biggest stage than Joe Montana.
The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback went a perfect 4-0 in Super Bowl appearances in which he completed a combined 83-of-122 passes without throwing an interception and was named the championship game’s Most Valuable Player three times.
Nicknamed Joe Cool, Montana was seemingly impervious to the pressure of a scoreboard deficit and managed to bring a sense of calm to every huddle.
A master of late-game comebacks, Montana led his teams to 31 fourth quarter come-from-behind wins, including a stunning 92-yard drive in the final minutes of the Super Bowl in early 1989 to give the 49ers their third championship in eight years.
“What I have is recognition. The ability to see everything on the field,” Montana once said. “Position the other team to death. Keep the ball alive and keep it moving forward. Then, at the right moment, knock them on their ass. Own the field.”
In 1982, with the upstart 49ers one win from a Super Bowl berth, Montana capped a stunning 83-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Dwight Clark that is known simply as ‘The Catch’ and considered one of the greatest plays in NFL history.
On the magical play, Montana rolled right out of the pocket. Dallas Cowboys players chased him down but, throwing off-balance to the back of the end zone, Montana hit Clark’s outstretched hands for the game-winning score.
‘The Catch’, immortalised outside the 49ers’ stadium with statues of Montana and Clark depicting the play, ended the Cowboys’ National Football Conference dominance and launched the 49ers’ dynasty as they won their first Super Bowl two weeks later.
However, in early 1991, with the 49ers one win from playing for their third consecutive Super Bowl title, Montana hurt his elbow on a brutal hit. The 49ers lost the game and Montana missed the better part of the next two seasons.
In his absence, Steve Young emerged from Montana’s shadow and became an effective leader, which created a quarterback controversy when the latter was ready to return.
After 14 years with the 49ers, future Hall of Famer Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs and showed he still possessed remarkable field vision and keen decision making.
In his debut season, Montana led his new team to their first conference title game since 1969 but was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the third quarter of a 30-13 loss.
He returned for one more season and led the Chiefs back to the playoffs before calling time on a career during which he set the gold standard for quarterbacks.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)