SAN FRANCISCO — When Joe Montana thinks about the Kansas City Chiefs, the franchise he quarterbacked for the final two seasons of his legendary career, the Hall of Famer feels a strong connection and a deep sense of appreciation.
Yet when he recalls switching teams late in his career — which Montana did when the San Francisco 49ers traded him to Kansas City in the spring of 1993 — the four-time Super Bowl champion says it’s an experience he wouldn’t wish on anyone. And yes, that includes six-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady, who is contemplating a departure from the New England Patriots as he closes in on unrestricted free agency in March.
“It’s not easy to go to another team and get accepted, no matter how much success you’ve had and how many years you’ve played,” Montana told me last Friday during an on-camera interview that will be featured on NFL Network’s GameDay Morning this coming Sunday, before his two former teams face off in Super Bowl LIV in Miami. “They still want to see you come in and be the same player and be that loyal to them as you were to the other team you just left. So, it’s not easy (for) guys looking at that change, especially at the quarterback position.”
Asked specifically what advice he’d give Brady, the only player who has surpassed him in Super Bowl MVP awards (four to three), about possibly leaving the Patriots and signing with another team, Montana smiled and said, “Don’t — if you don’t have to. It’s a process to go through, and it takes time to get used to the team. I was fortunate because (former 49ers quarterbacks coach) Paul Hackett was there running the offense, and so I was pretty familiar with probably three-quarters of the offense going in. And, if they let [Brady] have his own offense (with a new team), yeah, that makes it a little bit easier. But still, the transition of moving …
“I just can’t see how they would let him leave there, myself.”
Then again, the thought of Montana leaving San Francisco once seemed implausible. In 1990, as the Niners tried to win an unprecedented third consecutive Super Bowl, Montana was named the league’s MVP for the second year in a row. The 49ers led the New York Giants in the 1990 NFC Championship Game when Montana was knocked out on a fourth-quarter hit and later lost on a last-second field goal. Montana then missed the entire 1991 season, and virtually all of the ’92 campaign, with elbow injuries; his replacement, future Hall of Famer Steve Young, earned NFL MVP honors during the latter season, setting the stage for Montana’s departure.
For what it’s worth, Montana thrived during his time in K.C., leading the Chiefs to the 1993 AFC Championship Game (they suffered a 30-13 defeat to the Buffalo Bills, who knocked him out of the game with a third-quarter concussion) and back to the playoffs in ’94 (they lost a first-round game to Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins).
Montana also had the surreal experience of facing his former team, and he flourished in that setting: In September of 1994, Montana quarterbacked the Chiefs to a 24-17 over Young and the Niners at Arrowhead Stadium. Four-and-a-half months later, Young earned MVP honors in leading San Francisco to its fifth and most recent Super Bowl triumph, a blowout of the San Diego Chargers in Miami.
As the Chiefs and Niners prepare to face off in the same stadium a quarter-century later, Montana feels bonded to both of his former franchises.
“Kansas City, you know, took me on when, everyone thought, may have thought, I was done playing at the time,” he said. “Great organization, crazy-good fans, we had a really good team also at the same time. … I just never thought I’d leave San Francisco. But Jerry (Rice) followed me, and Ronnie (Lott left after the ’90 season). It comes a time in everyone’s career, I think.”
Yet if Brady’s time in New England is done — and the 42-year-old elects to play elsewhere — Montana believes the transition will be tougher than most people can imagine.
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.