Particularly since it could be his final opportunity to make it in the NFL. On his rocky path to San Francisco, McNown was a first-round bust in Chicago and fared little better in one disappointing season in Miami.
That's three teams in four seasons for McNown, who was projected as a franchise quarterback when he was the No. 12 player selected overall in the 1999 draft. But now it's a fresh start with a new team, and McNown isn't looking back.
"I feel really honored to be a part of this organization," McNown said after coming off the field Monday, when he showed flashes of brilliance in his 49ers debut but also displayed the inconsistency that has plagued his career. "They've got such a great tradition here. And you've seen just so many great quarterbacks come through and work within the offense and be successful. They know what they're doing here, so I feel really fortunate to be a part of it."
McNown declined to talk about the circumstances that chased him out of Chicago, instead focusing on what it will take to make it with the Niners. At the moment, he is competing with fifth-round draft pick Brandon Doman for the No. 3 role behind starter Jeff Garcia and backup Tim Rattay.
"You come in with a sense of urgency, just keeping the nose to the grindstone," McNown explained. "Just putting one foot in front of the other. You don't want to get to where you're looking too far down the road, 'cause it's real blurry. And even if it seems really clear to you when things are going well, you could be pretty disappointed if something goes bad. It's just part of this business, part of this game, just staying focused on this day and the next day, and then things will take care of themselves."
But actually, McNown's timetable with the 49ers is a bit more immediate. He will have to show them what he can do during camp and a five-game preseason that could prove pivotal to his career.
"I told him that I frankly thought it was going to be uphill, because he doesn't even know the language, he didn't have minicamps and all that stuff," said Niners general manager Terry Donahue, who recruited McNown to UCLA and coached him there for one season. "He's going to have to come from behind and learn all that stuff. He's got to learn that very rapidly. He came in with his eyes wide open. He understands clearly that he's got to battle to make this team."
But, in addition to the potential he displayed coming out of college, McNown also possesses something both Rattay and Doman don't have – game experience in the NFL. McNown played in 25 games with the Bears, starting 15.
"He's the only quarterback on the roster (besides Garcia) that has played in a number of real NFL games, not preseason games, and I think that's important," Donahue said. "I hope that ultimately he's on our team and he's a 49er for a long time. A lot of guys have bounced around to a lot of teams and then become very successful. Hopefully, in our situation, McNown has found the right place. I hope it's the last stop for him."
Said McNown: "When your back is against the wall, you come out fighting. That's something I can use to motivate me. It doesn't happen overnight, and turning it around doesn't happen overnight."
He should know.