Montana's passing magic returns

It was just like the good old days Tuesday at 49ers headquarters. Joe Montana crouched behind center and took the snap from Jesse Sapolu. Montana moved smoothly backward in a classic three-step drop and fired a tight spiral to Roger Craig. And Bill Walsh stood close by, barking instruction.

This was a flashback to the heady days of the Niners' flourishing dynasty of the 1980s, and you had to look closely to make sure the clock hadn't been turned back a couple of decades. The faces had perhaps aged a bit, and the bodies had added a few pounds, but when these all-time 49ers greats went through the motions for an NFL instructional video, it looked almost as good as the real thing.

Montana, Craig, Walsh and Sapolu – along with former 49ers Brent Jones, Mike Wilson and Mark Harris – all were taking part in a quarterback tape Montana and Walsh are making for the NFL.

As Montana dropped back play after play and released the ball to his receivers, Walsh looked into the camera and explained the fundamentals and mechanics of the style and progression that made Montana and Walsh's West Coast Offense famous. The group still was going through drills long after the 49ers – the 2002 version – had finished Tuesday's minicamp practice.

"This is really something that I think, for Joe, that we should have historically – of Joe's fundamentals and his mechanics of playing the position," Walsh said. "Because Joe's truly the greatest quarterback and maybe greatest player of all time. His mechanics were unmatched by anyone. His mechanics were the best in the history of the game."

So Walsh wanted to make sure and get it on videotape to record the art of quarterbacking. The NFL, of course, was quick to give its blessing to the idea.

"Naturally, (the NFL's) very enthusiastic, it's as much their idea as ours," Walsh said. "So we're going to go through all the mechanics on the field and have it for posterity, so to speak, or for other people to learn from."

Montana said, "We're working on a little project together. And Bill wanted to get some things down before I got too fat and old and couldn't throw anymore. I thought that was a pretty good idea."

At 45, Montana's sense of humor hasn't changed much. Neither has the nimble footwork and pinpoint passing that made him famous. He looked as though he would have no problem stepping into the 49ers' huddle for game action today.

But Montana is far removed from that. In fact, Tuesday marked the first time he had visited a 49ers practice at the team facility since he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993.

"It's been a long time," Montana said, smiling. "I can't remember (the last time he was here). My eighth-grade picnic, I think."

Montana, who now lives in nearby Calistoga, has among his several ventures a business with former 49ers teammates Ronnie Lott and Harris Barton that helps current players invest their money prudently so they'll "have something when they retire." He said he doesn't hang around the 49ers – like some other former San Francisco greats have been known to do – because that simply is not his style or desire.

"One of the things that I've always done – and I get criticism from back where I grew up, college is the same way – I don't live much in the past very often," Montana said. "I consider myself a ‘do' person. I'd rather be finding myself something I can do, whether it's the horses or playing with the kids. I love watching the games. If I was around it more, I'd probably miss it more. Because I miss Sundays, obviously. But If I was around it more on a daily basis, it would be tougher, I think."

But it didn't look too tough Tuesday, as Montana obviously was enjoying himself while playing catch with his 10-year-old son Nicholas, posing for pictures with Walsh, coach Steve Mariucci and current Niners' quarterback Jeff Garcia, and mingling with his former teammates and other team personnel.

And, of course, dropping back to pass once the videocameras started whirling. That's when Montana, once again, truly was in his element.


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