Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The West Coast Offends -- and Montana Takes Advantage

The obvious thought is that the 49ers were fortunate to have five great quarterbacks in Frankie Albert, Y.A. Tittle, John Brodie, Steve Young, and Joe Montana. But when you consider that any of these quarterbacks could have been the starting quarterback or at least #1a for the all-time Chicago Bears or several other teams, the question shifts. The question becomes, "Why?" Why were the 49ers the recipients of all this bounty and not the Bears, or the Steelers, or the Lions, or a half-dozen other teams? It can't be entirely because the personnel was there; it has to be because someone coaching the 49ers, or several people, had new and better ways of playing football involving the quarterback.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, rarely does a professional football team pull off a successful 180-degree flip[1]. Change tends to be incremental and evolutional. Offensive genius attracts offensive genius. Frankie Albert hired Red Hickey in 1954. Why? Because Albert related well to offensive minds and Hickey had a good one. Never mind that Hickey was a bootlegger and Hickey was more of a free-thinker. The basic idea – moving the ball down the field via the pass – was the same.

The problem with the Niners through the ‘60s and early ‘70s was that they had defensive coaches coaching a basically offensive team. Bill Walsh brought innovative offense back to a team that thrived on offensive innovation. The dark years after Walsh, Seifert and Mariucci were the result of defensive thinking applied to an offensive team -- which is why Niners fans ought to be so excited about Jim Harbaugh. He is the right person to coach the Niners, and the Niners are the right team for him to coach.

So taking this thinking back to Joe Montana, it’s not that the 49ers were fortunate to have so many great quarterbacks. They were fortunate to have so many great offensive minds to work through their quarterbacks to produce results.

It’s definitely more this way than the other. The records of the five QBs listed above when they weren’t with the Niners was 63-59-4 (counting Albert’s year in Canada and Young’s with the L.A. Express); take out Tittle’s years with the Giants and the record drops to 31-46-1.

Montana would probably not have been a Hall of Fame quarterback had he landed with the Bears, the Steelers, the Cardinals, the Bills, or a score of similarly defense-minded teams. While I realize many football fans view Montana with a reverence approaching Joe DiMaggio in baseball or John Havlicek in basketball, the reality is more pedestrian: He was more lucky to be a Niner than the Niners were to have him as a quarterback.

[1]So all you folks who think that Robert Griffin III is going to transform the Redskins into the 21st-century Niners might want to hold off for a couple of years.