For a few years in the early 1990s, the San Francisco 49ers found themselves at a crossroads. Joe Montana, their future Hall of Famer and franchise quarterback, had missed 31 games from 1991-92, giving way to Steve Young. The change under center predictably created a quarterback controversy, one Montana wasn’t exactly interested in seeing through.
He demanded a trade from San Francisco, which piqued the interest of the Chiefs. Kansas City traded its 1993 first-round pick in 1993 for Montana, David Whitmore and a third-rounder in 1994, giving the Chiefs Super Bowl aspirations. It was one of the biggest deals in NFL history, starting what would be a second 49ers dynasty with Steve Young at quarterback.
In the second part of our 10-day series reviewing the biggest trades in NFL history, here are six things you may not have known about the Chiefs’ trade for Montana.
The guy San Francisco landed with the pick from Kansas City was a three-time Pro Bowler
The Chiefs didn’t acquire the future Hall of Famer from the 49ers for cheap, but the price they paid wasn’t franchise-altering. The terms were simple: Montana, David Whitmore and a 1994 third-round pick for the Chiefs’ first-rounder (18th overall) in 1993. The 49ers didn’t have much choice with Montana forcing their hand, so getting a first-round pick in return was fair for a 37-year-old quarterback.
With the pick, the 49ers selected Dana Stubblefield after a trade back to No. 26. The defensive tackle out of Kansas had the most career sacks of any player taken in the first round with 53.5 and was a three-time Pro Bowler (one first-team All-Pro selection) with the 49ers, so his production was certainly notable. He played five years in San Francisco before joining the Redskins in 1998. Stubblefield eventually returned to the 49ers in 2001 for two more years.
Montana had more playoff success in one year than the Chiefs had in the previous 20
From 1972 to 1991, the Chiefs won exactly one playoff game. They made the postseason three times, but only once did they advance past the first round. That changed quickly when Montana arrived in 1993.
The Chiefs not only made the playoffs in his first season thanks to an 11-5 record, but they made it all the way to the AFC title game after Montana led them to two postseason wins. It was more victories in the playoffs than the Chiefs had in the previous 20 years.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have as much success the following year, losing in the wild-card round – Montana’s final playoff appearance before retiring.
Montana was unable to wear No. 16 or his college number because both were retired
Montana wore No. 16 during his entire 13-year tenure in San Francisco, and it almost became synonymous with his name. However, when he was traded to the Chiefs, there was just about no chance he’d be able to continue wearing that number, considering it was retired for Hall of Famer Len Dawson.
No. 3 was likely another option after he wore it at Notre Dame, but there was the same issue: It was retired for Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud. So, what was Montana to do? He chose 19 after wearing it during his Pop Warner days, going back to his roots.
At the time, Dawson said he “wouldn’t like them to un-retire” his number, and the Chiefs didn’t. Rumor has it the team offered it to Montana anyway, but regardless of the truth behind it, Montana opted to wear No. 19.
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Steve Young had as many touchdown passes in 1993 as Montana had in two years with the Chiefs
Part of the reason the 49ers were so willing to deal Montana was because of the guy they had sitting behind him. Young was a first-team All-Pro and NFL MVP in 1992 after Montana missed the entire season, leading the league in completion rate (66.7 percent), touchdown passes (25) and passer rating (107.0). He was already a star after sitting behind Montana for five years, which made parting ways with the future Hall of Famer easier.
Young’s numbers the year after Montana was traded proved that. In 1993, he once again led the league in touchdown passes (29) and passer rating (101.5), helping the 49ers to a 10-6 record.
Montana, on the other hand, had 29 touchdown passes in two seasons with the Chiefs, and the same number of interceptions (16). That was over a 25-game span, but it’s clear Young was the more productive quarterback following the trade.
The Steelers didn’t want Montana because they had Neil O’Donnell
Back in 2012, Montana revealed that the Chiefs weren’t his first and only choice as a potential landing spot. His childhood favorite team, the Steelers, were also high on the list. Unfortunately for Montana, Pittsburgh wasn’t interested in the veteran quarterback because it already had – wait for it – Neil O’Donnell.
“I tried to go there before … when I was looking at Kansas City and they, they said no. I think (Neil) O’Donnell was still there.”
For reference, O’Donnell was coming off of a Pro Bowl season in 1992, when he threw 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He wasn’t a star quarterback by any means and continued to play average football for the next three years in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers look foolish for passing on Montana because of O’Donnell.
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The 49ers wanted to give Montana his starting job back
Montana was the one who wanted out of San Francisco. It wasn’t the 49ers who wanted to dump the injury-riddled quarterback. They made that abundantly clear when Montana demanded a trade, offering him the starting job back after Steve Young handled it the previous two years.
Montana, however, wasn’t interested in remaining with the 49ers after a locker room rift developed with a looming controversy between him and Young. Montana turned down the team’s offer and once again demanded a trade to the Chiefs.
It's hard to imagine Montana wanting to leave the city where he made a Hall of Fame name for himself, but he had to know he'd be standing on a banana peel with Young waiting to get back on the field at the first sign of decline or another injury.