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View Full Version : Has it really been ten years?


Count Alex's Losses
09-04-2005, 02:38 AM
Nope, it's been eleven. And I still miss him. :(

No slow in Joe

Former quarterback Montana hasn’t exactly been living life of leisure since he retired from football

By WRIGHT THOMPSON

The Kansas City Star

The lobby of the Fairmont is mostly empty when the doors swing open, making way for a phalanx of subordinates. One guy stands out. He’s in the back, walking across the marble floor, head buried in his BlackBerry. He looks an awful lot like Joe Montana.

The hair is spiked, a slight metrosexual adjustment. His clothes are nice but not overbearing, a study in dignified nonchalance. But it can’t be Joe, can it? Joe’s retired, and this man is most definitely not. Unless, of course, you define retired as two-cities-in-two-days, multitasking, working real estate, making wine, raising children, trying to lower America’s collective blood pressure by sheer force of personality.

He’s on the elevator now. Out into the hall. He tries to make small talk but soon returns to the BlackBerry, messages coming in like furious linebackers. He stopped playing football more than a decade ago, and, somewhere along the way, he managed to replace one obsession with another. With many more, actually, packing hobbies and jobs and projects into the void.

“I’m still on the road a lot more than I want to be,” he says, last Wednesday’s sun flooding through the window behind him, “and I have that conversation with Jennifer every day. I’ve got to find a way to make it so I can be home all the time. I say: ‘I’m at that point where I can be at home and not be like that. I’ve got enough to keep me busy.’ ”

He’s walks into hotel suite 1032, the one with a flat-panel television and a baby grand piano. Over in the corner, aides have brand-new, still-wrapped blue dress shirts, the kind he likes, in case he gets sweaty or wrinkly. He grabs a bite of barbecue and finally plops down on a couch, catching his breath. Then he hears the noise, calling like a young child over a baby monitor. He looks up, tired. What to do about the phone? Answer? Let it ring?

“Is that you?”

“It is,” Montana says, finally, “but it’s all right.”

The ringing stops. Now where were we? Oh, that’s right. He was beginning to talk about retirement. Ha, that’s a good one. Almost 11 years after he walked off the field for the last time, Joe Montana is still trying to retire.

He ended it in 1994, following two seasons with the Chiefs. In the days before his retirement, he stood on a patch of misty, barren Napa Valley land, imagining a home and a life in silence. He dreamed of lazy afternoons around the grill, his four kids hugging on daddy’s knee. At 38, he’d become the most famous man in America. A life of leisure awaited. Joe Montana breathed the country air and was content.

It didn’t last.

He started with small deals, with a short-lived television gig and corporate boards. He found himself around accomplished people, a room of Joe Montanas. On one airline manufacturer board, for instance, he shares table space with former Israeli Cabinet members, the former head of Apple Computers, an astronaut and on and on. The drive that made him hell on wheels inside 2 minutes clicked on, almost without him knowing it.

“The thing it makes you do is be more competitive in that area all of a sudden,” he admits. “OK, I know what you did and I appreciate what you did, but dang it, I’m gonna do something better.”

Around 2000, former teammates Ronnie Lott and Harris Barton asked him to join their investment management firm. This was what he needed, and Montana signed up. He’d spent six years searching for this, a purpose.

“I really took the lead on putting together the real estate fund-to-funds,” Montana says. “Real estate was always interesting to me.”

First, he needed a tutorial, so he got with professors at area universities for a refresher. He had coaches again. Berkeley professor Ken Rosen noticed something immediately, something rare and vital in the high-stakes world.

“He didn’t seem like he was nervous,” Rosen says.

The first big deal, with Montana and company succeeding in raising a remarkably large chunk of capital, awoke a look Lott hadn’t seen in a long time. They left the offices of their investors and turned back into athletes for a moment, giving each other high fives, literally jumping up and down in their suits.

“You could see the excitement,” Lott says. “He was more excited about that than on that last drive going down against Denver. What you’re finding is that he’s making plays. He’s just doing it in another platform. He’s trying to make plays. It’s kinda hard to turn off.”

Montana loved it. He got an office and had to leave his Napa home at 5 a.m. to make the commute to work. The barbecues and kids wrapped around daddy’s leg? That slipped away.

They were wildly successful. Lott says Montana raised $140 million and wasn’t surprised when he got phone calls from other executives doing background checks on his former quarterback. Montana was branching out.

It was about two years ago that Montana began to see the light. Brake lights, specifically. The Golden Gate traffic would back up, and sometimes it would take him four hours to get into the office. He became master of the 240-minute drill. Stuck on the bridge, cars winding ahead through the city, he’d sit behind the wheel and wonder: What am I doing? He had two girls getting older, moving out of the house. His boys were starting to pick up footballs, wanting Daddy to show them how. More and more, he’d sneak out of the office at 1:30 in the afternoon.

He thought back to his own childhood in Monongahela, Pa., with a dad honing a talent the world would come to worship. After talking it over with Lott and Barton, Joe Montana decided to back away from their company. Retirement, take two.

“His boys are at that age where they’re throwing the football,” Lott says. “He sees there are the boys out there playing ball, and I’m almost positive that he went, ‘My dad used to be out there all the time.’ ”

Montana was missing it. He realized that somewhere between Super Bowls and multimillion-dollar deals, his little girls had become beautiful women. With both students at his alma mater, Notre Dame, something caught in his throat.

“You see my girls grow up and they’re in college and next thing you know, they’re not this big anymore,” he says. “While I was playing, I missed a lot of their growth. Then I took it for granted that they were always gonna be that size and, next thing you know, they’re both out the door.”

Lott, godfather to one of the Montana kids and still like a brother to Joe, describes seeing an epiphany in his friend. In his rush to dominate, he’d been failing. Montana heard the boys ask for Daddy, and this time, he wanted to be there to answer.

“The last two years have been a wake-up call for him,” Lott says. “A wake-up call to be around his boys, to have fun, to be a great dad, to be like his dad was to him.”

But this is still Joe Montana we’re talking about. His version of retired isn’t anything like civilian retirement. He and wife Jennifer are heavily involved in local charities. One of them, Children’s Village of Sonoma County, has become a pet project.

The Montanas blend a wine with Ed Sbragia at Beringer, going once a year for a day of testing, mixing and tasting. They bring in Taylor’s Refresher, a local Napa greasy spoon, and get to work. When they started five years ago, the Montanas were novices. Now they know what to look for, calling out for more tannins or cherries or what have you.

He’s started a new real estate business, smaller than the old one but still time-consuming. They do entitlement work, and his current projects promise not to stretch longer than three years. After that, he can reevaluate.

He speaks around the country about high blood pressure, directing fans to getbpdown.com. That’s why he was in Kansas City last week, sharing the gospel: Even Joe Cool can have problems with his ticker. This is an important — though time-consuming — mission.

Mostly, football is a distant memory. Often, he’s confronted with a younger Joe in photos people want autographed. It doesn’t seem like it was he who did those amazing things.

“It just feels like it was a long time ago,” he says.

His house has no football memorabilia in it. When he visits with some of his former teammates — like a successful businessman forced to relive high school pranks with permanently adolescent friends — he has a difficult time sitting through talk of glory days.

“It’s hard because I don’t typically live in my past,” he says. “I still get a lot of grief from where I grew up in Monongahela because I don’t go back there a lot. Until my two girls were at Notre Dame, I didn’t spend a lot of time at Notre Dame, either. There are so many things that are happening now, it’s hard to live back then. I enjoyed what I did, don’t get me wrong. If I could still be playing today, I’d still be playing, but that’s behind me now.”

There are times, though, when he hears echoes. A little twinge, maybe early in the morning, before he can get his bearings and realize he’s in his comfortable mountain home, not about to drive to Candlestick. The feeling doesn’t ever really go away, and no amount of post-career jet-setting can replace it.

“Sundays are the hardest,” he says.

Not long ago, he and his two sons were flipping through channels when the one with the remote stopped on ESPN Classic. It was the 1979 Cotton Bowl, the comeback that birthed the Joe Cool legend, the first domino that led him to a plush living room, rich beyond his wildest dreams. For the first time in an eon, Montana watched himself.

And it wasn’t that long ago that he played in a puff charity game. After it ended, Lott’s phone began ringing. You should have seen Joe throw the ball, the whisperers said. Later, Montana pulled his friend aside.

“Man, Ronnie,” he said, “I was throwing the ball like I hadn’t lost it.”

So he keeps occupied, trying to make out the line between overworked and bored. A few weeks ago, he took his youngest daughter to Notre Dame for her freshman year. It was another reminder that he’d missed so much and didn’t want to make the same mistake with his boys.

“That was tough,” Montana says.

Moving day was something else. Imagine the father who finds out his girl’s randomly assigned roommate is Elizabeth Montana and the guy huffing and puffing up the stairs by him, lugging shoes, televisions, computers and more shoes is Joe Montana.

“It was a lovely humid day,” Joe says. “I was like the mule.”

Some of the other fathers on the floor had been to school with Montana, knew him before his name was synonymous with grace under fire. They saw each other in the halls, bellies going one way, hairline going another, and laughed. Where did the time go?

Moments like that make him certain that the train needs to stop. He’s going to spend more time at home, finally living the life he imagined on that Napa hillside a dozen years ago.

But first, he’s got this one thing to do. He feels like there’s progress on the blood-pressure front and, while he’s talking of slowing down, he’s actually increasing the schedule. “Now is the time to keep the ball rolling,” he explains. “Now instead of doing one city at a time, we’ve been hitting two back to back.”

Friends just laugh when they hear the talk of settling in at home. Joe Montana, they’ll tell you, is Joe Montana for a reason. Maybe Steve Bono could stay at the house and work a grill.

“He’s not gonna retire,” says Beringer wine guru Sbragia, laughing. “He’s so busy I can barely get him to come make the blend.”

The train rolls on. A thousand miles from his family, Joe Montana sits on an unfamiliar couch. He’ll go see them in one short day. Right now, another city’s skyline rises outside a hotel window. The schedule is booked, in neat 30-minute slots, with time for a water in between. He’s got radio and newspapers and Internet sites and a dinner and this and that.

Tomorrow he can go home. Tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow he’ll go home.

tk13
09-04-2005, 02:51 AM
The man is just a winner. There's really no other way to put it. It's amazing really.

tk13
09-04-2005, 03:00 AM
Oh yeah, and he owns Elway too. Maybe that's why I like him so much. :)

Logical
09-04-2005, 03:08 AM
The man is just a winner. There's really no other way to put it. It's amazing really.Yes, yet I feel very sorry for him. I would never give up my time with my kids, success is wonderful, but doesn't replace the time with my children. I learned it late but fortunately not too late.

DaneMcCloud
09-04-2005, 03:21 AM
Sounds like a crappy dad to me.

Dave Lane
09-04-2005, 07:46 AM
What a puff piece! He's not nearly as busy as they make it seem. It was 2000 before he did anything. Hell I want his schedule!

Dave

DJay23
09-04-2005, 08:52 AM
Great football player, maybe the greatest. Helped us to an AFC title game. That being said, he wasn't around long enough to miss him. I half the time forget he played with us.

B_Ambuehl
09-04-2005, 09:02 AM
Sounds like a rough life.

gblowfish
09-04-2005, 09:16 AM
Sounds like a rough life.Yep, he's got it bad, all right.