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There are three important reasons why Joe Montana, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers football team, is the greatest Super Bowl (and regular season) quarterback in National Football League history.
- First, Montana had an uncanny sense for reading defenses, then finding his receivers or running out of trouble when linemen rushed him.
- Second, he possessed an incredible intuition that resulted in long gains or touchdowns, when other quarterbacks might have been sacked.
- Third, he was a quiet leader and an inspiration to teammates, coaches, and the fans who cheered him for so many years.
Though he would become the greatest Super Bowl quarterback to date, Montana's debut in the NFL was not heralded. The 49ers drafted him only in the third round in 1979, unlike most future-star quarterbacks, who almost always go immediately in the first round.
Once he earned the starting role for San Francisco, however, Montana quickly demonstrated that he had skills above and beyond the required passing, running, and play-sensing all quarterbacks must possess. It has been said that Montana's intuitive skills have never been equaled, and he always seemed to know where everyone was - both on offense and defense - at all times. "Ho knows, did he throw more passes to his third-choice receiver than anyone?" one writer asked.
The ability to find a tertiary receiver when defensive linemen and linebackers are rushing at a quarterback ferociously, and not be tackled for a loss, is one relatively few quarterbacks possess. Montana was perhaps the best of all at this. Little wonder he led his team to four Super Bowl championships without once losing. That alone, if he had done nothing else, would make him a Hall of Fame player.
Montana's incredible sense for the game of football reached a defining moment in the Super Bowl in 1982. San Francisco was playing the Dallas Cowboys, who were heavily favored in the game. Since it was Montana's first-ever Super Bowl, there was much suspicion that he would fold under the pressure.
Montana, however, kept the 49ers in the game. They trailed only by 27-21 with just 58 seconds left. Here, his intuition and coolness under pressure came to the fore. He could not find his initial receiver, and the defensive rush was about to sack Montana for a loss. Somehow, Montana sensed that a secondary receiver (Charlie Waters) was in the back of the end zone, even though he could not see him. He lofted the ball, which appeared to be going out of bounds. Waters leaped high and made one of the most incredible catches in Super Bowl history. The underdog 49ers were winners, thanks to the uncanny instincts of their quarterback.