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Will 49ers quarterback Montana go out gracefully,...


Will 49ers quarterback Montana go out gracefully, or 0) embittered?

Matt Millen, the former linebacker who won Super Bowl rings with three different teams during his career, still marvels at the way Joe Montana played in 1989.

"It was incredible," Millen said. "We're talking about sports, it's not like it's changing the world or anything, but you'd go out and watch him and there were times you'd just be amazed at some of the things he did, his decision process, what he saw. It was fun. I don't think that happens too often."

Montana was at the top of his game three years ago when he led the San Francisco 49ers to their fourth Super Bowl victory.

It now seems like a long time ago.

For the second straight year, the NFL kicks off its season with the 49ers playing the New York Giants without Montana, now 36, in uniform.

He's back on injured reserve, which means he can't play for at least four weeks. Nobody knows if he'll play after that.

It's our loss as well as his. He was a master. A Montana only comes along once a generation or so.

The sad thing is that the fire that made him such a competitor also makes it difficult for him to let go.

Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys retired on top in 1980, but he was the exception to the rule. Montana may wind up the way Terry Bradshaw did in 1983 in Pittsburgh when he was squabbling with coach Chuck Noll in his final year.

Montana made it obvious last week that he was unhappy about being on the IR list. He even hinted he'd liked to be let out of his contract at the end of this season.

That contract calls for him to be paid $2.5 million in 1993. He apparently thinks teams are going to line up to sign a 37-year-old quarterback with a bad arm.

Owner Ed DeBartolo replied he'd do whatever Montana wants.

It'd be a great story if Montana came back from his arm injury. Nobody wants to count him out because

he has done it so often in the past.

But if he can't this time, it'd be a shame if he walked away bitter.

Close, but . . .

When the Chicago Bears were blown out by the San Francisco 49ers in the final Monday night game last season, the Detroit Lions were handed the division title.

That's why Lions coach Wayne Fontes was interviewed during the ABC-TV telecast while smoking a victory cigar.

It turned out the Chicago fans didn't like his Red Auerbach imitation. They've been mailing him cigars this week before today's Detroit-Chicago game.

"If they want to send me cigars, send me good ones," Fontes said.

The Bears, meanwhile, are denying that they're using the cigars as incentive.

"I think it's absolutely a joke," quarterback Jim Harbaugh said. "It's not how the team feels. There's nothing on the bulletin board. We're not talking about it."

Is he protesting too much?

Another Ditka book

Mike Ditka's life seems to be an open book, but there's a new unauthorized biography on the Bears' coach entitled: "Ditka: Monster of the Midway." Among other things, the book suggests Ditka has done his share of carousing. What a surprise.

Anyway, Ditka seemed to be promoting it by blasting it.

"People who write about the past are cowards and losers," he said. "I have a lot of faults, but I know what I am and what I stand for. Nobody else can write about that and tell me who I am and I'm going to be judged not by any of you people in this room, God forbid. I'll be judged by my creator. When all is said and done, perfection is never something I espoused to."

The trial

Baltimore may know by the end of the week whether there's a chance the NFL is going to expand soon because the antitrust JTC trial in Minneapolis is likely go to the jury this week.

The testimony ended last week, and all that's left before the jury gets the case is the closing arguments and instructions to the jury by Judge David Doty.

Meanwhile, Charlotte made a rebound in the expansion derby by presenting its new stadium financing plan to NFL president Neil Austrian, who said it answered the NFL's questions and said the city had a "strong application."

Charlotte still hasn't made its plan public, but it apparently includes a combination of corporate financing and a premium-seat charge. Now, it'll have to convince the owners it'll be as good as the public financing plans that Baltimore and St.

Louis have in place. That may be a tough sell.

Minority hiring

Terry Robiske has some company this year. Last year, the Los Angeles Raiders' offensive coordinator was the only black coordinator in the league. Now there are four. Tony Dungy is the defensive coordinator in Minnesota and Sherm Lewis and Ray Rhodes are coordinators in Green Bay.

It's noteworthy that Robiske and Dungy work for the only two black head coaches (Art Shell of the Raiders and Dennis Green of the Vikings) while Lewis and Rhodes worked with Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren while they were all San Francisco assistants.

"I don't think it's a black-white thing," Robiske said. "It's a buddy-buddy thing. It took blacks a long time to get here, to get to the coaching fraternity. We just haven't been here long enough. You have to know somebody."

A total of 66 of 317 assistants are black this year.

There still are no black owners or general managers in the league.

Storm damage

Offensive lineman Tom Newberry of the Los Angeles Rams was stunned by a picture of the damage caused by the hurricane in Florida that he saw in the Los Angeles Times.

"I was sitting there reading the newspaper at a restaurant and all of a sudden, I looked and go, 'Man, that looks familiar,' " he said.

It was a picture of his boat, which was destroyed, and his home, which suffered $10,000 damage. He lives in Coral Gables, Fla.

Buddy, buddy

Eric Dickerson, who'll open the season as the starting running back for the Los Angeles Raiders, is denying speculation that he's not getting along with Marcus Allen.

"I talk to him every day. It's fine. It's like people want a big controversy with Marcus and me, but there are no problems. We're friends," he said.

Allen hasn't talked to the media this year.

The kickoff artist

Brad Daluiso, who handled only the kickoffs for the Buffalo Bills last year, will do the same thing for the Denver Broncos, who picked him up when the Dallas Cowboys cut him. David Treadwell will continue to kick field goals even though he missed three against the Bills in the AFC title game.

Daluiso knows that only being asked to kickoff is good work if you can find it.

"One of the network announcers last year said I probably have the best job in the country: low stress, high profile. It's fun," he said.

The quarterback

Bobby Ross, coach of the San Diego Chargers, may wish he were back at Maryland coaching Boomer Esiason.

With John Friesz injured and with Stan Humphries apparently not ready, he's going with Bob Gagliano in the opener today.

At 34, Gagliano will he'll be the third-oldest starting quarterback in the league behind Phil Simms, 36, who's starting for the New York Giants, and Warren Moon, 35, who's starting for the

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