Montana finally runs into clock he can't beat

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For old Colts fans, here's a trivia question that didn't mak the "Diner" quiz:

How old was John Unitas when he won his last championship?

If you answered, "Thirtysomething," you flunked.

He was 26 when he led the Colts to his last title in 1959.

He did start Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys at age 37 at the end of the 1970 season, but he was injured late in the first half -- that tends to happen to old quarterbacks -- and Earl Morrall got the win in relief.

There is a romantic image of the savvy old quarterback winning on guile and cunning, but pro football tends to be a young man's game. Joe Namath won his only Super Bowl at age 25, Jim McMahon and Troy Aikman did it at age 26, and Mark Rypien managed it at 29. Bob Griese won his second at 28.

Among the thirtysomething crowd, Jim Plunkett was the oldest to do it, at age 36. Terry Bradshaw won his fourth Super Bowl at 33 -- the same age Bart Starr was when he got his fifth NFL title. Phil Simms and Ken Stabler did it at 31, Doug Williams at 32, Joe Theismann at 33, Len Dawson at 34 and Roger Staubach got his second one at 35.

Staubach played only two more years and retired on top. He's the exception to the rule, however. The competitive fire that makes quarterbacks so good makes it difficult for them to walk away. Unitas, for example, was benched at age 39 in 1972 and finished up the next year in San Diego.

The old quarterback now struggling to beat the clock is Joe Montana. He won his fourth Super Bowl at 33 in 1989, but has played only one half in the past two years because of arm problems.

He'll be 37 on June 11, and the 49ers would like to have him fade away as Steve Young's backup. That's not Montana's style. He still wants to start, although only two teams were seriously interested in him -- the Kansas City Chiefs and the Phoenix Cardinals.

After visiting both teams last week, Montana agreed to a three-year deal with the Chiefs yesterday. The team has to work out with a trade with the 49ers. The Cardinals already had agreed to give the 49ers a first-round pick for Montana.

It's a wonderful fantasy to think the old hero can do it one more time. It's intriguing to think of a Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl with Montana dueling Young.

When ex-Redskin Gary Clark caught passes from Montana in Phoenix last week, he said Montana still had the same old zip and said: "He's Joe. He defies all the odds."

Montana has come back before. He came back from back surgery in 1986 to win two more Super Bowls.

This time, though, Montana is facing the toughest opponent of them all: Father Time.

The legal game

The settlement reached on Jan. 6 was supposed to end the legal fight between the owners and the players. But now it appears they'll be in court fighting together instead of against each other.

Federal Judge David Doty is likely to approve the settlement after listening to objections from dozens of players and from Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman on Friday. But the appeals are likely to drag on for a long time.

Linebacker Wilber Marshall of the Washington Redskins will continue to fight his franchise designation and appears likely to miss all of training camp in a holdout.

Meanwhile, Columbia attorney Robert Sheridan is suing to overturn the college draft on behalf of 16 players, including Brian TC Pressler of Eastern Kentucky.

The first draft under the new agreement -- it'll last eight rounds -- will be held next Sunday and Monday, but Sheridan is likely to continue his objection to the new salary restrictions on rookies in appellate court.

Teams will be limited to spending an average of $2 million on their draft choices -- about $2.5 million for the teams on the top of the draft to $1.5 million for the teams on the bottom. In effect, this will cap spending at last year's levels.

Remember the draft?

The college draft used to be the highlight of the off-season in the NFL, but now it's been obscured by all the free-agent activity.

For example, Green Bay's first pick isn't going to get anywhere near the attention that the signing of Reggie White received.

This year, there will be 29 picks in the first round because Philadelphia and Phoenix each received an extra pick for losing White and Tim McDonald, respectively. The New York Giants are the only team that won't have a first-round selection, and that is because they took quarterback Dave Brown in last year's supplemental draft.

Two quarterbacks -- Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer -- should be the first two picks, although it's uncertain which one New England Patriots coach Bill Parcells will make the first pick. The one he bypasses likely will go to the Seattle Seahawks, who hope to get Bledsoe.

Why teams don't repeat

Running back Emmitt Smith of the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys will be featured on a "Phil Donahue" show segment this week entitled "Single Millionaire Studs Looking for Love."

The show was taped last Thursday when Smith appeared with six other bachelor millionaires.

"They didn't tell me what the show was all about," Smith said when he agreed to appear.

He seemed to have a good time, though, as he told the audience, "Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm a lonely guy. But most of the time when I go out, I go out with the fellas."

He added: "When I get married, I'm going to let my wife do whatever she wants to do. As long as she comes home to me."

After the show, Smith said, "That was a little different. I was a little nervous. I was outside my element. But I enjoyed it. It went by too fast. I didn't get enough questions."

Smith, incidentally, averaged "only" $725,000 a year in his first contract and figures to be a long holdout in an attempt to get a contract in the $4 million range this year.

Smith apparently won't get an offer sheet from another team before the signing period for restricted free agents ends Friday. It would have cost a first- and a third-round pick to get Smith if the Cowboys hadn't matched it. Apparently, most teams figured the Cowboys would match and didn't bother to make an offer.

Price gouging

The NFL floated a trial balloon last week that the expansion franchises will cost between $175 million to $200 million. The two baseball expansion teams, by contrast, cost only $95 million each.

The high price, though, helps Baltimore and St. Louis because the public funding they have in place for new stadiums gives their bids better financial footing than the bid by Charlotte, which is trying to build a stadium with private funds using a premium seat policy. Memphis and Jacksonville don't have new stadiums in their bids.

The NFL, which likes the Charlotte market, is giving the city every chance to show its private financing plan can work. It's even allowing the city to give a special presentation to the members of the expansion committee this week.

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