SAN FRANCISCO -- Just when it seemed the Joe Montana saga couldn't get any stranger, it did.
The 49ers and Chiefs still couldn't agree on trade compensation yesterday, and, for the second time in three days, talks broke off between team presidents Carmen Policy and Carl Peterson.
Nonetheless, the 49ers' Policy all but acknowledged Montana had played his last game for San Francisco since he turned down its No. 1 offer.
The 49ers simply could refuse to trade Montana and force him to remain, but the chances of that happening are slim -- especially now that Montana has told owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. he wants to leave.
The Chiefs and Phoenix Cardinals are the only teams formally interested in trading for Montana.
Policy said the 49ers are open to offers from any other team, but Peter Johnson, Montana's agent, said Montana would play only for the Chiefs even if it took until training camp to get a trade.
Would he consider Phoenix? "No way, that option's dead," Johnson said.
Although the 49ers would prefer the Phoenix deal -- a first-round draft pick, No. 20 selection overall -- a Kansas City source said they told the Chiefs the 49ers could live with the kind of complicated package the Chiefs have proposed. In that arrangement, the 49ers would receive Kansas City's first-round pick, No. 18 overall.
The hangup is whether the 49ers would give Kansas City its second-round pick (the Chiefs' demand) or fourth-round pick (the 49ers' offer).
With Montana and the draft pick, Kansas City also would receive strong safety David Whitmore, a starter last year who has been supplanted by the 49ers' signing of Tim McDonald. The Chiefs reportedly sweetened the deal by offering to throw in a player, too, such as fullback Christian Okoye or cornerback Kevin Ross.
Peterson said he doesn't feel he should have to match the Phoenix offer, because Montana has said he will not play for Phoenix and because Peterson believes a first-round pick, outright, for a quarterback of Montana's age and injury history is too high a price.
"I think it's a fair deal to both teams, extremely fair to the 49ers," Peterson said of his offer.
"I'm sure it's going to be worked out between Policy and Peterson," Johnson said.
Yet another bizarre day of twists and turns began with a morning meeting among Policy, 49ers coach George Seifert, DeBartolo, Montana and Montana's wife, Jennifer, at Montana's home. Policy said Montana was "very, very gracious" and "got choked up a couple of times."
Around noon, Johnson sent a fax to Bay area media in which Montana declined the offer to start for the 49ers, saying "It is in my best interest, and that of my family, to play for the Kansas City Chiefs."
A media briefing at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara, scheduled for 1 p.m., was pushed back nearly two hours as the 49ers tried to work out a deal with the Chiefs.
Finally, Policy and Seifert appeared before a packed press room, where Policy called the situation "very delicate," and said:
"We will continue to be sympathetic to [Montana's] position and will continue to attempt to take his wishes into consideration, but at this point in time, the underlying purpose of whatever we do will be the best interest of the San Francisco 49ers."
Policy said Montana did not have the right under his contract to veto a trade. Policy did not respond when asked whether the 49ers would trade Montana against his wishes.
Neither Policy nor Seifert explained why Montana rejected the offer to return. Policy said Montana had "a variety of personal and other reasons." Montana could not be reached for comment.
"From the beginning, Joe has indicated that all he wanted was a legitimate opportunity to compete for the [starting] job," Policy said. "It was our opinion that by giving him more than that, by reinstating him to the position he had prior to the beginning of the 1992 season, that would be all that was necessary."
Seifert added: "If, in fact, the importance of being the starting quarterback was the most important thing . . . the opportunity, whether it was presented months ago or an hour ago, does exist for him here."
What more could Montana have wanted? There's no way of knowing, but it is known that his dislike for Steve Young runs so deep that, a year ago, he said he did not even want to be on the same team.
Despite all that went on, Seifert said Montana still had the opening to return if he changed his mind. "If he's not here, Steve Young's the starting quarterback," Seifert said.