Joe Montana’s final days with the 49ers were sad, but made sense. The three-time Super Bowl MVP was 36, had missed nearly two full seasons with a devastating elbow injury and had watched backup Steve Young became a league MVP, setting up Montana’s once-unthinkable trade to the Chiefs in 1993.
Making sense of Tom Brady’s departure from the Patriots is much harder for Montana to figure out.
“I don’t know what’s going on inside there, but somebody made a mistake,” Montana told USA TODAY Sports. “I had a different story, where they had made a decision. He, obviously, they never would have gotten rid of. I still don’t understand how New England let him get away. I don’t understand that.”
After two decades and a record six Super Bowl titles with the Patriots, Brady, 42, made a once-unimaginable signing to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While Brady has kept quiet about his reasoning for leaving the only NFL team he’s ever known, Montana said he believes the breakup isn’t due to the future Hall of Famer feeling unappreciated in New England.
“He wants control. I mean, he wants a lot of control. I don’t know what Tampa Bay gave him, but at some point in time, you’re just a player. You can try to get what you can and do what you want, but in the end, you’re still not in the hierarchy when it comes to hiring people, firing people and all that,” said Montana, who briefly spoke with Brady before Super Bowl 54. “I don’t know exactly what he’s looking for, but my understanding was that he’s just looking for more control of the offense. But I don’t know. I haven’t had a long conversation with him; I talked to him a little bit at the Super Bowl, but not enough time to really get in-depth.”
Though Montana was unable to win a Super Bowl in Kansas City — making a pair of playoff appearances in his two-year stint, including a run to the 1993 AFC Championship — the four-time Super Bowl champion remembers how much motivation he carried when he arrived to his new home.
“I think it’s going to be fun for him,” Montana said. “Probably for the first time in a long time he’ll be having fun, if I understand what he’s been saying, or what I’ve been reading.
“It actually brings a new excitement to you, to a certain degree. Because it’s not going to be the same-ol’, same-ol’ going into the same locker room that you’ve been going into for so many years, seeing the same people over and over. He doesn’t need a fresh start, but it gives you a great feeling inside, looking forward to trying to help the team move forward. And everybody believes in him, looking forward to watching him play.
“No one will put more pressure on him to perform than himself. That’s his makeup. Most players who have been that successful have that makeup that you can’t add pressure to him. Outside pressure, that external pressure, it slips off your back. I think the pressure comes from within, wanting to perform and show that he can make that change.”
Brady, who idolized Montana as a 49ers fan growing up in Northern California, mentioned the San Francisco legend during his introductory press conference with the Buccaneers.
“I was at Joe’s last game at Candlestick Park. I actually went up there and saw it with my friends, and I’ll never forget that,” Brady said. “I just think life continues to change for all of us, and just having the opportunity for me to continue to play football and lead a team is something that I love doing. I’ve loved playing this sport since I was a kid, since I was throwing footballs in the parking lot at Candlestick. And I still love doing that today.”
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