Over the weekend, I came across some comments Joe Montana made about Tom Brady and DeflateGate. Montana thought Brady knew what was up, but he also did not think the whole thing was really that big a deal. He even pointed to the 49ers offensive linemen using silicon back in the 80s. He acknowledged that while it was not a big deal, once you are caught you are caught. You pay your penance and move on.
In that same article, Montana talked about growing up a Steelers fan. The Pennsylvania native talked about how even though he watches and likes both the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, he grew up a Steelers fan, and it is hard to get that out of his blood.
It is so hard in fact that when he and the 49ers were looking for trading partners in the early 90s, the Steelers were high on Montana's list. I stumbled across this article from 2012 in which we hear a little bit about it. Montana was on the Dan Patrick Show, and he said he tried to go to Pittsburgh, but the Steelers were comfortable with Neil O'Donnell as their starting quarterback.
"Oh yeah," said Montana. "I tried to go there before...when I was looking at Kansas City and they, they said no. I think (Neil) O'Donnell was still there..."
"Wait," Patrick interrupted. "Steelers said no because they had Neil O'Donnell?"
"Yeah. Neil O'Donnell," replied Montana.
The Steelers spent a third round pick on O'Donnell in the 1990 NFL Draft. He did not see the field his rookie year, and started to take over the starting reigns in 1991, appearing in 12 games, and starting eight. He finished the season 156 of 286 (54.5%), with 1,963 yards, 11 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and a QB rating of 78.8.
In 1992, O'Donnell was the Steelers starter, and earned a Pro Bowl berth. He finished the season, 185 of 313 (59.1%), with 2,283 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That following offseason, Montana was available via trade. He ended up going to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he would play in 1993 and 1994 before retiring. O'Donnell spent three more seasons with the Steelers, helping them to an appearance in Super Bowl 30 against the Dallas Cowboys. That game ended with O'Donnell earning Larry Brown a big pay day on the back of two ugly second half interceptions.
During Montana's two years in Kansas City, the Chiefs made two playoff appearances. In 1993, they beat Neil O'Donnell's Steelers in the wild card round, a 27-24 overtime victory. O'Donnell had a solid game throwing three touchdowns, but it was not enough to get the Steelers a victory. The next year, the Chiefs lost in the wild card round to the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers advanced to the conference championship game that season, losing to the San Diego Chargers.
It is impossible to say how history would have changed. In the two years Montana remained in the league, the Chiefs appeared in the conference championship game and then the first round of the playoffs. In that same span, the Steelers appeared in the first round of the playoffs and the conference championship game. Who knows what would have happened if Montana had gone to Pittsburgh, but it is certainly an intriguing hypothetical.
Given that Montana was on the back end of his career, it is not entirely surprising the Steelers would forego a chance to bring him in. O'Donnell brought the Steelers some success, even if it all melted down at the worst time in the Super Bowl.