On April 21st, 1993, the San Francisco 49ers long-brewing quarterback controversy ended. Joe Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving the quarterback position all to Steve Young. 25 years later, it can be looked at as the definite right move, but back then, this was something that divided the 49ers fanbase considerably. Before Joe Montana’s arrival and the 1981 Super Bowl win, the 49ers were the perennial losers, only winning two playoff games in four appearances (NFL era — a third in 1949). After his arrival, Montana was seen as the face of the 49ers, their Michael Jordan. Who were the 49ers without Joe Montana?
Much of this was the inevitable. A quarterback carousel happened during the 49ers 1988 season between Young and Montana. 49ers head coach Bill Walsh would alternate between Young and Montana until finally settling on Montana to finish out the season and win the Super Bowl, but the writing was on the wall. Montana would win a Super Bowl the very next year, but a hit in the 1990 NFC championship game ended his season. An elbow injury suffered in the 1991 preseason would keep Montana out that year, and most of 1992, allowing Steve Young to claim the reigns of the starter. Montana would show up in the final game of 1992, playing in the second half of the Detroit Lions—his final game as a 49er.
Following the 1992 season, many had already transitioned to Young given the length of Montana’s injuries. While a trade was discussed and agreed upon, there was last minute resistance by 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, who at the 11th hour, went to Montana’s home to convince him to stay.
Young would have none of this, saying in his autobiography he gave a final ultimatum that either the 49ers trade him or start him. Shortly after, once again going in circles on who the starting quarterback was, Young heard the news from his car stereo: Montana had been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Montana was the one who finally said to get it over with, not wanting rifts in the locker room to develop being his reason.
Young was left with huge shoes to fill, unable to take the proverbial monkey off his back until the 1994 season when the 49ers won the Super Bowl—Montana’s final season as a pro.
Montana played two seasons in Kansas City before calling it a career.
In hindsight, trading Montana was the right call, and maybe you can see history repeat itself with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo’s relationship. Trading someone who was the face of the franchise and turned things around is an incredibly difficult thing to do. The 49ers got several more seasons out of Young whereas they would have only gotten two out of Montana before going to the drawing board—assuming Young was the one traded instead.
25 years ago to this day, an era in 49ers history end, and a new one began. Where were you when you heard the news that Montana was traded?