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GEYSERVILLE

Of course all Joe Montana had to do was say hello Saturday afternoon and he had the room. When you are the Real American Idol, the owner of four Super Bowl rings, the best to have ever taken a center snap, people are happy just to take in the view. Saturday afternoon, in a side room at the Sbragia Family Winery, Montana gave the people more than that.

Montana spied Kathy Sbragia, two months away from delivering her baby. Sbragia is the wife of Adam, the winery's winemaker. Montana was at the winery to co-sign bottles of some (primarily) Cabernet with his good friend and the winery's owner, Ed Sbragia. Montana noticed, as did the other dozen or so people in the room, that Cathy was looking fabulous for being so far along.

"I've been told that if a woman retains her beauty during her pregnancy, it'll be a boy," Montana said.

"Really?" Cathy Sbragia said.

Montana paused to let the question breathe like fine wine and then said, "No. Just kidding."

Talk about taking over a room. That quick exchange produced the giggles and the laughter. Everyone there settled a foot-deep into a sofa. For those who never met Montana, they had heard about his unassuming nature. The man has no bling, no attitude, they were told. Watch. You'll see. And they did. As Montana was being interviewed, they had to remind themselves this guy played the same sport as Chad Ochocinco and Pacman Jones.

"When I retired," Montana said, "I was still on the NFL's health insurance. But after three years I had to find my own health insurance. I did, for $107,000 a year, and it covered everything excluding ... injuries I sustained playing football."

The room groaned. Montana paused again for dramatic effect.

"So, in other words," Montana said, tugging at his left ear lobe, "if I injured my left ear I'd be covered."

The room groaned again. The groaning became most audible when Montana listed the surgeries he underwent in his 15-year Hall of Fame career — two on his neck, one for his right shoulder, two on his right elbow, one on his left elbow, three on his back (two within 12 days), one on his right hand, six or seven on his knees. That's either 16 or 17 surgeries, not counting the six or seven concussions he estimated he sustained, the after-effects debated.

"My wife calls it selective memory," Montana said. "She calls it that because she doesn't want to see it any other way. She'll say something, I'll say I don't remember it, then she'll say she said it a couple days ago and I remembered it then. But I'll say I don't remember it now."

His left knee, that's bone-on-bone. His right eye, it wanders, the result of head trauma.

"Since I have never been in a car accident," Montana said, "I'm pretty sure I know where that came from."

It probably came from the New York Giants' Leonard Marshall trying to drive Montana into the ground like a tent stake during the 1990 NFC Championship. It was a sack, a benign explanation. The game was stopped. Montana rose to resting on all fours. For minutes. He was taken from the game.

"Usually when you get the wind knocked out of you," Montana said, "you can take short breaths to keep going. I couldn't catch a breath. My chest hurt so bad, I thought to myself, &‘I'm probably going to die right now.' When you get sacked, they try to throw their full weight on top of you. In a replay of that sack, you see Marshall falling to the ground above me, his body parallel. So when I talk to quarterbacks today, I tell them that if they can tell they are off-balance and then are going to fall backward, bend your knee (so it comes into contact with the sacker's (sensitive area). They are trying to hurt you. You might as well try to fight back a little."

Montana, 54, knows the discussion of injuries is one of the core topics slowing down the negotiations between NFL owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement.

"The owners want to add two more games," Montana said, "but they don't want to talk about the medical benefits? That's what has the players upset."

If he was still playing, Montana wouldn't be opposed to playing 18 games instead of 16.

"When you play those four exhibition games," Montana said, "you play a quarter in the first, a half in the second and probably as much as three quarters in the last two. That's at least a whole game right there. If you're a player, you want to play in games that count. Those exhibition games are a waste. Most teams know whose going to make the team anyway, except for the rookies."

Money, of course, is the primary discussion point, and Montana said he has a partial solution to that. At every Super Bowl there are always past Super Bowl players conducting news conferences, doing appearances.

"The players don't get anything for that," Montana said. "Instead, why not find outside sponsors to pay these guys for public appearances? You know they could find outside people to pay for it. Put that money in one pot to distribute."

Montana predicted there would be a lockout and, as in the last work stoppage in 1987, the drop-dead line in the sand will keep moving until the season is scheduled to begin — when fans will revolt over the appearance of replacement players.

"That's when it'll be settled, sometime into next season," Montana said.

Of course that's just his opinion and the NFL hasn't asked for it. Not that Montana is soliciting. He has his own life to lead. His Knight's Valley estate — more like a Tuscan village to some people who have seen it — was put on the market for $49 million. Its price has been dropped to $37 million. One of his sons, Nate, is transferring from Notre Dame to the University of Montana. Another, Nick, is at Washington.

The Montana name continues to remain in the public, not that it strikes the Holy Cow reaction as it once did. Sometimes, Montana said, he'll get a "you played football, right?" Not that it bothers him.

"It was never about that anyway," Montana said.

He just wanted to play football. He didn't care for the rose petals at his feet. But they are going to come because he has that name. So, if he's going to take advantage of being Joe Montana, he might as well do it for the right reasons.

"Make sure you write that all the proceeds are going to my charity, the Four Ring Montana Family Foundation," Montana said, referring to his autographed bottles selling for $149 each.

The proceeds go to charity. The goodwill, that goes to Joe Montana, who still gathers a crowd not just because he's famous but because you'd never know it.

For more North Bay sports, go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.