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."
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