Joe Montana recently made headlines with his take on Colin Kaepernick, and if one legendary San Francisco quarterback opining on the recent ex-49er is good, two is better, right? Especially if the second legendary San Francisco quarterback happens to be Steve Young, who, not surprisingly, didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with his former teammate.
Asked about Kaepernick’s inability to find work in the NFL in the wake of his national anthem protests last season, Montana had taken issue with the free-agent quarterback’s accuracy, but he was mostly critical of the “distractions in the locker room” Kaepernick created for the 49ers.
“I think changes were necessary” in San Francisco, Montana told The Sporting News, adding, “They needed to clean house, (get) a different atmosphere in that building.”
Montana also echoed others’ questions about how much Kaepernick, who has continued his heavy involvement in social issues, is devoted to football. Young picked up that theme Friday, saying, “I’d have to sit down with him, look him in the eye, see what he really wants to do, see how much work he has in him.”
In an interview on KNBR, Young said, “If he wants to work — the guy can play.” The two-time NFL MVP added that he “can’t imagine” Kaepernick not wanting to “get better.”
Then Young sharply diverged from Montana’s opinion on Kaepernick, saying, “I’m surprised, even with the situation last year with the kneel-down during the national anthem, that people can’t see through that and see, here’s a good player that wants to play and is not toxic in the locker room.”
Young did take issue with Kaepernick’s quarterback skills, but in a different way than Montana, who had invoked the infamously inaccurate Tim Tebow in suggesting that Kaepernick’s completion percentage was too low. For Young, it was more a question of the six-year NFL veteran, who helped the 49ers reach Super Bowl XLVII, finding the right “fit” in terms of offensive scheme.
“He’s the kind of guy who’s going to come off a play fake, see a guy, throw it,” Young said. “If you want him to read through, you want him to find the fourth receiver, the outlet — that’s probably not his game. So he’s got to find the right spot for himself.”
Many thought that spot was going to be Seattle, where his skills appeared to mesh with those of starter Russell Wilson, and which was the only NFL team known to have expressed an interest in Kaepernick. However, the Seahawks signed Austin Davis instead, leaving Kaepernick to possibly wait for an injury, as Montana theorized, before latching on somewhere.
In the meantime, we were offered a reminder that Montana and Young were at the center of the greatest “quarterback controversy” in league history, one that lasted six tense seasons in San Francisco. While both went on to win championships and election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “Joe Cool” was the epitome of composure in methodically dissecting defenses, whereas the more excitable Young was apt to use his mobility to break big plays.
Young eventually developed into one of the most accurate passers of all time, and the 49ers ultimately chose to part ways with the older Montana. Montana ended his career with the Chiefs, and in 1995, when Young led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, he said he would be rooting for the Chargers because he was “an AFC guy now.”