The Associated Press
SANTA CLARA, Calif. Ä Joe Montana and Steve Young both insist there's nothing personal at stake in their first on-the-field confrontation.
The history and duration of their quarterback rivalry tells a different tale.
So with Sunday's game between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs providing a compelling backdrop, look for Montana to throw a right and Young to respond with a left. It's their first and perhaps only chance to play out years of simmering tensions on the field.
"I know they're both fired up but they can't let themselves be consumed about playing each other," San Francisco tight end Brent Jones said.
"It's big, really big," Kansas City running back Marcus Allen added. "People want to try to downplay it, but it's important for both teams and it's a big thing in the NFL."
Sunday's showdown has been a long time coming and one that never could have taken place while they were on the same team. But, Montana and Young insist, it's just one game, early in the year at that, and certainly won't make or break either team, regardless of the outcome.
"It should be fun Ä an interesting experience," said Montana, downplaying any revenge factor. "I never imagined I would ever have to (play against the 49ers) but that's the way of the league now. The league is changing and I was part of those changes."
Young said he's approaching the game like he would any other.
"This week, as with all the weeks I've been here, I have to go out and perform," Young said. "I have a standard that has been set for me. It's not an easy standard."
That's because Montana set it. In 10 years as the 49ers' starter, Montana led the club to four Super Bowl titles in the 1980s. In the process, he also established himself as one of the region's best-loved sports figures.
But he was knocked off stride by elbow problems and, in his mind, usurped by Young. Before the '93 season, Montana was traded.
Forty-Niners' president Carmen Policy likened the move to an emotional earthquake but also believed the Montana-Young controversy had become so divisive and pronounced that the move had to be made.
Besides, the relationship between Montana and Young had deteriorated from professional but strained to downright icy. The two barely spoke to each other during Montana's last season in San Francisco.
"Their relationship was doomed from the beginning," Policy said. "Steve Young hadn't come in as a draft choice to be an understudy. He came to the 49ers in a significant (1987) trade with the obvious intent of him becoming the starting quarterback.
"It wasn't a case where Steve was going to learn from the master. Joe saw him as a competitor for the starting position."
Young, who chafed for more playing time in four years as Montana's understudy, has three straight passing titles since taking over his job.
But that championship season, the kind his predecessor accomplished with elegance and flair, has eluded him. Young took the 49ers to the brink of the Super Bowl only to lose NFC title games to Dallas in the past two years.
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