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Farewell Candlestick: Montana Returns

Posted Sep 6, 2013

In moment No. 8 of 10, the 49ers celebrate the heroic 1986 comeback of Joe Montana from back surgery.

Before the 49ers move on from Candlestick Park, their home since 1972, to Levi’s® Stadium in Santa Clara in 2014, it’s time to look back again. Joe Montana leading San Francisco to a dominating victory in his return from back surgery during the 1986 season lands at No. 8 on Candlestick Park’s Top 10 Greatest Moments, presented by SAP.

Each highlight, which fans voted on from a list of 25 nominations, will be memorialized at a home game in 2013, continuing on Sept. 8, when the 49ers host the Green Bay Packers in their regular season opener. The piece of history will also be pictured on each game ticket for the final season at the ‘Stick.

It’s time to celebrate No. 8.

SEE: PHOTOS FROM 1986

Fifty-five days. Eight weeks. That’s all it was – less than two months.

Joe Montana had back surgery and was on the sideline for just that amount of time before he returned to the field.

Not yet 100 percent himself on Nov. 9, 1986, the Hall of Fame quarterback was at his best: 13-of-19 for 270 yards passing, beating the then-St. Louis Cardinals 43-17 – by far his team’s widest margin of victory for its entire 10-5-1 season. There were 59,172 fans at The ‘Stick on the 54-degree afternoon.

Oh, and there was more to cheer about. Montana threw three touchdown passes to his favorite receiver.

“Jerry (Rice) was the probably the greatest player to ever play the game at that position, so having someone like that on your team made it a little bit easier,” Montana told 49ers Studios. “I think the guys who had the most concern in that game was the offensive linemen ‘cause their coach, Bob McKittrick, at the time threatened them. I don’t know with what, but they were all going, ‘Bob is going to have our head if we let someone hit you today.”

Montana, 30 at the time, would stay upright long enough to lead the 49ers to scores on seven his nine possessions. He was sacked just once, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t hit on occasion. He also threw a rare interception to Cardinals defensive back Leonard Smith.

“Coming back from the back surgery that first game was a little worrisome at least until I took the first hit even though I didn’t think anything was going to happen,” said Montana, who had a ruptured herniated disk repaired during a two-hour operation at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco, according to The New York Times. “But I was only 187 pounds coming back there I was really wasn’t back to my full weight and strength.

“Fortunately for me, things fell into place.”

Rice caught all three scores, but the distances comprising each was more remarkable: The Hall of Famers connected on plays spanning 45 yards, 40 yards and 44 yards – and all before the conclusion of the third quarter.

According to Sports Illustrated, Montana didn’t even see the result of the 45-yard, first-quarter touchdown. He was flat on his back, “crumpled” by a rush from Cardinals linebacker Charlie Baker.

“I got hit kind of early and then I just forgot about it, which I kind of look for in any game, but this game more so than ever,” Montana told 49ers Studios. “Jerry obviously had a tremendous game.”

No. 80 also caught a 27-yard pass in the game, bring his total to four receptions and a game-high 156 yards. (Amazingly, Rice wasn’t the lone150-yard pass-catcher that day. The Cardinals J.T. Smith wasn’t far behind, collecting 154 yards on 10 catches, including two scores from his quarterback, one Cliff Stoudt.)

“The thing about Joe was the way he could come back from injuries,” said Rice, remembering Montana’s successful return from an elbow ailment. “To see him be the Joe of old showed he had a lot of character, he had a lot of heart, a lot of determination, and I think that’s why we were able to win that football game.”