Immediately after the 1986 draft, on May 1, the Chronicle’s Lowell Cohn wrote an interesting column on the ramifications of trading away Matt Cavanaugh and replacing him with Jeff Kemp as the backup to Montana. Of course, Montana’s back injury early in the ’86 season made some of Cohn’s comments sound like prophecy. Some good lines: “The 49ers could be in for big quarterback trouble. Tuesday they traded backup Matt Cavanaugh to the Eagles for attractive draft choices. On the face of it, the deal seems clever – crafty Bill Walsh outsmarting the rest of the league yet again. But it is a risky maneuver.
And: “If Montana were to get hurt, the 49ers would suffer. They are a team that depends upon their quarterback’s sheer brilliance to save them several times a game.”
Talking about Montana in 1985, Cohn said he “was often earthbound and uninspired. Opposing defenses finally figured out that he would throw on the run while going exclusively to his right, and they sent gangs of tacklers to cut him off.
He didn’t seem nearly as brilliant with his escape route taken away, and by the end of the season, he was as battered as a demolition-derby jalopy. In the playoff game against the Giants, his ribs were so sore he could have used a rope and pulley to help him lift his arm.”
Cohn added that before, Montana “played quarterback with a sense of joy and wonder, and he was open with the press. But he got married and had a baby, and it was as though his focus became diluted. All of a sudden, playing quarterback for the 49ers did not seem as urgent to him.
Bill Walsh noticed the change, and publicly criticized Montana for not running the offense the way he was supposed to. Montana, who rarely had been criticized before, became grumpy and snapped at the press. After several good performances, he made writers wait while he dried his hair or just killed time in the trainer’s room. He had become a different person.”
Summarizing the issue of bringing in Kemp, Cohn said: “The 49ers exchanged a starter-as-backup for a backup-as-backup, and in so doing made a Montana injury or mood shift all the more dangerous.
Jeff Kemp is supposed to be a fine and decent man, but the 49ers never will win with him at quarterback, as they did with Cavanaugh. This is the guy who could not beat out Dieter Brock for the Rams’ starting job.”