Quarterback Joe Montana, who lifted the San Francisco 49ers from NFC West doormat to four Super Bowl titles, Tuesday was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

And while Montana generally shakes off such accolades with an 'aw shucks' attitude, he did pause Tuesday to reflect on his career and the changes in his life since he entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick in 1979."As a player, hopefully I'm not too different (from the quarterback who came out of Notre Dame)," he said. "Maybe I've lost a

half of step . . . maybe two or three steps. As a person, I think I've grown because I've been exposed to so many things.

"But I also think (as you become famous) you become more guarded about your personal and family life. I think you have to do that more than you'd like for safety's sake."

Montana becomes the first NFL player to stand alone as the national magazine's Sportsman of the Year and follows cyclist Greg LeMond, a man Montana admires.

"The one who immediately comes to mind (when asked to name a former Sportsman of the Year) is LeMond," Montana said. "Anyone who has ever pedalled a bicycle knows how hard it is to achieve what he did. It's a great accomplishment."

Accomplishments are something Montana knows about. The 34-year-old has led the 49ers to back-to-back Super Bowl titles and to an NFL-best 13-1 mark this year. He admits an unprecedented Super Bowl "threepeat" would be a dream come true.

"I think the best thing I would like (for a Christmas present) would be to get back there and win again," he said. "It would be a great accomplishment for this organization."

But might a third straight Super Bowl title be a good time to step away from the game?

"I can't see that (retirement) in the near future," he said. "I would like to finish my (4-year) contract one way or another. I think two things would make it (retirement) difficult.

"I've played this game for so long, it's become a part of my life. But when a career can end so early in your life, it's not something you can enjoy for a long time. And when it's over, there is no coming back to it."

Montana admits, however, that this season has taken its toll.

"I think this season has been the most demanding mentally," he said. "We have had a lot of close games. Everyone who comes in here, or anywhere we go, they are looking to take us out.

"The Rams made their season by beating us (three weeks ago). There was a sign in Anaheim last night that said 'This is the Rams Super Bowl.' That's how every team has approached us. Every game was a pressure game.

"Now (clinching the NFC West title and home field advantage) the pressure may be off us the last two weeks (of the regular season). We've reached the plateau where we want to be with the advantage we want at this time of year."

Does that mean Montana feels he should sit out the last two regular season games, particularly in the wake of a weekend that saw Jim Kelly, Phil Simms and Steve DeBerg all go down with injuries?

"Maybe there is some good (to getting a rest), but on the other hand I think too much rest would go in the other direction," he said. "I don't think any player wants to take time off just because other guys get hurt. Guys get hurt all the time."

Montana was presented with his award - a replica of a Grecian amphora - at a ceremony Tuesday at the 49ers Santa Clara training site. He will also be Sports Illustrated's cover story in the Dec. 24 issue.