Steve Young picked his favorite Super Bowl moment Friday, telling the tale of how he threw six touchdown passes against the Chargers, much to the disappointment of 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan, who wanted Young to keep pressing till he'd thrown eight.
Next it was Joe Montana's turn to share. There was a pause.
"You can get lost in your memories, huh, Joe?" cracked Young, who won one Super Bowl to Montana's four. "For you and Tom (Brady), it's going to be tough to sift through them all."
Montana and Brady eventually did settle on a favorite Super Bowl moment. So did Aaron Rodgers and Jim Plunkett. All of them shared stories of their worst losses, too, and told tales of obstacles and perseverance — and they kept on talking for the better part of an hour.
That was the point of this remarkable fundraiser at UCSF's Mission Bay campus, where five quarterback legends, all with Bay Area ties, gathered on stage for a single cause. The breakfast event was organized by longtime 49ers offensive lineman Harris Barton, who created Champion Charities with former teammate Ronnie Lott.
Bob Costas moderated the panel, but the quarterbacks hardly needed a handoff. They kept playing off each other — eight Super Bowl MVP trophies clanging together.
Brady, for example, recalled being a little kid in the Candlestick Park stands for the 49ers' famous victory over Dallas in the NFC Championship game. Most people remember that game for "The Catch" — Montana's touchdown pass to Dwight Clark — but Brady remembers it for something else.
"I had to have a foam finger," Brady said. "For the entire half of the game, I kept complaining to my parents that everybody had a foam finger but me. My parents finally broke down and got me one just to shut me up."
Montana followed Brady by recounting the struggles of his first season with the 49ers, when the team finished 2-14. "We were getting fingers," Montana said, turning to Brady. "But they weren't those big ones."
Not all the questions came in essay form. The players had fun with some quickies. Inspired by Plunkett's recent hole-in-one, Costas asked the other passers what sport they'd play if it wasn't football. Rodgers, the former Cal star, and Montana went with basketball; Brady chose big-wave surfing. Young went with hockey. ("I always felt that if I knew how to skate, I could have been something in hockey," he said.)
The value they hold most dear? Plunkett, "responsibility"; Rodgers, "courtesy"; Young, "integrity"; Montana, "trust"; and Brady, "a team-first approach."
For all their shared success, they spent almost as much time talking about their failures. Plunkett recalled going from No. 1 draft pick to NFL vagabond, bouncing around for 10 seasons before playing in his first playoff game for the Raiders. "It's a tough road to take, mentally," Plunkett said. "Physically, too. I used to be taller than all these guys."
Montana talked about how Bill Walsh's culture of perfection meant a career of focusing on mistakes. Even after Montana won his first Super Bowl, his dad found him in the training room practically despondent.
"Man, I could have played better," the Super Bowl MVP said.
"Would you shut up and have some fun for once," his dad replied.
Much of Young's angst during his playing days stemmed from the guy sitting to his right on Friday. He recalled how he would get the 49ers playbook before a Wednesday meeting and try to memorize as much as he could in the 15 minutes before meeting the coaches. But during those meetings, Montana always had the right answer — in expansive detail.
"I got more and more frustrated," Young said of those Wednesday sessions. "Finally, I turned to Mike Holmgren, one of the coaches, and said, 'How does Joe do that? He knows everything.'
"And (Holmgren) said: "Because he gets it faxed to him on Tuesday nights."
They laughed again when Brady said: "What's a fax?"