By Peter Keraotis, Florida Today
ORLANDO — Joe Montana is getting worked up, and I am worried about his blood pressure. Seriously.
Here we were, sitting in a fancy downtown hotel room, sipping Starbucks and talking about, of all things, Montana's battle against high blood pressure, when suddenly the arguably greatest quarterback in history goes off on the NFL.
Montana and the NFL have issues, and the more he talked about them, the more animated and irritated he became. You could see the blood rushing to his face.
Good thing a cardiologist was sitting with us. And not just any cardiologist, either. This was Dr. James Rippe, a Harvard-trained physician, one of the country's leading heart doctors. Together, Dr. Rippe and Montana have teamed to bring awareness to high blood pressure.
Theirs is a good team, too. Joe Montana, now 49, is better known to the masses as Joe Cool, the last guy you'd suspect of suffering from hypertension.
His tale grabs your attention, and thus he makes a good paid spokesperson for the cause. And Dr. Rippe? Well, suffice to say he knows his stuff. You can check it all out on their website — www.getbpdown.com
Together, they travel the country. But not much. At least not for Montana. He hates being away from his boys, now 13 and 16, and not going to their games. He coaches them in AAU basketball — which, by the way, is Montana's first love, the sport he thought he eventually would play in college.
But it was football he made his mark in, winning the 1977 national championship at Notre Dame, and then four Super Bowl titles with the San Francisco 49ers.
So the talk turns to football and the conversation is going swimmingly until I mention Montana's absence at the Super Bowl this past February.
Perhaps you noticed the void, too, when one-by-one, the NFL honored all the past Super Bowl MVPs. Only three MVPs were missing, including the only guy to have won the award three times. That, of course, would be Joe Montana. Even Tom Brady was there, the guy most moderns compare to Montana. Brady offered the coin toss before the game.
Montana was home in California.
In the San Francisco Chronicle the following day, the paper quoted two sources close to the league and reported that Montana asked for a guarantee of at least $100,000 to appear.
Not true, Montana said.
"Money wasn't the issue," he said. "My one son had a basketball game Friday night and the other one had a game Sunday afternoon at 12:30, and that's where I wanted to be. I didn't want to miss their games."
He was already in Detroit for four days early in Super Bowl week, promoting BP awareness.
"I wasn't going to stay there another three days," he said. "For what? To walk out on the field with a bunch of other once-weres for a few seconds of applause? I don't need that. I'd rather be at my boys' basketball games. The NFL wasn't happy with that. But that's OK. My boys were happy."
He does acknowledge that when the NFL contacted his agent, he suspects that "my agent probably did what all agents do, and asked for an appearance fee."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the NFL did provide the former MVPs with $1,000 for incidental expenses, as well as first-class airplane tickets, a hotel room, a Cadillac to use, and two tickets to the game as well as tickets to other parties and NFL functions.
Montana confirmed the $1,000 offer and called it "an embarrassment. A thousand dollars? That's all? They should have been embarrassed to offer guys just a thousand dollars. What are you going to be able to do with just a thousand dollars?"
This is where Joe Montana's ire rose, when he talked of how he believes that because he rejected the NFL, the NFL, in turn, tried to embarrass him. He's convinced that the NFL contacted the San Francisco Chronicle, instead of the other way around, purposely trying to make him look bad.
This particularly irks Montana because, he said, the NFL has fought him every step of the way when he's filed for workman's compensation. And he does have some residual health issues from his 15-year NFL career.
Two years ago, when he was promoting BP awareness before the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, he felt soreness in the bulging disc in his neck. But he went and worked out, anyway.
"I thought, 'Surely, I can lift this 20-pound dumbbell.'"
"From the lower part of my back up to my neck, it went numb," he said. "It felt like it does when you hit your elbow."
He recently had surgery to fuse his neck. Just the other day, he had three vials of fluids drained from a knee. He sees knee replacement surgery in his future, "but I'm trying to put that off as long as I can."
He says the NFL's fight with him over workman's compensation "went all the way to the California Supreme Court, and I won. Twice they've stopped payment, and I've had to fight them again. Just a few months before this last Super Bowl, they stopped payment again. Then they want me to skip my boys' basketball games to help them out.
"That's typical of the NFL. And then they tried to make me look bad."
He shook his head.
"You know what makes me mad? The way they treat former players. Not just me. But some of those old guys, too, those guys who can barely move and walk.
"But that's the NFL. They want you to do stuff for them, but they don't want to do anything for you, not without getting their money. A few years ago, I wanted them to do something for a charity I was doing for kids. It was like I was just another guy. They wanted me to pay full fee."
So he won't go out of his way for the NFL, especially if it means being away from home. But he will travel the country to tell his personal story about high blood pressure, hoping it might save lives.
Here's Montana's story in a nutshell:
Never smoked. Fit. Professional athlete. Bad diet. Some family history of hypertension. Early 40s. Feeling absolutely great. And then — boom! — a regular checkup showed his blood pressure so off the charts that he had an emergency visit with a cardiologist that afternoon.
Now he's on regular medication. More than one drug, in fact. He still maintains good fitness and definitely eats a whole lot better now.
"Used to be I'd skip breakfast and then grab a big burger at lunch," he said. "Especially if I was with my boys. We'd get burgers or maybe pizza. And I was the type of guy who put salt on everything, even before I tasted it. I loved salt. Oh man, if you put a bag of Lay's potato chips in front of me, I could eat the whole thing."
The old 20-ounce porterhouse steaks have been replaced by smaller, leaner cuts of meat, or, more often than not, fish.
His blood pressure is under control, and it mostly stays there. The only danger now is apparently when he talks about the NFL.