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NFL: Joe Montana weighs in on Ben Roethlisberger elbow injury

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/20/2019 Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY

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Joe Montana has some advice for Ben Roethlisberger: Trust the rehab.

Roethlisberger, the 37-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, will soon undergo elbow surgery that fuels questions of whether he’ll ever be the same strong-armed thrower.

”The technology is so advanced these days, they can probably fix it to where it’s better than before,” Montana told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday night. “I don’t know the extent of his specific injury, but as long as he rehabs it, takes a serious approach to rehab, he’ll be fine.

“He’s not a spring chicken, but if he stays with it and nothing happens that would cause a setback, he should be OK. I mean, you see so many people coming back from Tommy John surgery.”

Montana should know. His Hall of Fame career was unhinged by elbow problems in 1991, when he underwent surgery after initially attempting non-surgical methods to heal. Setbacks after the surgery kept him off the field for the San Francisco 49ers until the latter stages of the 1992 campaign. He played his final two seasons of his career with the Kansas City after the 49ers wouldn’t let Montana – who led San Francisco to four Super Bowl crowns and is a three-time Super Bowl MVP – compete for his job against his successor, Steve Young.

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“I tore the pronator off the bone,” Montana recalled. “I don’t know if it’s anything like that or the ligament for Ben. The ligament is what killed me. I was back throwing later that year (in 1991), but there was a zing whenever I threw."

The Steelers haven’t revealed the exact nature of Roethlisberger’s injury, but the setback that ended his season draws at least a general comparison to Montana as it takes a star quarterback off the field due to an elbow injury. It is unknown whether Roethlisberger’s procedure will be similar to the surgery named after former MLB pitcher Tommy John, but that was the method used to revive former NFL quarterback Jake Delhomme. In any event, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin maintained there’s a “strong possibility” the quarterback will return next season as he declared in a determined statement earlier this week.

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In Montana’s case, the pronator was sewed back into place, then stapled on the backside of the bone on his throwing elbow. Then came the added issues.

“Every time I threw, one of the staples zinged against my ulnar nerve,” Montana recalled. “I had no feeling in my ring finger or pinky finger, so I couldn’t grip the football. The nerve damage is what held me back. Hopefully, he won’t have to deal with that.”

Ironically, the Steelers’ first game this season without Roethlisberger is on Sunday against Montana’s former team, the 49ers, at Santa Clara, California. It will be interesting to gauge adjustments with second-year replacement Mason Rudolph, especially given the enormous dependence on Roethlisberger in the Steelers offense. No NFL quarterback threw more passes (575) last season or for more yards (5,129) than Roethlisberger, reflecting an increasing pattern. Wear and tear is possibly a contributing cause to the injury.

Asked whether he suspects the elbow is more susceptible to injuries than other body parts for quarterbacks due to the nature of their jobs, Montana said: “It just depends. Look at the way quarterbacks throw. It’s almost like a screwball ... Your thumb goes out, following through. It goes down toward the ground.

“They count the throws for quarterbacks. There’s so much wear and tear.”

Montana said his legendary coach, Bill Walsh, limited his quarterbacks “about 150-175 throw per day. Eventually, it’s going to wear down.”

Roethlisberger’s issues have surely included some clues. During training camp, when he took every third day off for rest, he was routinely seen with his elbow wrapped or packed in ice. And Rudolph told reporters that he first heard of Roethlisberger having discomfort with it after the season-opening loss at New England.

If it was gradual deterioration, Montana can relate. Before the most serious injury occurred, Montana remembers taking “12, 14” cortisone injections over the course of a season.

“I was shooting on the way to road games,” Montana said. “That helped wear me down.”

 Wasn’t that way too many cortisone shots?

“I wanted to play, so I didn’t mind,” Montana said. “And they didn’t mind, either.”

Montana, who hails from Monongahela, Pennsylvania, would hate to see Roethlisberger’s career end with an injury, which is why he stresses the work that must occur during rehab. Remember, when Andrew Luck retired from the Indianapolis Colts during the preseason, he cited the grind of repeated rehab programs for his various injuries as a significant factor.

Then again, Montana ultimately made it back from elbow surgery during an era when the treatment wasn’t as advanced as it is now. That’s one reason he’s optimistic about Roethlisberger’s chances. 

And here’s another reason from Montana: “I’m still a Steelers fan.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL: Joe Montana weighs in on Ben Roethlisberger elbow injury

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