SAN FRANCISCO – Ronnie Lott, even at 64 years old, still has an aura of intimidation around him. Lott is exactly twice my age and for a split second Thursday night at the Curran Theatre before Broadway SF’s “Unscripted: The San Francisco 49ers” where the Hall of Fame safety was joined by fellow legends Steve Young, Brent Jones, Dwight Hicks and Harris Barton for a conversation hosted by Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, I felt the same fear receivers running over the middle used to feel.
The question: What would be your message to anybody who might still be questioning Brock Purdy?
Lott’s response: A look that might as well have been an invitation for pain, followed by a smile that stopped my sweat and had Lott laughing at anyone doubting the 49ers’ young quarterback.
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“I gotta laugh,” Lott said to NBC Sports Bay Area, “because it's evident that when you play against certain people, you watch certain people and you watch what they do, you understand the timing it takes to put the ball where you need to put the ball. And to me, I think what's interesting is I don't ever see him late.”
Purdy, in his first game action as a rookie last season, completed a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud on his first pass in the fourth quarter of a 44-23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but was intercepted on his final throw of the game. The rookie over his next nine games – six in the regular season and three in the playoffs – was intercepted only three times. He also threw 16 touchdowns in that span.
The second-year pro has thrown 91 pass attempts through the 49ers' first three games this season and is yet to be intercepted, making him one of five starting quarterbacks in the NFL yet to be intercepted in 2023.
Whether it’s opposing players or national media, the outside is beginning to come around in considering Purdy a top-tier quarterback. Question marks also remain. Some might see him as a system QB lucky to play under Kyle Shanahan in an offense full of star power. Others might question his size limitations and durability or debate if Purdy has enough elite traits to fulfill the 49ers’ goal of finally hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the sixth time.
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But Lott has a unique perspective and history when it comes to Purdy.
Lott was part of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee for Purdy’s first three seasons at Iowa State. While Purdy was busy throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns as a sophomore, Lott was watching from afar and studying tape. Long before Purdy was "Mr. Irrelevant," Lott knew all about the five touchdowns he threw in an epic classic against Jalen Hurts and the University of Oklahoma back in 2019 along with so many other performances in his four-year career.
“When he was at Iowa State I was on the committee,” Lott said. “I had to watch a lot of college football. So for three years watching and knowing, yeah, there's some things that you can see about the characteristics of what he is and who he is, and more importantly what I'm hoping for is hopefully he’ll get a championship ring.”
Lott was a four-time Super Bowl champion during the 49ers’ dynasty. Brent Jones was a young 49ers tight end for two of those titles and shares a similar Purdy evaluation as his former teammate. But he took it a step further.
Jones went there. And by “there,” I mean unprompted the three-time Super Bowl winner who was a four-time Pro Bowl tight end sees Joe Montana in the 49ers’ current QB.
“I think Brock is a cool customer,” Jones said, “and that’s really hard for people to appreciate. He's just such a young kid and hasn't had that much experience in the grind of football with all the spotlight, a playoff team, a team that should be in the Super Bowl this year and the way that he just is so cool just reminds me a lot of Joe [Montana].
“Nothing ever fazed Joe. He was relaxed, he was calm in the huddle. Nothing could fluster him and Brock just seems like he has that same persona.”
Defenses haven’t been able to faze Purdy much so far either. Purdy is a perfect 8-0 as a starter in the regular season with 1,834 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and two interceptions in those eight games. Montana lost his first four games as the 49ers’ starting quarterback and went 2-6 in his first eight starts with 1,332 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Things got a bit better from there for Montana, and his former teammates believe Purdy could one day be on the same path. Now some final advice for those who continue to question Purdy: Don’t do so in front of Ronnie Lott, even 29 years after his retirement.