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McKittrick made peace with Long before death
Times Staff Writer
REDWOOD CITY -- Longtime 49ers offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick died last week without an enemy.
Former Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long said he never held a personal grudge against McKittrick, whose blocking techniques infuriated the Hall of Famer more than a decade ago. But Long still was the last person with whom McKittrick felt he had to make amends.
McKittrick died Wednesday after a 14-month battle with bile duct cancer. He was 64.
McKittrick was known for molding undersized and overlooked linemen into the foundation of some of the great offenses in the NFL. But he also found himself at the center of controversy because of the blocking techniques he taught. Long was outspoken against McKittrick's use of cut-blocking -- a legal method of attacking a defensive player at the legs to try to get him on the ground. Long went after McKittrick in the tunnel after a 1985 game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
About a month ago, former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana called Long and asked him to give McKittrick a phone call.
"I think Bobb had expressed to Joe that he wanted the opportunity to talk to me," Long said Monday from his Pennsylvania home. "So I called Bobb that night. It made me feel good to talk to him, and from what I could tell, it made him feel good, too.
"The biggest compliment I can give him is that I hope I'm one-tenth as courageous as Bobb in that conversation he had with me and how he handled himself when faced with his own mortality."
The Rev. Pat Richey, the 49ers' chaplain for 18 years, had a long conversation with McKittrick three weeks ago when it appeared McKittrick might die in the next couple of days. McKittrick told Richey that he had spoken to Long and resolved whatever differences might have remained between the two.
"They talked about it for no time at all," Richey said Monday after a 90-minute private memorial service for McKittrick at St. Pius Church. "Bobb told me that they had a great conversation and they only talked about the incident for a second. It meant a lot to him."
Long said he did not realize McKittrick was in such bad shape until speaking with him. He said he still thought McKittrick might be one of those people to beat the odds until he learned last week of his death.
"I had no problem with Bobb McKittrick personally," Long said. "Our battles were on the football field. I can turn that switch off when I walk off the field. I expressed my respects for him as a person and as a coach. I wanted him to know that I had no animosity. I was touched that he wanted to speak with me.
"We talked very little about football. We talked about our kids. I have three of my own and he talked about his kids a little. We talked about life. And he was very congratulatory of my being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I thanked him for that."
Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Steve Mariucci, the three head coaches during McKittrick's 21 years as an assistant with the 49ers, were the first three speakers during the memorial service, attended by approximately 250 friends and relatives.
Former 49ers offensive linemen Harris Barton and Jesse Sapolu, as well as McKittrick's son Ladd and his best friend, Mike Doherty of Baker, Ore., also eulogized McKittrick.
The service was attended by many current and former 49ers players, including Montana and Ronnie Lott. Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, who shared an office with McKittrick as a 49ers assistant in 1979, also attended.
McKittrick maintained his indefatigable spirit and work ethic even as his failing health forced him to work half days and skip road trips. On Nov. 21, he finally missed his first 49ers home game after undergoing surgery the previous day.
"This most recent year was his most impressive year," Mariucci said, "because what he did goes far beyond commitment, loyalty and dedication; far beyond courageousness and toughness; far beyond optimism and persistence. In so many ways, he took coaching this year to a whole new level."