As it turns out, Steve was able to live and thrive in Joe’s shadow. The challenged fuelled him, and he went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Doing it all, his own way. Today, I wish I would have appreciated Steve for who he was throughout his entire career, but the truth of the matter was, that as a kid, enamoured with the art that was Joe Montana at quarterback, it took me a very long while to appreciate Steve for who he was. In fact, it was not until the twilight of his career, when Steve was battling concussions that I truly began to appreciate Steve for what he was – an outstanding quarterback.
Looking back on my realization, I think it had something to do with the humanity and humility exhibited by Young during this time. I recall thinking, that as a 49ers fan – I wanted nothing more than to see Steve don his number 8, trot onto the field and deliver touchdown pass, after touchdown pass. I wanted Young to retire on his own terms. At the same time though, as a fan of Steve Young the person, the thought of him taking one more shot to the head, and perhaps not waking up, was enough for me to say that Young should retire. I am thankful that the team gave Young the advice he needed to make an informed decision. The team was planning on moving in a different direction to get out of the salary cap mess, and while Steve would certainly have been allowed to keep playing, he would not have the protection and weapons he has had in the past. Young has suggested that it was this information that lead him to retirement more so than any medical reason. Whatever the reason, Steve made the right decision, and has permanently cemented his spot in history as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
My enamour for Steve grew the more I cam to terms with the fact that the 49ers made the right decision to part with Joe Montana when they did. And as I was watched Steve grow as a quarterback I realized that as 49ers fans, we truly had something special to watch. If Joe Montana was poetry in motion, Steve Young was organized chaos. But it worked, and it was enjoyable seeing Young transition from a head first runner, into a throw first passer. Some people will argue that when Young lost his legs, he lost his effectiveness, but in his short starting career, I never saw Steve lose his legs – just his helmet from time to time.
Playing with reckless abandon Steve gave the 49ers something different – a real edge. Young’s commitment to the game, allowed him to improvise better than any quarterback I have seen, and in so doing, allowed the 49ers to continue their run of success. Against all odds, Steve young made his dream come true.
Young battled to start in college, and was almost moved to defensive back. He joined the USFL and the LA Express, which folded soon after Young paid for transportation of the team to a game. Finally in the NFL, Young landed in Tampa Bay via a supplemental draft, but when they drafted Vinny Testaverde, Steve got the message. A trade was orchestrated for Steve to go to the 49ers, where he sat behind Joe for four long years. At times Young wanted to be traded, he wanted to start in the NFL. His patience though was key, as he studied and learned from a true master, and was tutored by some of the best coaches in the game. Steve knew something special was happening in San Francisco, and his competitive urge kept him there – after all it was competition that allowed him to thrive.
Eventually Steve got his opportunity to start for the 49ers, to realize part of his dream, and to play with the likes of Jerry Rice. He made the most of his opportunity, never looking back, and taking the 49ers to an unprecedented fifth Super Bowl Championship. Finally, there was no looking back. One of the most accurate passers in the game, one of the most exciting players to watch, one of the toughest competitors – Steve’s name could finally be put on plane with the other greats of the game.
My memories of Steve Young are vivid. I see him dancing through Minnesota’s defense for the winning score, or running without his helmet in pre-season. I see him pumping his fists in the air, after winning the Super Bowl, and throwing for a record six touchdowns. I see Young off to one of the fastest three scores in football I can remember to go up 21-0 over the Cowboys, or taking victory laps around the field after truly amazing victories. I see him threading the needle on a broken play to Terrell Owens in the endzone against Green Bay, and tossing record touchdown passes long down the field to Jerry Rice. I see Young ranting at Seifert on the sidelines after being pulled out of a game against the Eagles. The memories are abundant and clear. In his short starting career Steve did way more than most greats do over much longer careers. He had a few downs, but mostly, it was all highs. As a 49ers fan, I can say, it was an honor to watch Steve compete week in and week out. It was a thrill to see the competitiveness on his face, and a rush to see him turn nothing, into something.
Today, Joe and Steve are again on the same team again. Both are part of a very exclusive club – the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Their two names will forever be tied to each other, but both are deserving of this honor. Both brought the 49ers more than any fan could have dreamed, and both should be recognized for their excellence. There is no doubt Steve is different from Joe, and one could debate who was the better quarterback for centuries (and I’m sure many will take me up on that), but as a fan, I know I was privileged to have them both on the 49ers. I know now, what I wish I knew when Steve first took the field for Joe – this was something special. Something that to this day, I am proud I witnessed. So I wish Steve congratulations, and the best in whatever life continues to offer him, and thank him for the memories. Steve Young was not Joe Montana, but he was Steve Young – and you better believe that I am thankful for that.