Work in Sports
Posted: Tuesday June 13, 2000 05:50 PM
Steve Young's zeal for the game outshone even his records
By Peter King
You can't argue that Steve Young, who announced his retirement on Monday (page 56), was a better quarterback than Joe Montana. He wasn't. Montana won four Super Bowls to Young's one, and though Montana had a better supporting cast with the 49ers in the 1980s than Young had in the '90s, the title count is the decisive factor in comparing the two. But Young is closer to Montana -- and to the NFL's other great quarterbacks -- than most people appreciate. Young had a better winning percentage in San Francisco than Montana had. Moreover, he was the best running quarterback ever and the most efficient passer ever (a 96.8 career rating, 4.5 points higher than that of runner-up Montana). On my list of the 10 best pro quarterbacks, I put Young seventh, behind Otto Graham, Montana, Johnny Unitas, Sammy Baugh, John Elway and Dan Marino.
It's amazing that Young is on such a list at all. In 1987, when Niners czar Bill Walsh traded for Young -- who had spent two seasons in the USFL and two more with the hapless Buccaneers -- Montana was 30 and in his prime, and the 49ers had been to the postseason four years in a row. It was sacrilege to think that someone could press the great Montana for playing time, but that's what Young did. Walsh was a calculating football businessman, and though he'd never admit it, he knew in '87 that Young was a better player for his system: more accurate and mobile than Montana, and just as smart and gutsy.
Young's numbers are daunting, but he should be best remembered for the zeal with which he played and the reverence with which he treated the game. After Young threw for six touchdowns in the 49-26 rout of San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX, I saw him, not coach George Seifert, give the Niners their postgame talk. Grinning like a kid in love for the first time, he hugged the Vince Lombardi Trophy and rasped, "No one -- no one! -- can ever take this from us!" Later, in his hotel suite, I asked him if he had thought he would come up so big in his biggest game. "No way," he said. "Six touchdown passes? I've never thrown more than four in a game, not even when I was a little kid in Connecticut. It's so cool. I'm in awe of that." In time, history will see Young's career similarly.
Issue date: June 19, 2000
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