As a result Young, Bono and two other players ended up in room F-11, with a view of the Bel Air hills through the back window and even more enticing scenery up front. "Every coed that passed through The Suites had to walk by our window," says Young, who ended his 10-year NFL career last year and now works for the Denver Broncos' marketing department. "We had the primo room, and it paid huge dividends."
This was no typical bachelor pad. It was so neat that the football coaches used it to impress recruits. "And Bones's closet was a sight to behold," Young says. "Not only was it color-coordinated, but it was also broken down by weather: summer-to-winter clothes, long-sleeved-to-short-sleeved. Every shoe had a shoe tree in it, and his underwear drawer was a thing of beauty."
One spring day, when Bono saw Tina Ventzke walking into her room in The Suites, he went right to her door, inexplicably hideous outfit and all, and told her he wanted "to be neighborly." Steve and Tina, who were married in 1988, forged a relationship based on their mutual interests, including a zest for fine dining that was brought to fruition during Bono's five seasons with the 49ers. While most of the players lingered near the team's Santa Clara-based training facility, Bono got the most out of San Francisco, frequenting its trendy restaurants.
Though he'd had some moments in his last two seasons at UCLA, Bono was a marginal pro prospect who went to the Vikings as a sixth-round pick in the 1985 draft. He appeared in only two games in two years for Minnesota before he was released and then was signed and cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers before the '87 season. That left Bono to face a big dilemma when NFL players went on strike that September. Offered work by the Steelers as a replacement player, he consulted Biagio, a longtime member of the International Association of Machinists. Biagio told Steve that as he was technically out of work, he was not part of the striking NFL Players Association and had a right to seek employment. "And my father was on strike at the time," Steve says.
Pittsburgh kept Bono on after the strike but released him at the end of the 1988 season. When no teams came calling during the ensuing spring, and his football career appeared to be over, he acquired a stock broker's license and began an internship with Merrill Lynch in Westwood. But a call that summer from 49er offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, now the Green Bay Packer coach, persuaded Bono to come to camp and compete with Plan B free-agent signee Kevin Sweeney for the third-string job. Bono beat him out. Under Holmgren's tutelage Bono acquired the footwork, balance and timing that combined with his attention to detail would enable him to flourish in the West Coast offense, first with the 49ers and now under offensive coordinator Paul Hackett in Kansas City. The same obsession with detail that Bono applies to his wardrobe and his palate makes him a dependable quarterback who reads defenses methodically and precisely.
"If there's a criticism," Hackett says, "it's that sometimes he won't let it all hang out. You want to tell him, Just throw it, don't worry about being perfect. Just let it rip."
The ease with which Bono has stepped into the Chiefs' starting job no doubt had something to do with what he learned from Montana, the consummately cool field general who shares Bono's Pennsylvania heritage and low-key demeanor. Bono at first felt self-conscious about buddying up to an icon and finally voiced his apprehension to Montana in the summer of 1990. Montana told him to relax, and the two became running mates, going out for beers while Young, a nondrinker, kept to himself. With Montana sidelined by surgery on his throwing elbow in '91, Young struggled during the first half of the season before injuring his knee in a game in which the Niners trailed the Atlanta Falcons. Bono stepped in and played brilliantly, nearly pulling out the game. He lost his first start, the next week, against the New Orleans Saints and then led San Francisco to five consecutive victories and nearly into the playoffs.
Bono became a favorite among fans in the Bay Area as well as among 49er offensive players, who preferred his methodical style to the wildness that at the time often cropped up in Young's game. "The way Steve Bono approaches playing quarterback is a lot like the way he combs his hair," says former Niner tight end Jamie Williams. "He spends so much time in the mirror making sure his hair is combed exactly right. You can never say anything bad about his hair because he's put in his work, he's put in his time. If you look at Steve Young's hair and the way he plays, there's some symmetry there. His hair is all over the place, and you never know what he's going to do."
The Montana-versus-Young years in San Francisco were fraught with controversy, but despite his closeness to Montana, Bono stayed above the fray. "The whole Joe-Steve thing was crazy, but I understood both sides," he says. "Steve's a very hard person to get to know, but I made a very concerted effort."
Ultimately what drove Bono away from Young and back to Montana in Kansas City was not bitterness or money but a desire for playing time. But Bono started only two games for the Chiefs in 1994—they lost both, though each time he threw for more than 300 yards—and he had a hard time adjusting to the tight ship run by Chief coach Marty Schottenheimer. As meticulous as Bono is about preparation and schedules, he bristled when, after a dentist's appointment caused him to be five minutes late for a mandatory weightlifting session, the Chiefs socked him with his first, and only, NFL fine. He was also put off by the long hours of preparation mandated by the coaching staff, and he fretted over what he saw as K.C.'s lack of chemistry—issues that Schottenheimer has addressed this year to Bono's satisfaction.