Late on Sunday, in the shadows of the south end zone in 3Com Park, there was a brief summit of the old San Francisco 49ers super powers. Future Hall of Fame wideout Jerry Rice was the first one in place, and he waited patiently with open arms for quarterback Steve Young to show up. A few seconds later Young, despite a pulled groin muscle, hobbled in on a bootleg from the 15-yard line with the winning score. Finally fullback William Floyd bounded in, scooping up Rice and Young in a bear hug as the trio celebrated the Niners' 28-21 comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I got there last, but for a few seconds it was just the three of us," said Floyd, "The three guys who put it together for the  Super Bowl win were back together again. It's been a long time coming, but, oh man, it felt great."
It must have indeed. Less than a year ago, in a game against the New Orleans Saints, Floyd, then a second-year back out of Florida State who had already established himself as the premier fullback in the game, tore three of the four ligaments in his right knee in a freak collision with a teammate. Floyd sat on the turf that day, his mouth agape in pain and horror at the sight of his mangled joint, desperately trying to squeeze his kneecap back into place. It's an injury so severe that no NFL player has even attempted to come back from it. "I always knew I'd be back," Floyd says. "The hardest part was convincing everyone else that if it was a one-in-a-million shot to come back, I was that one guy who makes it—not over, but right through the mountain."
And there he was on Sunday throwing a crushing block on his first play and, later, scampering downfield for a 24-yard reception in the second half. Right alongside him in the inspiration department was Young. Gimping so badly that at times he appeared to be skipping rather than running, Young came back, after being benched in the second quarter, to throw for 224 yards and two touchdowns and rush for a team-high 45 yards including the game-winner. Said an exuberant Floyd after the game, "It was like the old days in San Francisco again."
Well, not exactly.
As stunning a victory as it was, this was supposed to be a pushover game that would serve as San Francisco's 1996 coming-out party, marking as it did the first time that Young, Rice and Floyd were together again in the lineup and ready to begin their march to the Super Bowl. Instead, on their home field, the Niners needed the second-biggest comeback in team history just to beat the Bengals, and they succeeded in stirring the pot a little more on a simmering quarterback controversy that could prove disastrous in the long run.
"This was inspirational. This was 49ers football," said Niners president Carmen Policy giddily afterward. "It was like Geronimo leading the tribe against the Long Knives, against what appeared to be insurmountable odds, and all he could think about doing was charging forward."
Policy's remarks, however, rang rather hollow in light of the fact that despite Sunday's heroics, Young, the 1994 NFL Player of the Year, still may lose his job to backup Elvis Grbac. While Young sat out the three weeks preceding the Bengals game, Grbac played well, and the 49ers front office was frank in saying that Young's days with the team were numbered. Young is 35 years old; Grbac is 26 and can become a free agent after this season. In a situation reminiscent of how Young supplanted Joe Montana in 1991, Policy risks losing Grbac if he doesn't give him some assurance about becoming the Niners' starting quarterback soon.
The decision to start an obviously limping Young muddled the picture even more. His first six plays went like this: a false start, an interception, a sack, a fumble and a pair of rushes that moved the ball 36 inches—the wrong way. Two series later San Francisco was in a 21-0 hole, and Grbac was sent in to replace Young. He promptly drove the 49ers 60 yards in seven plays, hitting backup tight end Ted Popson over the middle for a 17-yard touchdown to cut the Bengals' lead to 21-7. But on San Francisco's last first-half possession Grbac injured his left shoulder rushing for a first down, and the 49ers had no choice but to go back to Young.
Coach George Seifert, still feeling the heat from criticism that he was too conservative in a 23-20 overtime loss at Green Bay on the previous Monday, opened his halftime speech by hurling a chair across the locker room. "Let me put it this way," said Seifert, after getting his 100th win in only his 132nd game on Sunday, the best mark of any coach in NFL history. " Knute Rockne never said some of the things I said at halftime. O.K.?" Just before taking the field for the third quarter, Floyd approached Seifert, telling him, "I'm the spark plug, George. I'm the spark plug, and you know it. Put me in."