The decision couldn't have been easy on Young. "Before games, Steve's bouncing off walls," says Cross. "He actually wants to hit somebody. I've never seen enthusiasm like that. He's realistic about the situation, but that doesn't make it easier for him. He can't accept it. If he ever accepted it, it wouldn't be him."
Standing as witness to this duel is Walsh. "Steve is especially fast, has a strong arm and is even in every other category with Joe," says Walsh. "I think I can divorce emotion from the decision, though. We would only make a change if there was no likelihood that it would change back. Joe does certain things like no other quarterback."
"Joe reads," says 49er free safety Ronnie Lott. "That's the difference. I mean, he can execute. He can find something when something's not there. I go by what our receivers say, and they still say Joe."
"I think Joe was really fired up for this one," said Rice after the game. "You don't want to challenge Joe."
But Young will challenge anything and anybody. He didn't mind replacing Jim McMahon at BYU, and that was right after McMahon had set some 71 NCAA records. "You just play," says Young. "You show respect to the people who deserve it. But when I get my chance, when I play, that's mine."
Montana can appreciate the passion of a good quarterback in the prime of athletic life. But that doesn't mean he likes being challenged. "You could understand all this if I'd had a bad year," says Montana. It was Walsh who first suggested that a quarterback controversy existed. " Montana, just to remind all of you, was All-Pro last year," Walsh said early last week. "He's at the top of his game and has total command of our system. Steve, in turn, is a brilliant athlete. Whatever develops, Steve knows that at some point he will inherit the job or take the job competitively."
Such talk could do nothing but spur Montana. One local columnist even suggested a Montana trade, a notion that made cappuccino cups clatter in coffeehouses from North Beach to Santa Cruz. Not to worry. Walsh could no more trade Montana than he could the Golden Gate Bridge.
Montana has a healthy—even haughty—outlook on the mere notion of this young upstart taking away his job. "We're friends, Steve and I," says Montana. "But out on the practice field, if he doesn't hate me as much as I hate him, then there's something wrong."
"Joe goes out of his way to be helpful," said Young, "especially when it comes to stuff outside football." He thought a minute and added, "I'd like to think both of us will take the 49ers to the Super Bowl. When your stars are the hardest workers on your team, it helps, doesn't it?"
Young runs a 4.5 40 on his slow days, and there is a perception among many, apparently including Walsh, that he is too inclined to lean on this particular skill, busting out of the pocket too much. "Steve could probably gain five yards every time," says Walsh. "But then what would happen to our offense?"