SUPER BOWL XXIX : WHEN WALK-THROUGH WENT AWRY, IT WAS . . . : A Very Close Call : NFC Title Game Might Have Had a Different Outcome Had 49ers Lost Steve Young Because of Saturday's Mishap


If only the Candlestick Park crowd that chanted "Steve, Steve, Steve" on Sunday afternoon could have seen its hero a day earlier.

At that moment, it would have been chanting things like, "Get up, Steve! Doggone it, get up!"

Steve Young, the quarterback who led the San Francisco 49ers to a 38-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC championship game, admitted Monday that he felt lucky to even play after his involvement in a freak collision before practice Saturday.

It was shortly before the 49ers' weekly no-pads dress rehearsal. While Young was resting on one knee tying his shoes, defensive end Richard Dent was chasing a pass.

Dent, 6 feet 5, 265 pounds, caught the ball a step from Young and couldn't stop. Young never saw him.

"It was the hardest I have been hit this season without question," Young said. "Dent ruled me."

After Dent hit Young at full speed and knocked him down, the men rolled over each other twice.

The blow strained Young's neck and aggravated a left shoulder injury, sending pain shooting throughout his upper neck and shoulder area.

Although Young practiced, the pain continued throughout the day. By evening, he could barely move his neck.

"He looked like a turtle who had retracted his head into his shell," said Leigh Steinberg, Young's agent and close friend. "He said, 'Leigh, I don't know how I'm even going to be able to play.' "

When he awoke Sunday morning, the pain and stiffness remained.

"It was scary," Young said. "I felt terrible."

He had no choice but to receive a shot of cortisone in the back and neck area. But even then, he worried that it wasn't working fast enough.

"The first couple of warm-up passes I threw didn't feel so good," he said. "But then it got better."

While he played well enough to lead the 49ers to victory, he was seen holding the shoulder after scoring on a three-yard touchdown run in the third period.

Carmen Policy, 49er president, told friends that it appeared some of Young's passes (he was 13 for 29) seemed affected by the blow.

Young seemed fine Monday and is expected to be sound for the Super Bowl. But he and teammates still marvel over the close call.

"I look up, and they are rolling around on the ground, Dent rolling right over Steve," guard Derrick Deese said. "Later in the huddle, Harris Barton was saying, 'Why is Steve moving his neck back and forth?' I told him, 'Didn't you hear?' "

Deese said he then announced the obvious.

"I said, 'Man, wouldn't it be bad to wake up the next day and find that our quarterback was out because of an injury he got in a walk-through ?' "

Coach George Seifert apparently already had considered that possibility.

"When it happened, George turned white," Young said.

Seifert admitted that he was worried.

"I remember turning to Mike Shanahan (49er offensive coordinator) and saying, 'Wouldn't that be something if we lost our quarterback today?' " Seifert said. "There was a moment or two of anxiety there."

Now the 49ers face the difficult task of building up some anxiety about a team they defeated, 38-15, five weeks ago in a game that wasn't that close.

That team is the San Diego Chargers, who will face the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX on Jan. 29 in Miami.

"When our team watches what San Diego has done lately, it won't take them long to be captivated by them," Seifert said.

He just needs to make sure nobody splices in film from their first meeting at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

During a 21-minute stretch of the first half, the 49ers outscored the Chargers, 21-0. And out-gained them 204-26 in total yardage. And accumulated 14 first downs while the Chargers had one.

That the Chargers were even able to come within 23 points so enraged Young that afterward he called a players-only meeting in which he scolded teammates for not having a killer instinct.

Young had completed 25 of 32 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns.

How much of a killer instinct did he want?

"I think in that game, we were all upset about our turnovers," guard Jesse Sapolu said.

But they lost only one fumble.

"I think they were suffering a lot of injuries then; I think now will be different," defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said.

That much is true. Linebacker Junior Seau and most of the offensive linemen were hurting before the game, and running back Natrone Means suffered a leg injury during the game.

"Means and I talked after the game, and I told him that when they healed, they would be a good team again," Stubblefield said. "I think that if they aren't healed by now, having these two weeks before the Super Bowl will make them ready."

Them, and Young, who on Monday was one 49er not fighting off the effects of too much celebrating.

He and about four dozen friends, mostly Mormon like himself, spent early Sunday night eating dinner, then hanging out in a hotel lobby.

"It was a very interesting night because of all the bottles of celebratory champagne that were sent over to Steve," Steinberg said. "He didn't want to act unappreciative, so at our table you had 45 teetotalling Mormons and a couple of reasonably besotted attorneys."

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