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49ers Live Up to Their Name : Take a Load Off, Steve: Joe Is Just a Memory

See? A Mormon guy CAN have fun. That includes the great-great-great-grandson of Brigham Young himself, Steve Young, superstar of Super Bowl XXIX, who, upon being asked Sunday to sum up his feelings after playing the football game of his life, summed them up in one word: “Spectacular!”

On that day a fortnight ago when the San Francisco 49er quarterback, who donates 10% of his income to his church, defeated the Dallas Cowboys and began looking forward to his first NFL championship game, his parting thought was: “Even for a Mormon guy, I swear it’s going to be fun.”

He once was a contestant on the TV game show “Wheel of Fortune.” That was fun. His high school sweetheart won the Miss USA pageant and later he dated Marie Osmond. (He took her bowling.) That was fun. But to throw six touchdown passes while winning an NFL championshipgame, this, Jon Steven Young could not deny, was as good as it gets.

The feeling was spectacular, and so was he. Young put a 44-yard touchdown on the Joe Robbie Stadium scoreboard only 84 seconds into the game. The next one covered 51 yards. The next covered five. The next covered eight. The next one went 15. The last one went seven. And there were still 13 minutes 49 seconds remaining.

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Oh, what a feeling.

“I really wish that anyone who ever played football could feel this,” the Super Bowl’s unanimously elected most valuable player said.

Young longed to share the moment.

Share it with Mike Shanahan, his offensive coordinator, rumored by many to be headed to another team as head coach. Shanahan’s play-calling was masterful, Young joked.

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“That sucker better not leave,” Young joked. “I should say he had nothing to do with this.”

Share it also with Jerry Rice, his favorite receiver, who started his own rumor that he might leave the 49ers and retire. Rice scored three touchdowns.

“We’ll try to win this again next season, unless Jerry really retires. Then I quit,” Young said, still kidding.

He isn’t quitting. He isn’t going anywhere. San Francisco is his city at last. Steve Young has finally officially become the left-handed Joe Montana. And anybody who doesn’t think so in the city by the Bay can just go jump in a lake.

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Calling them “the critics and the skeptics,” Young said he knew he finally had them on the run. They had clung to this never-won-a-championship thing, still threw the sainted Montana in his face like a spiral. Never again.

Amid the celebration of Sunday’s 49-26 success against San Diego for the championship, Young recalled many mornings when he drove to work, “I’d almost want to turn around.

“For one person to face the kind of scrutiny and skepticism I faced, to fight through them and to be able to stand here . . .” he said, an eloquent athlete, searching for the right words. “To not have any more of that criticism that pierces your heart . . .

“That makes this one of the most precious times in my life.”

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There were many periods in his life when Steve Young suffered. That made this precious also to teammates such as tight end Brent Jones, who said, “To see Steve and what he’s accomplished after what he’s been through, the struggles he’s dealt with, it makes it all worthwhile. It was a pleasure to watch him. He was flawless.”

Linebacker Gary Plummer said that Young approached teammates on the sideline during Sunday’s game with San Diego and said: “Can you guys take this monkey off my back?”

“Are you kidding me?” Plummer replied. “That gorilla is gone!”

Shanahan felt this was Young’s finest hour. “He made some great throws against some tough coverages and didn’t miss a checkoff,” the 49er assistant said, ever the play-caller. “I just can’t give you words about what I think of him and how he handled himself on the field in such a pressure-type situation.”

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Young once suffered through two seasons with the ungodly awful Tampa Bay Buccaneers, losing 28 of 32 games and wondering whether he should take his law degree from BYU and change his occupation. Even when a Los Angeles team from the old USFL made him the fattest cat in football history, Young felt he had cheapened himself by accepting.

He felt that he had sold his soul. Steve told his father as much and LeGrande Young understood, having done honest labor all his life, digging ditches, cutting timber with chain saws and even working on a sheep ranch, for long hours and low pay. Having chosen money over goals, Steve had a change of heart, but his father said once you gave your word, you should live by it.

Being dubbed a “money-grubbing, no-good kid,” as his father put it, really hurt. Young yearned for acceptance. One day in 49er camp, he bummed a pair of Montana’s shoes without Montana’s knowledge. The number “16" was painted on the heels of each shoe, and Young backed up against a wall so that Montana wouldn’t notice.

Humble as he tries to be, strains to be, Young heard somebody ask after the Super Bowl if this was the greatest game he had ever played. The most honest answer he could give, he gave:

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“Under the circumstances, it has to be.”

Joe Montana’s successor was a success. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 325 yards, six scores, no interceptions. And knocked off work early. And stood there, arms thrust upward in triumph.

He killed the gorilla.


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