Late in San Francisco's loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, 49er officials were debating whether to allow battered quarterback Steve Young to return to the field when a funny thing happened.
Young excused himself from their sideline huddle and ran back into the game.
"What was I supposed to do?" Coach George Seifert reportedly asked club President Carmen Policy later. "Tackle him?"
That's exactly what the 49ers did Monday, ordering Young to rest his badly bruised left shoulder--he is left-handed--for four weeks.
But Young needs to cut that vacation short by only one day to play Nov. 12 in Dallas. Even so, his league-high quarterback streak of 62 consecutive starts is over, not that he's accepting it.
"I want to be somebody everybody can count on all the time," a despondent Young said Monday. "I'd like to get well the next few days. There's a lot of miracles we're working on right now."
Elvis Grbac, Young's backup who will start for the first time at St. Louis, should have few problems in at least two of those games.
"Basically, we're dealing with a strain and a bruise in his shoulder," Seifert said of Young. "The one thing that we have been told many, many times is that it's not something you would operate on or 'scope. . . . Rest is the thing that's required."
The injury, which an MRI exam showed not as serious as many had thought, was caused by two of the many hits Young endured while being sacked a season-high six times by the Colts in the 49ers' 18-17 loss.
Early in the game, an unidentified Colt shoved Young's elbow up over his shoulder. Then, with 1:08 remaining, Young was thrown to the artificial turf by Ellis Johnson. Young staggered from the field with his arm dangling.
Some critics thought Young should have been removed from the game earlier. He was beaten down, and Seifert and team physician Michael Dillingham huddled often with him on the sideline.
But Leigh Steinberg, Young's agent, who has been critical of teams that risk his clients' well-being, said the 49ers did the right thing.
"Dr. Dillingham told me that clearly, if the order of the hits had been different, Steve would have been taken out much earlier," Steinberg said. "And as it was, George Seifert kept querying Steve, and Steve kept saying he felt OK to play.
"It's a situation where, in one person, you've got perhaps the highest IQ in the NFL combined with the worst attitude for a patient. In that environment, you can't fault their decision."
Seifert said he was convinced--and exams have since supported this claim--that Young could not have done himself further harm by staying in the game.
Young, a four-time NFL passing champion and last year's Super Bowl MVP, ranks fifth in the league through seven games. He also suffered a shoulder bruise in the game against Atlanta in the second game.
"He's our franchise player," tackle Steve Wallace said of Young. "He's like our Emmitt Smith. We need him back there, especially for the bigger games."