Season’s Young but It’s Getting to Be Old
Take away Steve Young, and the 49ers are the Denver Broncos, a great champion no more.
And maybe that’s why the 49ers should be condemned for being so greedy, risking the franchise for a few more points in a 17-0 first-half romp, and paying the price in pain and another concussion for Young.
This one was mild, they said later, but it kept him out of the game in the second half and the only thing saving the 49ers from losing both Young and the game, was the inept and erratic play of Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer.
San Francisco, a witness to its own unsettling future without Young, hung on to defeat Arizona 24-10 before a sweaty group of 72,100. The Cardinals (1-2) have not won in Arizona on Monday night since moving here in 1988.
The 49ers (2-1) talked afterward about the defense’s contributions, picking up the slack for a stymied offense, and Lawrence Phillips’ run for respect on a 68-yard touchdown scamper with 1:42 to play. But the outcome, while rewarding for the 49ers, should be one last warning to a franchise that has squeezed so much out of Young, and who will turn 38 next month.
“I got a shot to the back of the head and for a second kind of shocked me,” said Young of the hit late in the first half that left him unconscious momentarily. “I got my wits about me and felt fine and went into halftime feeling like I should play, but history wasn’t on my side.”
Young, who absorbed a series of concussions in his earlier years, the last coming in the opening game of the 1997 season against Tampa Bay, said he is concerned--more so than at any other point in his career.
“Yeah, I worry, but I will see my buddy (neurosurgeon)--haven;’t seen him in two years--and he’s a guy I have a lot of confidence in and I’ll explain exactly what happened and go from there,” Young said. “I’m much more sober about it than ever before. I will deal with it as realistically as I can.
“In the past I wasn’t quite as conscious of my future, but now I’m very very conscious of my future.”
Young, while claiming he’s more sober about the ramifications of suffering a concussion, said he tried to talk his way back onto the field because he felt fine.
“Coach said at halftime that we have enough to win it, and he ended up being right,” said Young, telling people that they could look into his eyes now and see no problems resulting from the blow.
Young talked Coach Steve Mariucci into allowing him to return against Tampa Bay two years ago, but Mariucci said he learned his lesson. He said he played it “conservative,” and whatever happened in the game, Young was not going to be allowed to play.
Too bad he hadn’t been as conservative shortly before halftime, when a dose of preventive medicine might have saved Young some more wear and tear.
With 1:49 to play in the first half, and the Cardinals in shambles on offense, the 49ers elected to expose Young to Arizona’s pass rush with a two-minute attack. Running out the clock was the prudent thing to do, the smart move for a team that had the game under control, and a quarterback who had been pounded a week earlier by the New Orleans Saints.
Until this point in the game, the 49ers’ offensive game plan appeared to have been designed to keep the pressure off Young, who had been hit 21 times by the Saints. They ran the ball effectively, and used the short passing game, and with a 17-0 lead, did not have to take any long-range chances.
But given the chance to go gunning for Young, it took the Cardinals only 1:21 to get him, cornerback Aeneas Williams blitzing and planting a helmet high into Young’s chest. The 49ers’ worst nightmare.
Young was motionless on the ground, his eyes closed--a season looking like it might be over with 13 games to play.
“I was just saying, ‘Get up, get up, get up,”’ Mariucci said. “I think he hit his head on [offensive tackle] Dave Fiore’s head. He didn’t get a shot to the helmet. When I went out there he wanted to get up right away. He was saying, ‘Get me up, get me up.’ Everybody was keeping him down. He didn’t want to make a scene and wanted to get up.
“We’ll let the doctors decide as to the severity of the concussion or was he just dinged like every other football player gets at times, and then jumps back in.”
Without Young the 49ers were punchless, turning over the quarterbacking to Jeff Garcia. This was not like Joe Montana leaving the game to be replaced by Young. This was a 49ers’ franchise looking like the Broncos playing without John Elway, the Bulls without Michael Jordan.
Young had opened the scoring, following a fumble by Arizona rookie punt returner David Boston, with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice, the 85th time they has hooked up.
“I thought we really came to play,” said Mariucci. “We took a step tonight; we beat a playoff team on the road. We hadn’t done that.”
Imagine what might have been said, however, if the medical report had been worse. The Cardinals aren’t going to the playoffs this season, and the 49ers are going nowhere without Young.
With his history, and with what the sports world is learning about concussions, it’s something that has to factor in the way the 49ers do business.
REWIND: WEEK 3
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