Thursday, January 29, 2015

Yanking the Monkey Off Young's Back

For a long time, the knock on Steve Young was that he couldn't win the Super Bowl.

"Couldn't" really isn't the appropriate verb, though. He never had the opportunity to win or lose one until this day 20 years ago when he led the San Francisco 49ers into Super Bowl XXIX against the San Diego Chargers. It was to be his only opportunity to win a Super Bowl — and, boy, did he take advantage of it.

Young began his professional career 10 years earlier in the ill–fated United States Football League with the Los Angeles Express. In 1985, he signed with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who traded him to San Francisco in 1987, and Young spent the next four seasons as Joe Montana's backup. In that role, he was a participant in Super Bowls XXIII and XXIV. But he didn't get to play in Super Bowl XXIII, and he came in for mop–up duty after Super Bowl XXIV was a foregone conclusion.

In Tampa Bay, he had been judged a failure, but he showed his potential when subbing for Montana. Young became the 49ers' starter when Montana went down with a season–ending elbow injury in 1991. He was the 49ers' starting QB for the rest of that season, and he started every game for the next three seasons as well.

But the 49ers did not return to the Super Bowl until January 1995.

They were huge favorites when the game began. If you were betting on the 49ers in that game, you had to give the Chargers 19 points — the widest spread in Super Bowl history.

The 49ers led by 18 points at halftime and went on to cover the spread in a 49–26 victory. Young completed 75% of his passes for 325 yards and six touchdowns. He was, of course, the game's MVP

It was a joyous scene on the 49ers' sideline as the final seconds ticked away, and sideline cameras brought it into America's living rooms. Young and his teammates engaged in some play acting in which Young invited them to pull the monkey from his back — a shot at those who had said and/or written that he couldn't win the big one.

There are two thoughts, really, that cross my mind when I think of that game two decades ago.

The first is that it was the last Super Bowl of my mother's life. I don't know if she was ever the football fan that my father and I are, but she enjoyed watching the Super Bowl — especially if the Dallas Cowboys were playing in it. I was living in Oklahoma at the time, and I remember calling my parents early on Super Sunday and chatting about the game. I had no way of knowing it would be the last football game of my mother's life. She would be gone in less than four months.

So when I think of that day, I think of the phone conversation I had with my parents. I really don't remember the specifics of the conversation, only that we had one. We talked for about 20 minutes, then we signed off. Mom and Dad did whatever they did during the game, and so did I.

My other thought is of San Diego's Junior Seau, one of the finest defensive players I have ever seen play the game. It was his only Super Bowl, and, considering that he ended up taking his own life, presumably because of head injuries he suffered during his playing days, I really regret that he couldn't have had the experience of winning an NFL championship once in his life.

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