Broadcaster recalls Steve Young's wacky touchdown run
San Francisco • Not long after former BYU quarterback Steve Young completed the Flop Heard 'Round the World, his exhausted dive into the end zone after a 49-yard high-speed chase, broadcaster Lon Simmons bumped into the 49ers veteran at a charity event.
"I think you and I ran out of gas about the same time," Simmons told him.
The last gasp for both men came around the 5-yard line, when Young could barely stand and Simmons could barely believe his eyes. The quarterback capped his journey with an inelegant stumble across the goal line. "It was ugly," linebacker Michael Walter said that day, "but it was beautiful."
Young's nutty run catapulted the 49ers to a 24-21 victory on Oct. 30, 1988, and left indelible, circling footprints all over the Candlestick Park turf.
Simmons, now 90, was more than happy to reflect on the play. For one thing, the increasing astonishment in his play-call is part of what makes the run great.
For another, he said: "I always felt Candlestick and I were kindred spirits. We're both big and ugly. We're both very windy. And for a long time they couldn't figure out how to get rid of either of us."
Simmons spent 26 seasons as the voice of the 49ers, enthralling audiences with his vivid descriptions and dry wit. With his baritone voice and natural gravitas, the broadcaster was a voice-of-God type like John Facenda - but with better punch lines.
Simmons recalls now that broadcasting with Young on the field meant staying on his toes.
"Most players are predictable in what they're going to do and how they're going to do it," he said in a phone interview. "With Steve Young, especially when he took off running, he was making it up as he went along."
That was never truer than in the fourth quarter against the Vikings, the league's top-ranked defense, when the 49ers trailed 21-17 with less than two minutes to go.
The play was designed as a curl to Mike Wilson. When the quarterback saw that the receiver was covered, he began searching for tight end Brent Jones. Instead, the next thing he saw was the hand of ferocious Vikings defensive end (and future 49er) Chris Doleman. "That's when I just rolled," Young said after the game.
At least five Vikings had a shot at Young. Safety Joey Browner and linebacker Jesse Solomon missed him at midfield. Young slipped from cornerback Carl Lee at the 40. Browner missed him again. Near the 30, Young delivered a stiff arm to Solomon. But his toughest defender was gravity, which seemed intent on stopping him for those final 5 yards.
The whole thing looked panicky and frantic. Luckily, Simmons had experience with this kind of thing. He had been behind the mike years earlier when a Vikings defensive end named Jim Marshall picked up a fumble at Kezar Stadium and raced toward the wrong end zone. ("Marshall is running the wrong way!" Simmons told the radio audience that day. "He thinks he has scored a touchdown! He has scored a safety!")
Young never ran backward. But he ran just about every other direction. Simmons recalled that from the second the quarterback took the snap, he was "completely surrounded and it looked for certain like he was going down. And then as he ventured downfield, he kept running into Minnesotans. Every where he turned, he was in enemy country."
This is how it sounded on the air:
"Young back to throw. In trouble. He's going to be sacked. No! Gets away. He runs. Gets away again! Goes to the 40. Gets away again! To the 35. Cuts back at the 30. To the 20! To the 15! To the 10! Young is exhausted! He dives. Touchdown 49ers!"
Young was in the game because of an injury to Joe Montana, who was laughing on the sideline by the time the zigging and zagging was over. "I know I couldn't have made it," Montana cracked that day. "I would have passed out long before that."
Fullback Harry Sydney ran up to Young after the touchdown and told him: "A hell of a run, Steve. Next time open your eyes."
Young, then in just his second season with the 49ers, would start only one more time that season. He handed the reins back to Montana, who took it from there, taking the 49ers to through the playoffs, spotting John Candy in the stands and then hitting John Taylor with the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XXIII against the Cincinnati Bengals.
As Simmons points out, it was Young's last-second heroics against the Vikings that kept the 49ers' Super Bowl dreams alive in the first place (losing to Minnesota would have cost the 49ers their playoff spot). Simmons said the play typified the determination Young showed throughout his career as well as his knack for "turning apparent disaster into victories."
As for his part, Simmons regrets not giving offensive lineman Randy Cross credit for a key block on the play.
Then again, Simmons probably needed to save his lungs. By the time the quarterback reached the end zone, his voice was as spent as Young's legs.
"I don't think either one of us could have gone on much longer," Simmons said..
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