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Steve Young: 'I was blessed'

Published August 8, 2005 1:04 am

Former BYU great joins the ranks of pro football's immortals
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

CANTON, Ohio - The day was supposed to be a celebration of Steve Young's accomplishments, all those clutch touchdowns and big-game victories. Yet the quarterback couldn't stop thinking about all the times he failed.

Which is how, Young admitted, he got here in the first place.

"The road to greatness is not a smooth path," Young told 21,000 fans packed into Fawcett Stadium to welcome him and three other former quarterbacks to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "Learning from my failures was as important as my successes."

Young even thanked 49er fans for their occasional boos, when he would throw an interception or miss an open receiver. "I wanted so badly to live up to your expectations," the All-American from Brigham Young University said in an 18-minute acceptance speech at pro football's birthplace. "The boos motivated me to work harder."

There were no boos Sunday, just cheers and ovations for the owner of the NFL's highest passing rating in history. Young used his induction speech to exhort young athletes to use him as an example of perseverance, to take heart in his journey from eighth-string college quarterback to two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, passer of six Super Bowl touchdowns and, as his former coach Bill Walsh said, "the best player in all of football at one point."

The Hall of Fame class of 2005 also included Dan Marino, the Miami Dolphins' record-setting passer; Benny Friedman, who first made passing a legitimate weapon during the game's rushing-dominated era of the 1920s and 1930s; and Fritz Pollard, who in 1920 was one of the game's first stars - and its first African-American coach.

Unlike his fellow inductees, Young didn't blossom into a star the moment he stepped onto the football field. Young's first professional team was the L.A. Express, doomed to obscurity in the bankrupt United States Football League. He joined the NFL two years later, but toiled for Tampa Bay, a franchise so laughable at the time, master of ceremonies Chris Berman pointed out, that they were nicknamed the "Yuk-aneers."

And even when he escaped to San Francisco via a trade, he was relegated to seldom-used backup behind Joe Montana for four seasons.

It's hardly the rsum of a future immortal, yet Young said, "I had faith that the opportunity would create itself at the appropriate time. . . . No career, however great, is smooth all the way through."

And no career could have a more satisfying curtain call, being selected from among the 17,000 athletes who have played pro football to be enshrined as one of the 229 greatest ever. The only problem: It happened a little too soon.

Young was forced from the game by a series of concussions five years ago, a decision he insists he doesn't regret. But his father, LeGrande "Grit" Young, who introduced his son during the induction ceremony, noted that "Steve still thinks he can play - and he's tempted from time to time."

Those concussions go way back, Grit Young said; the first one was suffered when the future Hall of Famer was 6 months old. "We lived in parent/student housing at the University of Utah, on the second floor," the elder Young recalled. "Steve was in a walker with wheels, and down the steps he went."

He recovered, and grew up to lead BYU to two Holiday Bowls and an 11-1 record his senior year. He eventually succeeded Montana as the 49ers' quarterback, carved out a reputation as the greatest scrambling quarterback in the game (and perhaps in history), and directed his team to a championship in Super Bowl XXIX.

That was his greatest moment in football, Young said - not the game, but five minutes after it ended. The players were alone in the locker room, "and we looked up at each other and realized we had done this together, as a team. . . . No MVP [award] or passing title can compare to that feeling."

The first left-handed quarterback ever to be elected to the Hall of Fame sounded a little wistful as he recounted his years in San Francisco: "Just know I was blessed to spend 13 years in football nirvana," Young said. "I can taste the pride I felt to be able to put on a 49er jersey and represent the great city of San Francisco."

But Young said he has found something even better than football to fill his life: family.

"It will never again be third-and-10, late in the fourth quarter, down by four, at Candlestick Park. Nothing in life can be like those great moments," he said. "But today, life for me is even better. With my wife, Barb, and my two sons, Braden and Jackson, I have found the secret to life: Loving others more than yourself."

He got a lot of that love back on Sunday, both for his career and his message. "It was a brilliant speech. Magnificent," Walsh said. "I'd like to have it on tape to show it to high school and college teams."

As Berman, an ESPN broadcaster, told Young while introducing a video package of his career highlights, "Forever, Steve, you were told that you weren't good enough. Today shows they were right - you weren't good enough. You were great enough."

pmiller@sltrib.com