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Steve Young -- destined to play Best Supporting Actor for eternity, eh?
Don't get me wrong. Here at The Cooler, we're pro-Steve Young. No anti-Steve Young vibe here. In fact, in 15 years of sportswriting, my three favorite interviews of all time are Steve Young, Jason Giambi and Mr. T, from the time I bumped into the Mohawked One at an A's-Blue Jays game in Toronto in 1999.
It's just that the left-hander spent a career Not Being Joe, and on Sunday in Canton, Ohio, merely because it's driving distance from Dan Marino's hometown of Pittsburgh, he spent his induction day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Not Being Dan.
Young is leading man material all the way; a combination of cerebral cortex and athleticism the league had never seen before. And yet, instead of being the NFL equivalent of Laurence Olivier or Jack Nicholson, he winds up pigeonholed as a Michael Caine or a Walter Brennan.
(Bet you didn't know that Nicholson, with 12 Best Actor nominations, and Olivier, with 11, are the most nominated Best Actors in history. Bet you also didn't know that Caine, with six Best Supporting Actor nominations, and Brennan, with four, are the most nominated Best Supporting Actors in history. I didn't, until I was searching for a Young analogy. The Internet is a beautiful thing.)
By this, I mean that Marino had a much bigger fan base at Canton Sunday, and it was his speech that wound up leading the AP wire stories. Marino's son gave an excellent and poised presentation, and Marino's open-podium toss to Mark Clayton to end the speech was a guaranteed "SportsCenter" highlight.
The Youngster? He was merely self-effacing, appreciative, intelligent and honest, as always. It was enough to get him through four years of backing up Joe Montana, so it's enough to see him quietly have his bust enshrined at Canton, too.
And while we're at it, let's recognize that Young had a Hall of Fame career along the lines of Ted Williams. That is to say: Both Young and Teddy Ballgame left the best years of their beautiful careers on the sidelines. For Williams, it was World War II and the Korean War that took away five years of prime-time Splinter. For Young, it was the character-testing draw of backing up Montana during 1987-90, four years of Young's young and fresh legs motionless on the sidelines, ages 26-30 spent mastering the art of primping one's hair so as not to have the 'do affected by a headset. One suspects that if Young sees clipboards in a Home Depot now, he reflexively smashes them on the floor in anger.
So here's to No. 8 today at The Cooler. Cynics have noted that the number 8 is just half of the number 16, worn by Montana. But I say to that, in all my eloquence: Screw that.
Sometimes, being the other guy is cool. Sometimes, it brings out the best in a man. Nobody could handle it as well as Steve Young, who admitted the emotions that were tested as a backup were the same emotions that fueled him to be his best. So, thanks, No. 8. Yes, Joe was the Original. But without you, the 49ers don't have back-to-back Hall of Fame starting QBs. There's no 1-2 punch without a "2," right?