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Thursday, August 4, 2005
Persistence and patience lead Young to Hall

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- For once in his life, Steve Young doesn't have to wait for the good part.

Most of the milestones in Young's life were reached only through an extraordinary amount of persistence and patience. Not many players have followed a road to the Pro Football Hall of Fame with as many detours, wrong turns and rest stops as the one traversed by the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.

But that crooked road led to a stellar career, and that career led to first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame. He'll be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, this weekend along with Dan Marino, Fritz Pollard and Benny Friedman.

"I don't regret any of the places I went in football," Young said. "Everything gave me an experience or memories that I'll have forever. We had more success in San Francisco, but it was a great time everywhere. I always had fun."

He began his college career eighth on the depth chart at Brigham Young. He waded through pro football backwaters in the USFL and Tampa Bay before reaching San Francisco, where he spent four agonizing years as Joe Montana's backup.

When he took over the 49ers shortly before his 30th birthday, Young finally had a chance to show off the athleticism, brains and poise of perhaps the best running quarterback ever. Four years later, he threw six touchdown passes and won the MVP award in the 1995 Super Bowl.

I don't regret any of the places I went in football. Everything gave me an experience or memories that I'll have forever. We had more success in San Francisco, but it was a great time everywhere. I always had fun.
Steve Young

Young is no stranger to waiting off the field, either: He didn't get married and start a family until his late 30s, an exceptionally tardy start for members of his Mormon faith.

But after all that waiting, everything worked out almost perfectly for Young, a three-time All-Pro who won two league MVP awards and six passing titles in a 15-year pro career.

He has a wife and two sons, thriving interests in broadcasting and business, a comfortable life in beautiful Palo Alto -- and the unending adoration of West Coast football fans who remember Young as a gracious, charming star who did everything the right way.

"I've always thought Steve could be mayor of San Francisco without too much of a fight," said Bill Walsh, who moved aggressively to get Young while Montana still was in his prime. "That's just the kind of man he is, and how highly he's regarded in that town. Everybody knows he didn't have an easy job following Joe Montana. The way he did it says all you need to know about him, and then he made quite a career for himself, too."

Young's career statistics -- 33,124 yards passing, 232 touchdown passes and the highest quarterback rating in NFL history when he retired -- are even more impressive for his late start. After a stellar career at BYU, he signed a $42 million contract (still being paid in annuities) and spent two seasons with the USFL's Los Angeles Express.

After entering the supplemental NFL draft, Young spent two miserable years with the Buccaneers, who traded him in 1987 for two draft picks and bit of cash. Just like that, Jerry Rice and his fellow receivers had two Hall of Famers taking the same snaps in practice.

"I think everybody knew he was going to be special, but we didn't know when," Rice said recently. "Just like Joe had a presence, Steve had a presence. It was different, but it was there. We just knew we were lucky to have two guys like that."

Young spent four uneasy years behind Montana, earning a law degree while sitting on the bench for two Super Bowl runs and wondering when he'd finally get the chance to run his own team. Thanks to personnel strictures that no longer exist, the 49ers managed to keep Young waiting for an eternity in pro football standards.

"When I came on, I didn't think Joe was going to play very long," Young said. "I had been playing (in Tampa Bay), I wanted to play, and I didn't really care where I went as long as I played. The fact that they could hold me in place that long, I don't think that you'll see that again."

When Montana departed in 1991, Young began to make up for lost time. The 49ers never had a losing record in his eight seasons as their starter, and Young was among the NFL's premier quarterbacks throughout the decade despite a series of concussions that worried his family and teammates.

Even if Young never started quickly, he always finished well. His jersey still turns up in the crowd at every 49ers home game, and fans still seethe at the memory of the hit by Arizona's Aeneas Williams that knocked Young out of the NFL for good in 1999.

Young didn't overstay his welcome, either. Though he probably could have returned to football after his final concussion, he could see the 49ers were headed for years of trouble with salary-cap problems and changing ownership, and he didn't want to play for another team.

So he retired -- and five years later, he's right on time for his trip to Canton.

"It's one of those things you think about in the back of your mind," he said, "but I know it won't be real until I get there."