Young valuable, but is he appreciated 49ers quarterback still seeks respect

January 06, 1993|By Michael Silver | Michael Silver,Contributing Writer

SANTA CLARA, CALIF — SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Sometime this afternoon, Stev Young is expected to be honored by The Associated Press as the NFL's Most Valuable Player. There will be no ticker-tape parade. If Young makes it safely from his car to his house, he's liable to chalk it up as a moral victory.

In some towns, an MVP quarterback would be cause for celebration. In the San Francisco Bay area, it's cause for consternation.

Though Young, in terms of statistics and victories, has done everything possible to prove himself a worthy successor to Joe Montana, he has yet to capture the hearts of most San Franciscans.

Each time Young achieves success, new obstacles are created, the latest of which is that he's never won a playoff game. Never mind that Young never has started one. When he takes the field for the 49ers' postseason showdown with the Washington Redskins at Candlestick Park on Saturday, there will be a number of skeptics who believe that Montana -- or even third-string quarterback Steve Bono -- should be the man controlling the team's playoff fate.

"Hey, that's the way it is," Young said yesterday. "To me, if you think about playing quarterback around here, it's always do-or-die. Tell me a week when you're relaxed.

"It's just the nature of the business. Because it's Joe, it's always been unique. It always will be unique. Joe did things that were amazing, and I think it's just a natural reaction."

This season, Young has done some pretty amazing things himself. In winning his second consecutive NFL passing title -- he's the first man to do so since the Cincinnati Bengals' Kenny Anderson in 1981-82 -- Young led the league in completion percentage (66.7), touchdown passes (25), average gain per pass play (8.62) and interception percentage (1.7, or seven in 402 attempts). He led the NFC with 3,465 passing yards, second only to Dan Marino's 4,116.

Young's quarterback rating, 107.0, was the fifth-highest ever; Montana holds the record of 112.4, set in 1989. Oh, and Young ran for 537 yards -- the ninth-best rushing season by a quarterback in NFL history -- and led the league with a 7.1 average yards per carry.

In San Francisco, none of that matters, and Young knows it. This is Montana Country.

"In some towns, you lead the league as a passer and they'll remember that for 20 years," Young said. "Here, it's an afterthought."

Though Young led the 49ers to a league-best 14-2 regular-season record, Montana's stirring performance in the regular-season finale Dec. 21 has created a controversy that coach George Seifert insists doesn't exist.

During the 49ers' 24-6 victory over the Detroit Lions, Young was greeted by banners proclaiming him the 49ers' second-best quarterback. That, he can handle. Before the game, on a local radio talk show, one fan called in to say he hoped Young would sustain a serious injury so Montana could get his job back. That, Young would rather not talk about.

But Young has won over his teammates. After a rocky 1991 season in which he went only 5-5 as a starter, Young obliterated his loser's label, bringing the 49ers from behind to win three games in the fourth quarter and pulling out two in which the team was tied.

Two weeks ago, Young was voted by his teammates as the winner of the Len Eshmont Award, given annually to the team's most inspirational and courageous player. Two days later, he was selected as a captain.

"Steve's our man, and we expect the same thing in the playoffs as he gave us during the regular season," receiver Jerry Rice said. "I think he's just excited to be the starting quarterback."

Montana, meanwhile, is not enthralled with his situation. He has made no secret of his dislike for Young, and now that Seifert has established the longtime backup as his permanent quarterback, Montana is likely to take his four Super Bowl rings and 36-year-old throwing arm elsewhere next season.

On Tuesday, an out-of-town reporter asked Montana if he expected to play in the playoffs.

"You haven't been around very long, have you?" Montana replied. "I don't think so."

Nevertheless, Young knows that his margin for error is, well, marginal. And even though his popularity may not be at the level it should be, Young plans to enjoy himself.

"This is great," he said. "I'm having so much fun playing football, I can't believe it. I've never had so much fun playing football in my whole life."

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