Facing press, fans is toughest part of 49er horror show

September 14, 1993|By Ann Killion | Ann Killion,San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News

CLEVELAND -- Steve Young stood at his locker, pulled his shirt over his head and took a deep breath. Then he turned around and faced the lights, the tape recorders, the questions.

The focus, of course, is on Young. No matter what else went wrong for the San Francisco 49ers on the banks of Lake Erie, it will all inevitably come down to rest on Young's shoulders.

So let's get it out of the way, right up front. Young threw three interceptions last ight, bringing his total to six this season. Two of the turnovers resulted in Cleveland scores. Young also fumbled on a sack late in the Commentary

game, not seeing an open receiver and killing a drive. That brings his total turnovers to 13 in his last four games, counting the two playoff games in January. He misfired on a few other passes -- ones that easily could have been picked off but weren't.

He wasn't perfect. He wasn't a deity. He was a quarterback not having a very good night.

There are plenty of other reasons the 49ers lost to the Browns, 23-13. There were moments of miserable defense; there were huge penalties; there were two botched field goals. But the odds are no one will remember those things.

It's ridiculous that a 53-man team should be viewed through the prism of the quarterback position, but that's just the way it is for Young. He is saint or Satan. There is no gray area, no quarterback purgatory.

There's a popular bar in this town called Howl at the Moon, and that's what will happen in the Bay Area this week. They will howl at Steve Young because he is the biggest, most illuminated object in the 49ers' galaxy.

When Young finally turned around from his locker, he said the right things. He gave just enough but not too much credit to the Browns team.

"We did it to our ourselves," he said.

He said he has no explanation for all the turnovers.

"I'm not baffled, but I'd like to eliminate them for the rest of the year," he said.

He said he won't blame himself personally for the loss. "You walk in here 47 men, and you walk out 47," Young said, referring to 49ers' locker room. "Otherwise you're making a big mistake."

But the likelihood is that Young will take this loss personally. There is no good explanation for the recent rash of turnovers. It's not out of the question that perhaps Young is trying to do too much.

"Steve wants to win so bad," Jerry Rice said when asked if Young was pressing. "We've just got to help him more and make the plays whenever the ball is in the air."

Last night's loss was the kind that's hard for this proud 49ers team to swallow. The 49ers know Monday Night Football is a showcase for their talent, yet they couldn't get the ball in the end zone.

"We should be able to score more than 13 points in any game," Jamie Williams said. "You can't explain it."

The 49ers could explain it if they had lost 34-31, as they did to Buffalo in the second game of the 1992 season. That's understandable. But scoring only one touchdown is uncomfortable. And having a ball bounce out of Rice's usually infallible hands into a defender's -- that's unreal.

"I've got to make that catch," Rice said.

None of Young's teammates was going to blame him. They know he is often the scapegoat for them -- that his interceptions deflect the criticism of more mundane aspects of the game, such as the inability of blockers to pick up the blitz or the breakdowns in the special teams.

"I'm not pointing any fingers," Rice said.

There was a feeling of protection of Young in the locker room after the game.

"I don't think the weight of our success is on his shoulders," tight end Brent Jones said. "It's a team thing. All the way down the line we messed up."

Young did plenty of good things in the game. He threw some beautiful passes. He scrambled. He blocked linebackers for his running backs. He practically got knocked out. He pumped to his left and then threw to his right -- yes, he actually can see the right side of the field -- to find Ricky Watters. He faked defensive lineman Bill Johnson out of his pants scrambling up the sidelines on the 49ers' first-half touchdown drive.

But the public will see the bad things. Young might, too, when he looks at the film.

"He's very hard on himself," Jones said.

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