Pressure on Young to advance

January 15, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Joe Gibbs, the first coach to win Super Bowls with three quarterbacks, once outlined his standard for judging quarterbacks.

"A quarterback is rated on how far he takes you. Can he win a division? Can he take you to the Super Bowl?" said Gibbs, former coach of the Washington Redskins and now an NBC broadcaster. "I know there are a lot of fine quarterbacks around the league who never have gotten their teams to the Super Bowl. If you don't, that's kind of how you go down in history. It's the nature of the NFL."

Nobody knows that better than San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young.

Young is the first quarterback to lead the league with a passer rating of more than 100 for three seasons in a row. He also has won the division title for two straight seasons.

In San Francisco, though, Young is a quarterback who hasn't done it. He hasn't taken his team to the Super Bowl, much less won it.

That's why there'll be a lot of pressure on Young when the 49ers play host to the New York Giants today for a berth in the NFC title game next Sunday.

For the Giants and their quarterback, Phil Simms, there isn't the same pressure. He has won a Super Bowl, and the Giants' season is considered a success, because nobody expected them to get this far.

For the 49ers, the measure of success is the Super Bowl.

Young remains in the shadow of Joe Montana, who took the 49ers there four times and won all four.

There are many 49ers fans who resent the fact that the 49ers shipped Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs to make room for Young.

If the 49ers lose today and Montana's Chiefs win tomorrow, San Francisco fans won't be very forgiving.

"I think everybody wants to be a Super Bowl quarterback," Young said. "Joe is the classic -- four out of four. There's no doubt that all I want to do is go to the Super Bowl. You can get MVPs and win passing titles and everything else. But now there's something more."

Last season, Young passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns in what turned out to be Gibbs' last playoff game with the Redskins, but he also fumbled three times and was intercepted once.

Against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC title game, he threw for 313 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter in a 30-20 loss at home.

He knows he can't afford turnovers against the Giants, who have a big-play defense that thrives on them.

"I always felt 90 percent of football was psychological. It's about intensity and focus," Young said. "You can develop a sense that we're not going to turn the ball over. And then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

At one point this year, Young threw 172 consecutive passes without an interception. But he was picked off seven times in the past six weeks, and the 49ers have lost three of their past four games.

Young has a reputation for getting too excitable at times, a contrast to Montana's Joe Cool reputation.

"I'll admit I get excited in games," Young said, "but that's good as long as you can stay in control. There is a fine line there, but I think I'm mature enough now to know where that line is."

Mike Shanahan, the team's offensive coordinator, said: "Right now, he seems more relaxed than I've ever seen him. But at the same time, he's very business-at-hand."

Shanahan also coached Denver's John Elway, another quarterback who hasn't won the Super Bowl, although he has been there three times.

"Did it bother John? It kills him," Shanahan said. "It kills him that he doesn't have the title of Super Bowl quarterback. But to say John or Steve can't win the big one . . . it has nothing to do with the quarterback alone. A lot of people aren't aware that it takes a team, not just the quarterback."

Offensive lineman Harris Barton said: "The fact is Steve doesn't have the dominating defense we had when Joe was here. It's a shame that that's the way people judge their athletes, on whether they win the big ones. But I guess that's the way it is."

The 49ers are especially vulnerable to a team that can run the way the Giants can.

"We haven't done it all year," coach George Seifert said. "I don't know if we have the answer. We haven't demonstrated that we can stop anybody."

Young, though, says the team's poor finish might work to its advantage.

"I actually think we're in better shape than we were last year because there's something about the way we ended the season where George can scream at us for a couple of weeks even though we were playing pretty good ball. He can berate us and get our attention. Last year, we won eight or nine [the number was eight] in a row before the playoffs, and maybe we didn't have that edge that we're going in with this year," he said.

NFC SEMIFINAL: GIANTS AT 49ERS

Site/time: Candlestick Park, San Francisco, 4 p.m.

TV: Channels 11, 9

Radio: None

Line: 49ers by 8

Last week: The 49ers had a bye, and the Giants beat the Minnesota Vikings, 17-10.

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