Finally, out of shadows, into his own

January 30, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

MIAMI -- He said he didn't care about completing that sixth touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but you know that he did.

The Super Bowl record was five.

Joe's record.

If you think Steve Young didn't want to break that sucker, just take it and break it into a million pieces, you haven't thought

about what it has been like to walk in his shoes all these years.

If you think Young didn't want to be able to say he had accomplished something Joe never accomplished, you haven't been listening.

"What about all the people who have criticized you for not being Joe Montana?" someone asked Young last night after the 49ers had beaten the Chargers in the Super Bowl at Joe Robbie Stadium.

"The hell with them," Young said, smiling.

If ever an athlete deserved such a moment, Young did. Consider what he endured as a prelude to last night's six-touchdown, 325-yard passing performance:

He leads the league in passing for one, two, three, four straight years. But you're not Joe, he hears.

He is twice named the league's Most Valuable Player. But you're not Joe, he hears.

Meanwhile, Montana offers him about as much help and support as an ex-mother-in-law offers in the midst of an ugly divorce. Did you catch what Joe said last week? That he would be pulling for the Chargers instead of his former teammates, many of whom are still his close friends, because he was "an AFC guy now."

Right, Joe. Sure. It's because you're an AFC guy now, a member of the Chiefs. It's not at all because a Chargers victory would have preserved your pristine legend as the 49ers' only Super Bowl quarterback, while virtually destroying Young. That couldn't possibly have had anything to do with it, could it?

Montana's comments were just the latest vivid measurement of the load Young has carried since he replaced Montana four years ago.

"There were many days when I'd get to work in the morning and I'd want to turn around and leave, honestly," Young said last night, standing on an interview stand after the game, "because to have to go through that kind of scrutiny and constant comparisons was tough. But to fight through that and get to this day, and then play your best game ever in your biggest game ever, it's very, very special."

Last night, as has been the case all season, Young was every bit as precise and effective as Montana in his prime. Maybe it is true that Young, 33, won't be able to remain at his peak for as long as Montana did. But their primes should stand equally tall.

Maybe Young doesn't deliver the perfect short ball quite as consistently as Montana, but he comes very close, and his scrambling, which devastated the Chargers, gives him a dimension Montana never had. Who can say that the entire package isn't every bit as potent as Montana's?

"Steve is the best quarterback ever, bar none," Ricky Watters said. "I wouldn't trade him for anyone, no matter who it is."

Of course, both Young and Montana were blessed with the advantage of being able to throw to Jerry Rice, the peerless receiver the Chargers were incapable of covering last night. It is worth noting that the offense failed to move on the one series Rice sat out because of a shoulder injury. Otherwise, his presence amounted to a guaranteed first down, regardless of the circumstances.

"This Super Bowl is special because of Steve," Rice said. "I really wanted him to come out and play well, after everything he has been through. He deserves everything he is getting now. Before the final seconds ticked off we were hugging on the sidelines and I told him, 'Hey man, I love you. You deserve it. Enjoy it because you will never forget it.' "

That is the same Jerry Rice who wasn't afraid to publicly admit that he preferred Montana in the tough years after Young took over.

"I knew what the standard was going to be, and I took it on," Young said. "Sometimes I blinked, I admit that. I had to learn to have thicker skin, but I did. Things might still get to me now, but they just pierce the skin, they don't drive into my heart. And I

always kept challenging that standard. This year I think I finally have [the critics] backpedaling."

Said 49ers coach George Seifert: "This year Steve freed himself emotionally."

Freed himself from worrying about Montana.

"This year I started distancing myself from all that," Young said. "I want my performance to stand for itself. To compare it to anything that has happened before it does nothing but detract from it, as well as detract from what the team has accomplished. I see things that way now, and one of these days I think everyone else will too."

Spoken like a man whose burden had suddenly lifted on a humid night in South Florida.

"The fans in San Francisco are demanding, and they had a hand in this, for sure, because they made me tougher," he said. "I know it's a special moment for them."

But for no one was this Super Bowl more special than Steve Young.

YOUNG GUN

Steve Young set a Super Bowl single-game record with six touchdown passes. The quarterbacks who have thrown for four or more touchdowns in a single Super Bowl:

Player .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Year .. No.

Steve Young, S.F. ... .. .. 1995 .. . 6

Joe Montana, S.F. ... .. .. 1990 .. . 5

Terry Bradshaw, Pitt. .. .. 1979 .. . 4

Doug Williams, Wash. ... .. 1988 .. . 4

Troy Aikman, Dallas . .. .. 1993 .. . 4

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