He’s never been shy with an opinion, which is to be expected from a man who graduated from law school and, in a sense, graduated from quarterback school. Steve Young could play a good game, a great game at times — who can forget Super Bowl XXIX when he was MVP? — and still talks a wonderful game as an analyst.
Super Bowl 50 isn’t Young’s Super Bowl, to be exact, yet it is his Super Bowl. He’s involved with the Host Committee. He’s involved as an ESPN announcer. And perhaps emotionally he’s involved because the head coach of the Denver Broncos, Gary Kubiak, was Young’s quarterback coach with the 49ers that one magnificent season, 1994, when San Francisco rolled on to the NFL championship, and Steve exorcised any demons that we perceived even if he did not.
Young is 54 now. He was still active, still starting in 1998, when Peyton Manning was a rookie. Now, Manning is nearing the end, about to complete a career, most likely if not definitely when his Broncos play Carolina next Sunday in No. 50. And with the understanding and respect of someone who took the blows and then the accolades, Young marvels at Manning’s originality.
“He changed the game,” Young said of the 39-year-old quarterback, completing his 18th and possibly last NFL season. “[Manning] took it forward. He saw what was happening. He eliminated the coach, didn’t make him superfluous but treated him as an impediment.”
One watches Manning standing behind the center, reading the defense, flapping his arms, shouting “Omaha! Omaha!” as he decides what to call. Young, the retired quarterback, is in complete admiration.
“He showed if you spend a lot of time together,” Young said of Manning and his teammates, “proved in his career if you spend 400 hours running 15 [pass] routes, you can be on the same page.”
Young jokes about Kubiak, his position coach in that ’94 season. When offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan — George Seifert was Niners head coach that year, of course, and would get his second Super Bowl victory — left to take over as Denver’s head coach, he brought Kubiak with him. Within a few years the Broncos, with John Elway at quarterback, would win two Super Bowls.
“He abandoned me,” Young said about Kubiak. “It was OK. He was ready to be a coordinator whether he stayed or not. He had an intuitive knack. He also had a velvet hammer. He comes off as a good guy. He treats people well. But he can be a really tough customer. He has emotional athleticism.”
ESPN, not surprisingly, will go over the top in its coverage. The prime location will be Marina Green, with that impressive view of the Golden Gate Bridge, about 40 miles from Levi’s Stadium and 45 from SAP Center, where Media Night will be held Monday. From his home on the Peninsula, Young will battle traffic to San Francisco for two appearances and then head the other direction for the game.
The past several years, he has done post-game work on the field for “Monday Night Football.” He’s well paid, naturally, but he also is intellectually satisfied, explaining what the guy who had to wait to replace the great Joe Montana has learned about football and the men who play it.
Young arrived in the Bay Area in 1987, when Niners coach Bill Walsh, who knew talent, brought him in from Tampa Bay. A year later, Young, off the bench, created a 49-yard, scrambling, lurching, sprinting touchdown run from a broken pass play. It’s not quite as famous as The Catch, Montana to Dwight Clark, which elevated the Niners to their first Super Bowl, but it’s a close second.
With Montana and Young back-to-back, the Niners had two Hall of Fame QBs and five Super Bowl victories, glory days.
“It will always be special,” said Young of his Super Bowl triumph in January 1995. He threw a record six touchdown passes. “It stays in the rear view mirror, more sublime as time passes.”
In another way, time has passed the Niners, who tumbled to a 5-11 record in the recent 2015 season, only three years after a Super Bowl appearance against Baltimore.
“In 2012-13,” he said, the latter number when Super Bowl XLVII was held in New Orleans, “the 49ers had one of the best teams, the best coaching staffs. You want to hold that as close and as long as you can. Unfortunately there was a bloodletting. Now they’re starting from a much lower altitude.”
Young, the onetime, longtime quarterback, as all of us, has watched the decline of Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of that 2012 team — and until benched, the 2015 team.
“There’s no more mitigation,” Young said of Kaepernick. “There’s a new coach [Chip Kelly]. The one thing Colin has to do now is reclaim his career. It’s a tough business.”
A business in which Young succeeded, as now he’s succeeding out of football but not away from football. Life is good.