Steve “Grit” Young
Some Hall of Fame careers start smoothly at the top of the draft board, followed by a rise to prominence and eventual on-field dominance. Others, like the career of Steve Young, take a much less traditional path. Young’s crowning achievement came in the 1994 season, when he led the San Francisco 49ers to a win over the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl by a final of 49-26. Young was named MVP, throwing six touchdown passes in the game. Getting to that moment took quite a lot of perseverance.
Young’s father, LeGrande, carried the nickname ‘Grit.’ It was more than just a nickname as he lived by that word every day. During Young’s freshman year at BYU, he was buried on the quarterback depth chart and feeling frustrated. He called his Dad and said he might want to quit the team and come home. Grit famously told him he could quit but he couldn’t come home, because he refused to live with a quitter. Young hung in there and two years later, he was the starter. And during his senior year, he was named the winner of the Davey O’Brien Trophy, given to the nation’s top quarterback. He was also the runner up for the Heisman Trophy, given to the nation’s top overall player.
Even with his college success, Young’s journey to NFL stardom took some time. He was convinced out of BYU to sign with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL, rather than going to the NFL. While his play was not a problem, the financial state of the team and the league was. Two years later, the USFL would fold and most of the top players were dispersed in a special draft to the NFL. Young ended up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Head West Young Man
After two disappointing seasons in Tampa, Young caught the eye of one Bill Walsh, the man in charge with the 49ers. Walsh sent a 2nd and a 4th round pick to the Bucs to get his hands on Young, who he felt just needed a fresh start with some better players around him. Walsh was right, but again, it took some time. There was this guy named Joe Montana playing quarterback at the time in San Francisco, so it’s not like the job was open. Young patiently waited for his chance, serving as Montana’s backup for 4 seasons.
In 1992, an injured Montana was getting close to full health while another backup, Steve Bono, was challenging Young for playing time. Young channeled that ‘Grit’ and responded with an MVP season, posting a rating of 107 and leading the league with 25 touchdown passes. This became a habit for Young as he led the league in passer rating 6 times in a 7 year period from 1991-1997. His 2nd MVP award came in 1994, when he officially got the monkey off his back and won a Super Bowl as a starter. Young had 2 rings previously, but both came as a backup to Montana. The win in 1994 was the first time Young emerged out from underneath Montana’s very substantial shadow.
In his next three years at the helm in San Francisco, Young continued to produce at a high level, but got eliminated in the playoffs all three years by the Green Bay Packers. Injuries, namely concussions, also started to pile up, which led to the end of Young’s career after the 1999 season. He wrapped his career with two MVP awards, a Super Bowl MVP, and seven trips to the Pro Bowl.
Young completed the journey. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005. Fittingly, after showing so much grit, it was his father, ‘Grit’ who delivered his induction speech.
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