Young, Jon Steven ("Steve")
YOUNG, Jon Steven ("Steve")
Young was the oldest of five children of LeGrande Young, an attorney, and Sherry Steed Young, a homemaker. The family moved from Utah to Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1969. Young excelled in competitive sports in his elementary school years. He did not make the varsity football team as a tenth grader at Greenwich High School, but by his senior year, he was the first-string quarterback. Using the veer offense, which allows the quarterback maximum flexibility, Young won the first game of his senior season. Following the victory, Young was invited to a party, offered a beer, and politely refused. As a Mormon he does not use alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco. Young led his high school team to the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship game, but lost the game to arch rival Darien. During his high school career, Young completed more than 40 percent of his passes for 1,220 yards and rushed for 1,928 yards, thus becoming the second best in high school history. He graduated from high school in 1979.
Cornell, Virginia, Syracuse, and North Carolina all offered Young athletic scholarships, but he decided to attend Brigham Young University (BYU) where his father had played fullback. His ancestor Brigham Young, a pioneer in U.S. history, helped lead a large group of Mormon settlers west to what later became the state of Utah and was one of the founders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
When Young arrived at the university in 1980, sportswriters were calling the school "Quarterback U" because Coach LaVell Edwards would call for fifty passes a game. It appeared that Young was not prepared for a passing offense, and he was listed as the team's eighth-string quarterback. However, halfway through the season, he was asked to run the "scout" team offense, the offensive formation used by the team's next opponent, against the varsity. His performance in practice that week got the attention of Coach Edwards.
With the arrival of Ted Tollner, a new quarterback coach, Young began his second season as the heir apparent to Jim McMahon. When McMahon was injured early in the season, sophomore quarterback Young helped the team defeat Colorado and became the star quarterback for the 1982 season. After a slow start, the team began winning big with Young's strong passing and running. BYU was selected to play in the 1982 Holiday Bowl game against Ohio State. Young scored two touchdowns, but the team still lost 40–17.
By his senior year Young was the starting quarterback and finished second to Mike Rozier of Nebraska in the voting for the 1983 Heisman Trophy. At the 1983 Holiday Bowl, Young used a trick play with thirty seconds left in the game against Missouri—he handed off to his halfback, then caught a return pass and ran for a touchdown to win the game 21–17. At the end of his college career, Young had the highest single-season passing percentage (71.3) in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Young received his B.S. in 1983.
The Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League (NFL) were planning to draft Young in the first round, but he was also approached by the United States Football League (USFL) and signed in 1984 with the Los Angeles Express for $40 million, the largest contract in professional football history at that time. With a record of 2–3, the Los Angeles Express were ready for Young to play. After nine games the team was only 3–6. But Young led the team to win seven of their last eight regular season games and a slot in the playoffs. The Express ended the season with a 35–23 playoff game loss to the Arizona Wranglers.
By the end of Young's second season, the USFL was in deep financial trouble, and Young paid the league back over a million dollars in order to secure his release. He then signed a five-year $6 million contract with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in September 1985.
The Buccaneers were one of the worst teams in the NFL, but Young was still only the backup quarterback to Leeman Bennett while he learned the offense. Young played in a few games, but the Buccaneers finished the season 2–14. In the next season, the Buccaneers struggled to another 2–14 season. At that point, the team drafted University of Miami quarterback Vinnie Testaverde in the first round, and Young felt his days at Tampa were numbered. Statistically he had one of the poorest records in the league. After four dismal seasons, Young was traded in April 1987 to the San Francisco 49ers.
Bill Walsh, the 49ers head coach, was a fan of Young's, and Walsh's quarterback coach Mike Holmgren had been one of Young's quarterback coaches at BYU. Young became the backup to Joe Montana, the top quarterback in the league. Walsh needed a quarterback who was familiar with the 49ers complicated offense to fill in when Montana was injured. Montana and Young's differences soon became apparent. Montana was methodical and precise, whereas Young was inventive and daring. San Francisco fans were not used to a quarterback who would put his head down and run over tacklers. In his first year with the 49ers, Young suffered his first concussion. Yet in the final exhibition game against the Los Angeles Raiders in 1997, he still was responsible for more offensive yardage than the Raiders entire team.
In the next season, Young played sparingly, splitting time with Montana. Late in the season Young stepped in for Montana, who was suffering from back problems. With two minutes to play in the game against the Minnesota Vikings, Young took the ball and ran downfield, escaping from eight Vikings to score the winning touchdown. Years later sportswriters characterized Young's run for a touchdown as the best run in NFL history.
In 1993 the 49ers coaches had to make a choice between an aging Montana and Young, who had still not proved himself in playoffs. Montana signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Young became the leader of the 49ers. Young had an exciting 1994 season and won his fourth consecutive ranking as the NFL's top quarterback. When the 49ers defeated the Dallas Cowboys for the championship, San Francisco fans seemed finally ready to support a new football star. In the Super Bowl against the San Diego Chargers, Young threw for six touchdowns, a Super Bowl record, and rushed for more yards than any of his teammates. The team beat San Diego 49–26, becoming world champions for the fifth time in San Francisco history. Young was named the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player (MVP).
In the next few years, Young suffered numerous concussions and other injuries. Despite these problems, in 1996 he was the leading NFL quarterback for the fifth time, and the following year he reached the 3,000-yard mark for the fifth time in his career. Young was equally memorable in 1998 when he broke the single-season team record for most passing yards and touchdown passes.
Young married Barbara Graham on 14 March 1999, and their son was born the following year. After a seventeen-year career and two MVP awards, Young retired on 12 June 2000, saying, "For the record, I can still play." He was concerned that the numerous concussions he had suffered would make it dangerous for him to continue.
Young is the founder and president of the Forever Young Foundation that sponsors many charitable activities, including sports programs in the San Francisco schools and working to help Native Americans. He earned a law degree from Brigham Young University in 1993, and performs legal work for his foundation. Young took his passion for sports to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games as a Salt Lake Olympic Committee ambassador-at-large.
No one in the history of the NFL had ever played the quarterback position better. Young had perseverance, a strong passing arm on the run, and no fear. He was also the ideal height and weight for the position—six foot, two inches, and 205 pounds. His NFL rating was 112.8, an all-time single season record, and his career rating of 96.8 was the best in league history. His 35 touchdown passes and 70.2 percent completion mark set new records previously held by Montana. Young was named Player of the Week twice, Player of the Month once, and NFL Player of the Year.
Young wrote a children's book titled Forever Young (1996). See also Ron Knapp, Steve Young: Star Quarterback (1996) and Laura Livsey and Larry Livsey, The Steve Young Story (1995). Career statistics and articles reflecting on his retirement appear online at the Sports Illustrated website, <http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com>.
Reed B. Markham