Eight for 8

Everybody has a precious football memory of Steve Young, one of the greatest 49ers of them all. After Young received the ultimate honor Sunday when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, SFI takes a reflective look back at our top eight memories of that special quarterback who wore No. 8.

1. The victory lap: In a spine-tingling moment that sent chills through many of the 69,125 in attendance at Candlestick Park, Young broke through a frenzied mob streaming onto the field after the 49ers defeated the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys 38-28 in the NFC title game following the 1994 season. He turned toward the grandstands behind the 49ers bench and triumphantly jogged alongside them, pointing the football at the raucous fans who finally had embraced Young as a hero after years of saying he never could follow in the footsteps of Joe Montana. Then, for an encore as those fans cheered wildly, Young broke free from media personnel and sprinted toward those grandstands for another lap of goosebump-inducing adulation.

2. The wild scramble: With the Niners struggling at midseason in 1988, Young got the start in place of an ailing Joe Montana in a late October game against Minnesota. Young hit John Taylor for a 73-yard touchdown pass earlier in the game, but San Francisco found itself trailing by four points late in the fourth quarter and apparently headed toward a second consecutive defeat. But then, on a third-and-2 play from the Vikings' 49-yard line, the amazing happened: Young dropped back to pass, scrambled out of the pocket, then broke loose for a turning, twisting, tumbling run during which he darted and danced and changed direction while breaking several tackles before falling, exhausted, into the end zone with 1:58 remaining to give the Niners a 24-21 victory. Young's wild scramble is considered one of the 49ers' all-time memorable plays and one of the greatest touchdown runs by a quarterback in NFL history. It also highlighted a quality that left Young with 4,239 career rushing yards, second in league history only to Randall Cunningham.

3. The helmetless quarterback: In a play that epitomized Young's fiery disposition, courage and competitiveness, the QB was stripped of his helmet after dropping back to pass in a meaningless 1995 summer exhibition game at San Diego. Instead of falling safety to the ground – which was what everyone on the San Francisco sideline was screaming for him to do – Young sent caution to the wind as he slipped out of the pocket, turned upfield and rushed for a first down while managing to avoid being beheaded.

4. The monkey off his back: Young, playing like a man possessed, threw for 325 yards and a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes as the 49ers overwhelmed the San Diego Chargers 49-26 in Super Bowl XXIX at Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium. That completed a 1994 season that was one of the best ever by an NFL quarterback and ended with Young earning NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP honors and setting a then-NFL record with a 112.8 quarterback rating. In poignant scenes after the game, Young could be seen embracing the Vince Lombardi Trophy while wearing an endearing and heartfelt smile that signified he finally had gotten "the monkey off his back" by leading the 49ers to their fifth Super Bowl championship.

5. The sideline tantrum: The moment that Young became an undisputed leader of the 49ers who gained respect from every nook and corner of the locker room came during one of San Francisco's worst losses of its Super Bowl era. After being pulled for his own safety late in a resounding 40-8 home defeat to Philadelphia in October of 1994, Young went ballistic on the sidelines, getting in coach George Seifert's face and – ahem – questioning the wisdom of the coach's move. The 49ers went on to a lopsided defeat, but Young's teammates loved seeing their QB's fiery competitiveness on such vivid display, and they looked at him in a different light from that point forward. And the results showed immediately – the 49ers rattled off a dominating 10-game winning streak directed by Young on the way to their fifth Super Bowl title.

6. The perfect throw: After finally getting past the hated Dallas Cowboys in 1994, a new chief rival emerged for the 49ers in 1995, a year in which the Green Bay Packers would begin a run of bouncing San Francisco from the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. That streak was about to reach four during a wild-card matchup to being the 1998 season playoffs. Green Bay had just gone ahead 27-23 with less than two minutes remaining, and the 49ers appeared cooked by the Pack again. But Young led the Niners downfield on a textbook nine-play drive, finally reaching the Green Bay 25 in the final seconds. With time for only one more play, Young almost fell to the ground after tripping over a teammate's foot while dropping back to pass. But he righted himself, set up in the pocket, then drilled a 25-yard rope over the middle that Terrell Owens pulled in between four Green Bay defenders at the goal line for the winning touchdown as another sellout Candlestick crowd exploded. "If I never threw another pass, that would be the one to keep," Young said after the best throw of his career, and also one of the most consequential.

7. The comeback kid: In a season during which he would miss four games because of injuries, Young was forced to leave an October game in 1996 after hurting his groin in the first half. With Elvis Grbac taking over, the Niners fell behind shockingly at home 21-0 to the bottom-dwelling Cincinnati Bengals. But when Grbac also got hurt, Young had no choice but to return. Limping noticeably, Young rallied the 49ers in dramatic fashion, bringing San Francisco back into a 21-21 tie and taking the Niners downfield again in the final minutes. Then, with a minute to play, Young called his own number on a naked bootleg – and then ran away from defenders on a 15-yard touchdown scamper for the winning score, favoring his injured leg every step of the way.

8. The fitting farewell celebration: Young's poignant induction speech Sunday was another moment to remember, but for intimacy and true feeling, it didn't quite match his farewell to football in 1999. When Young was forced into retirement that year after sustaining his fifth concussion in four seasons, his farewell news conference was held in the most unusual of places – the 49ers' locker room at team headquarters. A gathering of 300 – including relatives, friends, associates, teammates, media members and 49ers officials – crowded in front of the locker rows just to be part of Young's 90-minute good-bye to football. "This is the most intimate place for a player," Young said then. "I think that many wondered what we are doing here in the locker room. When they asked me, ‘Where?' I thought, ‘Where else?'" And that, in a nutshell, is the true essence of that special No. 8.


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