'There will never be another one like him'

As jubilant 49ers defenders attempted to carry him off the field Sunday afternoon, Bryant Young only let them get halfway across the turf at Monster Park before he insisted on slipping down from their shoulders. "I was afraid that I might fall," Young said. But that's about the only time Young ever has worried about falling during his distinguished 14-year career in San Francisco.

It's a career that marks Young as one of the all-time greats in the 62-year history of a franchise that has had several all-time NFL luminaries. And the 49ers – after Young's final home game in San Francisco – were not only intent on winning Sunday's game against Tampa Bay for Young, but also carrying him off the field as a winner.

"He's given so much to us," said defensive end Marques Douglas, one of the 49ers who hoisted Young onto his shoulders. "What better way is there to show him than to carry him to midfield and show that we love the guy?"

There was a lot of love being poured on Young after the game, first from the adoring fans who lined the front row of the stadium as Young walked along the exterior of the south end zone, waving and pumping his fists to them and showing his gratification.

And then, afterwards, the love and adulation came pouring from both teammates and opponents alike.

"He's the ultimate teammate, the ultimate guy," said 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill, who threw three touchdown passes to lead a 21-19 upset of the Buccaneers. "He has tremendous fire and competitiveness. He's played 14 years and played every down like it was his last. He is just an awesome guy. There are so many things about him that I hope everybody in the locker room understands how privileged they are to have played with B.Y.

"I am no different. I am so privileged to have played with him for two years. He is just an unbelievable football player and unbelievable man. He is such an inspiration to all of us in the locker room. He is a great example of how to live, be a pro and play football, and how to be a father and husband. There will never another one like him."

The praise of Young reverberated from winning locker room to losing locker room, where Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden began his post-game news conference by talking first about Young rather than his team or Sunday's game.

"On behalf of our coaches and players, we'd like to wish Bryant Young the best," Gruden said. "I've been in the NFL for 17 years, and he is one of the classiest, great players I've ever met. The way he played today, Bryant, I'm glad you're retiring and I'm glad we won't have to see you anymore."

Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia, who played with Young during his five seasons in San Francisco, also talked openly about Young's influence on his career.

"He's a fierce competitor, the ultimate professional," Garcia said. "You have to be impressed with his approach to the game. He's still a fierce competitor out there and he's still playing at a very high caliber. Everybody should have the opportunity to have him as a teammate. It was awesome to have been his teammate for five years."

There was a lot of emotion forthcoming from Young afterwards as he embraced his young children in a boisterous 49ers locker room.

Then, Young went to the post-game podium, and his voice broke a few times as he thanked his wife, children, parents and other family and friends who were on hand Sunday.

And then he spoke about the 49ers, and what he has meant to the team as the last remaining link to San Francisco's last Super Bowl championship team of 1994, Young's rookie season.

"I think one of the biggest things when you play this game, it's not only what you say – you can be rah-rah all you want to give those motivational talks before the game or in practice – but you have to back it up," Young said. "For me, I've never really been a guy who's big on speeches. I've really tried to lead by example over the course of my career. So I just hope the things I've done over the course of my career, that my actions spoke louder than words."

Young had another solid game Sunday against the Bucs, recording two tackles and knocking down a pass at the line of scrimmage to go along with two hits on Tampa Bay quarterbacks that rushed them into early throws.

At age 35 – he turns 36 next month – Young is having another stellar season. He leads the 49ers with 6.5 sacks and was named a NFC alternate for the Pro Bowl, a game he has been named to four times in his career.

"Every game that we play, B.Y. is an instrumental part in motivating the guys around him," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He plays with a tremendous amount of heart but he also plays well.

"B.Y. has been an outstanding example as a professional athlete and he has been instrumental in all the success that the 49ers have enjoyed over the last 14 seasons. He's a unique person on and off the field, in the community, as well as with his family. He's been a great 49er."

A great 49er whose playing days will be gone after next week's season finale at Cleveland. But, Young said, he won't necessarily be leaving the only NFL team for which he ever has played.

"I'll take some time off and let my body rest up and see where God leads me next," Young said. "But I'll be around."


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