How long will B.Y. wait before Hall calls?

Fred Dean - one of the greatest defenders of the 49ers' Super Bowl era - had to wait 18 years of eligibility before he finally was selected this year to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But when Bryant Young becomes eligible to be elected to the Hall in 2012, he doesn't figure to wait much longer before a sculpture of his likeness joins those of the greatest players in NFL history in Canton, Ohio.

While Dean's dynamic pass rushing from the edge helped catapult the 49ers of 1981 into a legitimate Super Bowl contender - and thus begun the team's enduring dynasty that featured two decades of NFL dominance - Young might be the greatest defensive lineman to play with the team during that era, even though he didn't join the 49ers until 1994 and appeared in just one Super Bowl with the team.

And that definable greatness could make Young - who announced his retirement at the end of the past season - a first-ballot enshrinee when he becomes eligible after a five-year wait, a distinction that goes only to the elite of the elite ever to play the game.

Young's body of work during his 14 seasons with the 49ers - which includes four Pro Bowl berths and four seasons as an All-Pro - has the makings of a first-year selection.

Young's name surely will be among the first-time nominees when he becomes eligible in five years, and since there are few - if any - other NFL players of his stature who have retired this year, Young could cruise into the Hall in his first year of eligibility.

The Hall's 40-member National Board of Selectors elects between three and six new members each year - the full allotment of six was named this year - and Young would need to be selected on about 80 percent of the ballots to be enshrined.

He already has to be considered among the leading candidates for the Class of 2012.

Spending most of his career as a defensive tackle before moving to end when the 49ers switched to a 3-4 base defensive scheme in 2005, Young's career was never defined by statistics. But, through a decade-and-a-half of facing double- and triple-team blocking from opposing offenses, he still put up plenty of impressive numbers.

Young finished his career with 89.5 quarterback sacks, the most ever by a San Francisco player who spent most of his career as a defensive tackle. After moving to end, Young led the team in sacks this past season for the fourth time.

As durable as he was productive, Young started at least 12 games in each of his 14 seasons and started all 16 games in nine seasons, including 2007. But Young's reputation for dominance as a lead-by-example force went well beyond what could be recorded on paper.

For an example of Young's great character known throughout the league, consider that in his final season Young was named the recipient of the 49ers' Len Eshmont Award, the team's most prestigious individual honor that's given annually to the San Francisco player who best exemplifies inspirational and courageous play.

Young won the Eshmont for the four consecutive year and eighth time in his career. No other 49er in the 51-year history of the award has won it more than twice.

Considered one of the premier defensive linemen of his NFL era, Young is practically a slam-dunk candidate to ultimately enter the Hall whether or not he's elected in his first year of eligibility.

In the past decade, only six defensive linemen - Dean, Howie Long, Dan Hampton, Elvin Bethea, Carl Eller and Reggie White - have been elected to the Hall.

Among that group, Hampton is the only defensive tackle - the position Young played most of his career - and Young's career compares favorably to Hampton's 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears. Like Young, Hampton was selected to four Pro Bowls and earned All-Pro honors four times.

Niners guard Larry Allen - who is expected to announce his retirement after 14 distinguished seasons but so far has yet to do so - would be a sure first-ballot selection in 2012. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who announced his retirement along with Young at the end of this past season, would be the other strong candidate besides Young to be a first-ballot selection that year. Sapp is a seven-time Pro Bowler who was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1999.

Next to defensive back Ronnie Lott, Young is generally regarded as the top defensive player to emerge from the San Francisco dynasty that began with Dean and others in 1981.

From that 49ers era, three players - Lott and quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young - already have been elected to the Hall, and another - wide receiver Jerry Rice - is sure to be enshrined when he becomes eligible in 2009.

Lott and Montana each were elected in their first year of eligibility in 2000 and Steve Young was elected in his first year of eligibility in 2005.

Can another Young be far behind?


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