October 3, 1994


By Ann Killion
San Jose Mercury News

SAN FRANCISCO -- One hour after the devastation of the 49ers' worst home loss since 1967, Steve Young finally emerged. He had on a dress shirt, but he was still in his football pants and cleats. He cheerfully said, "Fun day, huh?" and politely apologized to the waiting media for the long delay, in typical Young fashion.

But this was a different No. 8. He was seething and embarrassed and not doing a great job of concealing it.

For the first time in his 49ers career, Young had been benched for a reason other than injury, his team's insurmountable lead, or sideline vomiting. He had been yanked out of the game Sunday by coach George Seifert in the middle of a series, with almost 20 minutes of football remaining. The move was greeted with a round of applause by the Candlestick Park crowd that was open to interpretation -- grateful or mean-spirited?

Seifert had his reasons, all valid. It wasn't because Young was playing poorly. Seifert didn't want his quarterback to get hurt. Seifert watched his quarterback get hammered on first-and-10, slammed to the ground on second-and-10, and finally pulled Young on third-and-10, sending young Elvis Grbac to the huddle.

"I said to myself, 'The hell with this. I'm not going to leave him in anymore. We've got a lot of football ahead of us,'" Seifert said. "If I didn't handle it to everybody's liking it's because I don't have a lot of experience in this situation. And I hope like hell I don't gain it."

But it was a clumsy move, and Young - who has been beaten to a pulp all season - deserved better. Young thought he was singled out. He thought he was being made the scapegoat for the 49ers' 40-8 loss to Philadelphia. He was furious on the sideline after he came off the field, and he was furious in the training room afterward.

After the game, Seifert went to calm Young down, to discuss his reasons for the move again. Young stayed in the training room with his bag of ice and his emotions, his agent Jeff Moorad hovering outside the door. When he finally emerged, Young was still having trouble understanding the course of events.

"You don't want to hear a rational explanation -- that 'we're afraid for you,'" Young said. "I don't want to hear that on the field."

Young didn't understand why he was being pulled while other offensive stars remained in the game until the fourth quarter. Seifert might not have realized it, but his players -- including wide receiver Jerry Rice -- were aware the timing of Young's departure would create controversy.

"Don't do it in the middle of a series," Young said. "At the moment, we're all fighting together. If we're not going to go for the win, let's all come out."

Though his team trailed by 25 at the time, Young didn't think the game was out of reach, leading one to wonder just how badly those hits were affecting his head.

"Don't tell me the thing is over," he said. "Everything's possible. I've come back and done things dramatic from Pee Wee League all the way up. ... In a way it was like, 'Don't you dare take me out of the game.' "

That's the competitive athlete speaking. But, in Young's case, you can play pop psychologist from now until the end of time, and figure that the urge to bring his team back runs a little deeper than normal. He talked Sunday about failing to meet the high standards of the organization. What he didn't say is that every dramatic comeback, every late-game touchdown, helps stave off the images of the past.

And those images are still there, bubbling up every time Young fails. Philadelphia linebacker Byron Evans threw some darts Sunday, saying: "They don't look like the 49ers anymore. You get them down, they stay down. They don't come from behind anymore. They don't have No. 16."