No matter how many records he breaks, how many touchdowns passes he throws, how many regular-season games he wins, there will be only one statistic many will use to compare Steve Young to Joe Montana.

Super Bowl victories.Montana leads 4-0, for now.

San Francisco is a heavy favorite to win an NFL-record fifth Super Bowl this season, and Young is the main reason. He may never match Montana in championship trophies, but Young gradually is bumping him from the top line in several areas of the San Francisco 49ers record book.

Young also can take two NFL records from Montana in tonight's regular-season finale at Minnesota.

But there never will be enough room for him in the hearts of many 49ers fans until he brings home a Super Bowl trophy.

Even then, the hardest cynics will remind Young he is far short of Montana's glorious run. For all his wonderful talents, Young may forever be known only as the quarterback who took away Montana's job.

"A guy like Steve can handle that," said Vikings coach Dennis Green, who was with both quarterbacks in San Francisco in the late 1980s. "He has a lot of confidence in himself. He doesn't feel like he has to slay the demons with Joe, because Joe was a great player and probably will go down as the best quarterback in the history of pro football."

Maybe so, but Young is likely to have comparable statistics by the time he retires.

Young was the NFL player of the year in 1992 while Montana was rehabilitating an elbow injury. Montana went to Kansas City last year, and Young set San Francisco records with 4,023 passing yards and 183 consecutive attempts without an interception.

This year, his 34 TD passes have surpassed Montana's old mark by three, and Young needs one more outstanding game against the Vikings' 22nd-rated pass defense to break Montana's NFL marks for completion percentage (70.2) and efficiency rating (112.4).

"It's by far his best year," said 49ers coach George Seifert.

Young still is held up to Montana's accomplishments, and he talks reluctantly about measuring up to that legacy. When he does, he prefers to work around the question.

"I certainly feel that we've played well enough this year to merit our own recognition," he said.

The 49ers (13-2) have won 10 games in a row - a regular-season team record - and have beaten the last four opponents by at least 21 points.

Young, a fierce competitor, once again is a leading candidate for player of the year honors. Seifert says Montana's success motivates Young, but Young says that's the way it is for any new San Francisco player.

"When someone joins this team, there's a way it's done," he said. "You're expected to play well. You're expected to be the best you've ever been in your career. And if you're not, then you're not living up to the 49er way."

Green, an assistant two separate times with San Francisco, wants very badly to build that type of atmosphere in Minnesota.

The Vikings (9-6) already have clinched a playoff spot this year, making Green only the seventh coach in NFL history to reach the playoffs in each of his first three seasons.

If the Vikings defeat San Francisco, they will host Chicago in the first round next Sunday. If the Vikings lose to the 49ers, they will host Detroit in the first round.

Through the first nine games, it seemed the Vikings might be capable of challenging Dallas and San Francisco for NFC supremacy. But Minnesota has stumbled badly since its 7-2 start, sustaining its worst loss of the season last weekend at Detroit.

"The only good thing about that loss is that there's a lot of room for improvement," said safety Vencie Glenn.

Minnesota also is likely to be without quarterback Warren Moon for the first time this season. Moon, selected to his seventh Pro Bowl this season, injured his knee against the Lions and is questionable.

If he cannot play - he probably won't - Sean Salisbury will start after watching each of the first 15 games from the bench behind Moon and Brad Johnson.