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YOUNG SPEAKS CAREFULLY WHEN SIZING UP MONTANA

Steve Young was at his lawyerly best when the nation's sporting press joined the "Joe vs. Steve" show Wednesday.

Then again, Young could probably answer questions about Joe Montana in his sleep and never risk slander.Crystallizing several minutes of questions from national football writers, Young's message about the man whose shadow is never more than a step away was essentially this: "If I am a great quarterback, a good quarterback or a decent quarterback, a lot of it's because of Joe."

Young added: "Many times over the years I have witnessed him and just shook my head in disbelief. There is no doubt he is the best quarterback I've ever seen."

Again, in his best barrister fashion, Young didn't stop with that. After he was finished with the national press, Young spent another few minutes with Bay Area media, which have requested an unprecedented 48 credentials for the game.

Regardless of audience, Young's themes were familiar. He said he was looking forward to dueling his former teammate when the 49ers play the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday.

"A tremendous challenge," he called it.

He said he felt the mind-numbing hype preceding the game would dissipate at kickoff.

"In my eight years with the 49ers, we've been in a lot of games with surrounding circumstances," he said, "but you get used to the fact that once you go into the game, it really is just playing football. I can see all the things peripherally, but I've got to focus on the defense."

San Francisco coach George Seifert said pretty much the same thing when asked about the pressure on Young.

"There is external pressure," Seifert said, "but he and everybody on the team have to have the ability to set it aside and settle on the game. Over the last couple of years, Steve has gotten so much attention, for a number of different reasons. But he's so much into football, I expect that to take most of his mental time."

Of course, Seifert doesn't have to live with constant comparisons to Montana.

"I've answered questions about that for a number of years now," Young said with a small, resigned laugh. "I just keep playing and let people think what they want."

He acknowledged he's a more confident quarterback now, Joe or no Joe.

"Every time you play, you get more confidence," he said. "More security as to how well you can play under different scenarios. Certainly as you play longer, it's almost like putting an investment in the bank. The more experience you have, the more you can draw on it."

So, over time, how might he be judged in relation to Montana, who lead the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships?

"I don't know if any quarterback really can say he did it all unless he takes a team to the Super Bowl," Young said. "As we line up this year, that's the No. 1 thing I want to do."

He said he understands the emotional impact of the 49ers playing Montana.

"The 49ers really are synonymous with Joe in many ways," he said. "So it's just a very emotional time for everybody, as it would be with anything involving him and Dwight (Clark) or Ronnie (Lott). There was a time here for many years when some very emotional and spectacular things happened."

As close as Young came to a negative comment regarding Montana was when he was asked about a statement Montana made at a press conference Monday.

Montana said he and Young had not spoken to each other since Joe was traded to the Chiefs 17 months ago.

"We spoke when Steve Bono had a going-away party when he (Bono) was traded to Kansas City," Young said. "Joe and I have never had harsh words or an argument or anything."

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Additional Information

Top Guns

AFC Top 10

Att Com Yds TD Int

Humphries, S.D. 22 12 232 3 0

Marino, Mia. 42 23 473 5 1

Montana, K.C. 33 24 315 2 0

Elway, Den. 46 36 371 3 2

Richardson, Hou. 35 19 203 3 0

Bledsoe, N.E. 51 32 421 4 2

Mirer, Sea. 28 17 183 1 0

Hostetler, Rai. 28 17 168 1 1

Klingler, Cin. 43 27 224 1 2

O'Donnell, Pit. 26 13 127 0 0

NFC Top 10

Att Com Yds TD Int

J. George, Atl. 37 29 281 3 0

Kramer, Chi. 25 18 212 2 0

S. Young, S.F. 32 19 308 4 1

Cunningham, Phi. 39 20 344 2 0

Everett, N.O. 37 26 326 2 2

Mitchell, Det. 31 16 203 3 1

Aikman, Dal. 32 21 245 1 1

Favre, G.B. 36 22 185 1 0

Da. Brown, NY-G 20 10 171 1 1

Erickson, T.B. 32 18 197 0 0