THERE, THE story is complete. We can all relax. We can stop holding our collective breath. Steve Young, the guy whose heartbreak, persistence, likability and, finally, talent, captured a nation's heart and sympathy, has won his Super Bowl trophy.
From Kathie Lee's last note to the president's phone call, Steve Young was the unofficial theme of Super Bowl XXIX, if not of the entire 1994 National Football League season.Hollywood couldn't have scripted it any better. Young's long and winding (and very public) road to personal peace, acceptance and success came to bear on one game, and he produced . . . a masterpiece.
A record six touchdown passes. No interceptions. 325 yards passing. 49 yards rushing. The leading rusher in the game. A 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Unanimous Most Valuable Player. A mistake-free Disneyland commercial. Is there anything he missed?
Even the president was rooting for Young. Your neighbors were cheering for Young. You were rooting for Young. Your mother was rooting for Young. One of ABC's broadcasters ventured to guess that even the Chargers couldn't feel too bad about losing to this guy.
This was Young's night. The TV cameras spent the fourth quarter showing sideline shots of him and his family. All that was missing was the family mutt and a photo album. Somebody asked Ricky Wat-ters if he regretted not being named the game's MVP, and he emphatically said no way, that there was absolutely no one he wanted to win it more than Young, himself included. In every corner of the locker room, his teammates were saying the same thing: Young deserved this night.
In the game's closing seconds, Jerry Rice, Young's close friend and favorite receiver, embraced Young repeatedly with tears in his eyes, telling him, "I love you. You deserve this. Enjoy it because you will never forget it."
This is the way it has been throughout this Season of Steve. Before the conference championship game against Dallas two weeks ago, several 49er players talked among themselves and decided to heck with their owner and their coach and their fans and everyone else; they wanted to win for Young.
Before the start of each game this season, tackle Harris Barton rubbed Young's back and pronounced, "There, I rubbed the monkey off your back." Before Sunday's Super Bowl, he did it again, adding, "There, I took the monkey off your back for the last time."
You know who the monkeys are. Montana. Dallas. Can't win the big game. Can't stay in the pocket. Can't, can't, can't. A few years ago there was consensus among NFL coaches, after watching him flail away with hapless Tampa Bay, that he couldn't make it in the NFL as a quarterback; that he'd have to switch to running back or safety, and who had time for that.
But the 49ers traded for him anyway, and the making of Steve Young began in earnest, first as a backup to legendary Joe Montana, then as his rival, then as his replacement. Nothing he did was quite good enough. Not passing titles. Not division titles. Not a league MVP award. There was always something more to do to appease everyone. He endured public criticism and Montana's public sniping and the Joe comparisons with uncommon restraint, but privately they wounded deeply and ate at him in a way that made him dread coming to work every day.
"I ate, slept and breathed football, so I could live up to expectations," recalls Young. "I wanted people to like what we were doing and what I was doing . . . It's been a long road."
It ended on Sunday. Young, who is nothing if not intense and driven - name another zillionaire who pursues a law degree even though he'll never need another job - noted after Sunday's game, "For the first time, I've done everything I can do in football."
Young shook the last monkeys off his back on Sunday. Winning a record fourth-straight passing title and a second league MVP award and setting passing records and whipping everyone in sight during the regular season weren't enough; he had to beat Dallas, and he did, twice. He had to go to the Super Bowl, and he did. And he had to win a Super Bowl.
"If we had lost, then the skeptics would have this game to fall back on," said Young.
There was no chance of that. This was one time when life turned out just the way everyone expected. The Chargers can't say they weren't warned. The Niners were 20-point favorites, and that proved to be conservative. The Niners were so emotionally charged that they were crying on the sideline - and that was before the game started.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan believes many teams make the mistake of not attacking in big games. The Niners attacked. Young threw four TD passes in the first half alone. At halftime, one of the 13 voters for the MVP award told an NFL official that he was voting for Young right then and there and don't bother to poll him after the game.
Young was decked as he released his fifth scoring pass, signaling a TD while flat on his back. That tied the Super Bowl record held by You Know Who. Then, with a touch of symbolism, Young threw his sixth TD of the night to break Montana's record.
"To get to the big game, to play your best game ever, you couldn't ask for more," Young said.
It was an exclamation point on the end of the Year of Steve - There! Afterward, as Young clutched his Super Bowl trophy during the awards ceremony, the official commentator noted, "I can't remember ever being around someone hugging the trophy with more feeling than you are right now, Steve."
Maybe no one ever wanted it more than he.