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YOUNG HURTS CHARGERS EVEN WITHOUT HELMET

There was Steve Young, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, Super Bowl star and the most accurate passer in league history, acting like a kid in a sandlot game.

Nine plays into the San Francisco 49ers' third exhibition game of the season, Young scrambled for 9 yards without his helmet.Really.

"It was just a weird situation to find myself in," Young said after the 49ers dominated the San Diego Chargers 17-6 Sunday night in a matchup between last year's Super Bowl teams. "Next time, maybe I'll just lay down. I don't know. I've never seen a guy run like that. Who would have thought?"

The left-handed Young dropped back to pass on third-and-10 from the Chargers 19, and safety Rodney Harrison ripped off his helmet on a blind-side blitz. Young nonetheless scrambled through the left side for 9 yards, covering his head with one arm as he dove headfirst at the end of the play.

"I didn't go near anyone," Young said. "I think I went back inside because I was afraid of hitting anyone on the outside. I just thought maybe if I could avoid everyone and get a first down ... "

He didn't get the first down. That would come on the next play, a quarterback sneak. Young's helmet stayed on for the rest of the time he was in the game.

Young said there was a reason for putting himself at risk in a meaningless game.

"I was just tired of us being kind of lackadaisical - `That's OK, we got our work into it.' "

The 49ers' first unit didn't score a touchdown in losing to Denver in Denver and in Tokyo.

"I felt much more confident and in sync," said Young, who played three series and was 7-for-10 for 71 yards, with a TD and an interception. He also was the game's leading rusher with 27 yards on five carries. "It was important work for our offense. Now we can set the stage."

Young's teammates were amazed.

"To be honest with you, he's very inspirational to not only the offense, but the whole team," tight end Brent Jones said. "He's so dang tough, we were just concerned that he would try to head-butt somebody.

"What a weird thing it is to see a head break out of the pack," Jones added. "Sometimes a helmet comes off, but you don't see the guy running 20 yards downfield. And he stands straight up like he's going to try to run over somebody, then he pulled the old slide."

The linebackers liked it, too.

"We talked to Steve in the third quarter, Ken Norton and I, and we said that's what got us all jacked up," said Gary Plummer, a former Chargers player.

Coach George Seifert wasn't as amused.

"I promise you I didn't tell him to run inside with no helmet on," Seifert said. "I think he was trying to fire up the troops ... or the coach. It wasn't a thing you want a man to do in the preseason."

Sunday's victory came nearly seven months after the 49ers embarrassed the Chargers 49-26 in the Super Bowl. It was San Francisco's fifth straight exhibition win over the Chargers and eighth straight overall, including the Super Bowl and a 38-15 victory in December.

The drive on which Young lost his helmet ended when Harrison recovered Derek Loville's fumble, the first of three 49ers turnovers deep in San Diego territory.

But safety Merton Hanks intercepted Stan Humphries' pass three plays later abd returned it 16 yards for a 7-0 lead with 8:37 left in the first quarter. Hanks led the 49ers with seven interceptions last year.

Young was intercepted once, then came back and threw a 4-yard pass to Loville for a 14-3 lead with 10:33 left in the second quarter.

In the Super Bowl, it took the Niners seven plays and less than five minutes to take a 14-0 lead, with Young throwing the first two of his record six TD passes.

Pro Bowler Natrone Means had a forgettable exhibition debut, gaining only 2 yards on eight carries. He dropped a pass on San Diego's first play from scrimmage, then lost yardage on his first three carries. On his fifth carry, guard Isaac Davis couldn't hold his block and Means was met by a wall of 49ers for a 9-yard loss.