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Steve Young has become china in a bull shop.

A "mild concussion" is what Young was handed, gently, by the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter Sunday, and when Young was taken to the dressing room before halftime and never returned, the hope among 49er fans was that he wouldn't lapse into a mild coma.Mild concussion? Sounds almost soothing. Were the birdies in Steve's head chirping classical music?

It's this simple: Unless Young can be equipped with an air bag to absorb future head-on collisions and WWF-style helicopter-spin body-slams, the 49ers are in trouble.

Check it out: First quarter, the 49er offense was, for the first time in memory, ruthlessly efficient. Then Young started getting slapped around like the fat guy in the Three Stooges, and the 49er rout became a ballgame, and eventually a 20-17 Cowboy win.

With Young, concussions and assorted knocks are piling up like unpaid bills. Since you can't tape or shoot up a player's head, this week we can look forward to:

- Daily hemming-and-hawing sessions with George Seifert. Well, Steve recognized me today, but he called me Fred, so if I change my name, he's probable for Sunday.

- Daily soul-search sessions with Steve. Realistically, I'm ready to go, I feel good, and I don't think the Yankees can hit my breaking ball.

- Elvis sightings. You wouldn't want to be Elvis Grbac this week, living with that fourth-quarter interception with a 17-10 49er lead.

This is a down season, in terms of NFL super-teams. There ain't none. Why, even the AFC has a chance to win the big game.

By default, the struggling 49ers are right there in the race.

Defense? Solid. This is a Super Bowl-caliber defense the 49ers are trotting onto the field every weekend.

And the offense could vault into the category of "capable," but quarterback is a fairly key ingredient in that mix.

Young hasn't been himself this season, because of groin and head injuries, and possible residual shoulder problems, but he's still the man.

Elvis might be the Future, but Sunday he looked not quite ready for prime time.

After the game Grbac was kicking himself, which was not easy, considering how low he was.

"I didn't prepare myself well enough physically, mentally," Grbac whispered in a locker room that answered the question: What's quieter than the 49ers after a lackluster win?

Grbac said he took only a couple practice snaps during the week, "here and there," but now he thinks he should have done more homework.

"I didn't make any plays for this team," he said.

Next week?

"I don't know what the situation is," Grbac said.

Who does?

When Young plays these days, the stadium PR people should play car-crash sound effects. Everything was fine Sunday, until they decided to play the second quarter.

First play, sack. Third play, hit hard while passing, tossed down like airport luggage. Fourth play, crunched while scrambling. Fifth play, sacked.

It's becoming hard to tell if Young has merely hit a bad streak of high-impact ballgames, or if the punishment is becoming cumulative.

It is worrisome, because Sunday's overtime loss, on a field goal in the twilight, was the most meaningful meaningless loss in recent 49er history.

It kept the Cowboys alive, maybe even fully revived The Evil Empire, and it showed that the 49ers need Young.

The 49ers are smart enough to realize this is no time to contribute to a quarterback controversy. But the players are just as curious as you are about who's going to play QB when, and how well.

"I don't think (Grbac) should blame himself," Jerry Rice said. "We had opportunities."

Rice said he didn't know Young had left the field until he (Rice) trotted out for the last 49ers' possession of the first half and saw Elvis in the huddle.

The 49ers, now that they have saved Barry Switzer's job, need to put Young under the microscope.

The learned medical opinion here is that Young needs at least a week off. This Jell-O-head business is no laughing matter.

Players have been knocked out of the sport (sport?) by recurring hits like Young is taking.

Sunday's loss was tough for the 49ers, a blow to their pride. They certainly look like a team that could rebound from that blow, but they don't go to the Super Bowl without Young.

Rest Young at least a week, maybe two, give Elvis a good workout, and get a clearer picture of your future - this season and the rest of the century.

The Super Bowl's still out there for the plucking, but only if Young remembers which arm he throws with.