PROVO — During halftime of tonight's season-opener against Georgia Tech, BYU will retire Steve Young's No. 8 jersey. That number will forever hang in LaVell Edwards Stadium as a tribute to his prodigious contributions to the Cougar football program.
Originally, however, No. 8 was not the former All-America quarterback's No. 1 choice. When he started playing organized sports, Young always wore No. 14. Then, in high school, he was given No. 8 and that's what he wore until later in his prep career, when he switched back to No. 14.
Upon arriving at BYU in 1980, another Cougar player had already claimed No. 14. "Well, I guess I was No. 8 at one time, so I guess I'll take No. 8," he recalls saying. "Obviously, it stuck with me."
It also stuck with legions of BYU and San Francisco fans. Young made that number famous at BYU, and, years later, he made it famous with the 49ers.
Young says he feels deeply honored to be the first BYU football player to have his jersey retired.
"It's kind of an awesome, awesome thing that's taking place," Young said. "It's going to be an intimate experience, even though there will be thousands of people there with me. It will be a very, very special moment."
Young will be accompanied tonight by his wife and two sons, his parents — LeGrande (Grit) and Sherry — and many other family members and close friends. A number of former Cougar teammates, such as Lee Johnson and Jim Herrmann, will be in attendance as will Bart Oates, who played with Young at BYU and with the 49ers. Oates is scheduled to pay tribute to Young in a speech.
On Wednesday, Young reminisced about his early days at BYU, when he was an unknown option quarterback from Connecticut. He recalled starting out, fittingly enough, No. 8 on the depth chart.
"I was the only name on the whole board that was in parenthesis," Young said. "I never did find out what the parenthesis meant, and I'm afraid to actually find out."
At one point, while serving as the Cougars' scout team quarterback, Young considered quitting the team and leaving school. He called his father and told him his plans.
"You can quit," Grit Young replied, "but you can't come home."
Grit explained that he doesn't allow quitters in his house. Steve stayed in Provo.
Of course, things improved dramatically for Young from there. Still, when he took over as BYU's starting quarterback in 1982, he felt the weight of the enormous expectations set by his predecessor, Jim McMahon. Young carried on the winning tradition, leading the Cougars to an 8-4 record and a WAC title in 1982 and an 11-1 mark and another conference crown in 1983.
It's important to note that Young's jersey, not his number, will be retired. Cougar players can still wear No. 8. Starting quarterback Matt Berry currently wears that number.
FOREVER YOUNG: Here are some of quarterback Steve Young's accomplishments:
*As a senior at BYU in 1983, Young led the nation in total yards passing (3,802), total offense (4,246) and touchdowns (33).
*His career totals include 592-of-907 passing for 7,733 yards and 56 touchdowns. He gained 8,817 yards of total offense in 31 games.
*In 1983, Young was selected as a consensus All-America, won the Davey O'Brien and Sammy Baugh quarterback awards and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
*During his 15-year professional career, Young won the NFL MVP award twice (1992 and 1994) and was the only quarterback in league history to win four straight passing titles.
*In 1994, he guided the San Francisco 49ers to victory in Super Bowl XXIX with a record six touchdowns and Super Bowl MVP honors.
*Since retiring, Young has been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (2001) and the Verizon Academic All-America Hall of Fame.