Steve Young, always a distant second to Joe Montana in the hearts of 49ers’ fans, began to close the gap Sunday in leading the 49ers back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season.
Afterward, Young clutched the ball he took on the game’s final snap tightly to his chest and pumped his fist in the air. As he took a victory lap around the field, thrilling a capacity crowd at Candlestick Park, he couldn’t hide his elation.
“I’ve been on that field for eight years and through all kinds of emotions,” said Young.
“You can imagine all the uphill battles that have been fought. It was just great to enjoy it with the fans.”
Twice since Young took over the reins from Montana, who led San Francisco to four Super Bowl victories, San Francisco made it to the NFC championship game. But each time, after the 1992 and ‘93 seasons, Dallas won the game and went on to win the Super Bowl as well.
And each time, Young suffered the insults of fans who said he would never measure up to Montana. This year, with all the new players the 49ers had added to improve his supporting cast, the pressure was greater than ever on Young.
And on Sunday he came through, completing 13 of 29 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns and running 10 times for 47 yards and yet another touchdown in the 49ers’ 38-28 win over the Cowboys.
“Honestly, I swear I have not felt the monkey on my back,” Young said. “If he was there, he was real light, and I probably won’t notice that he’s gone. But if you guys say he’s gone, that’s great.”
Young was masterful in the NFC championship. He led Ricky Watters perfectly on a screen pass that went 29 yards for the 49ers’ second touchdown, less than 5 minutes into the game.
Before the first quarter was over, his 9-yard run on a quarterback draw to the Cowboys’ 1-yard line set up William Floyd’s touchdown run to make it 21-0.
Then, after Dallas had pulled back to within 24-14, Young found his favorite receiver, Jerry Rice, racing into a corner in the back of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in the half.
Young volunteered that San Fran cisco’s victory over the defending world champion Cowboys will not ease the pressure. Not with the real Super Bowl coming up in two weeks in Miami.
“It never stops,” said Young. “But I learned you better enjoy it. There won’t be any less pressure next week.”
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