Steve Young hugged the Super Bowl trophy as if it was the most precious thing in the world to him.
Young obliterated the shadow of Joe Montana that had haunted him for five years, throwing a record six touchdown passes as the San Francisco 49ers overwhelmed San Diego 49-26 Sunday to become the first team to win five Super Bowls.
Then he finally released the emotion that he’s bottled up all this time.
“All along I felt like I was playing well but I never had this game to fall back on,” said Young, a two-time league MVP, but labeled a “loser” because the Niners fell a game short the last two years when they lost to Dallas in the NFC title game.
“Steve Young proved that he is truly the greatest quarterback of all time,” said Deion Sanders, who brought to the Niners the in-your-face attitude and finally got the Super ring he sought.
If ever a Super Bowl lived up to its billing, this one did. It was supposed to be a rout and it was, as an NFC team won for the 11th straight year. San Francisco was favored by 18 points and could have won by 35 if it hadn’t relaxed after going up 35-10 early in the third quarter.
“We knew we were gonna kick their butts but we couldn’t say nothing,” Sanders said. “They never had a chance to beat us. The real Super Bowl was last week against Dallas.”
But Sanders wasn’t the show. Young was.
“He’s awesome. He’s one of the legends,” said San Diego linebacker Junior Seau.
His six TD passes broke the Super Bowl record of five set five years ago by Montana, who led San Francisco to its first four titles. Jerry Rice, playing with the flu and a shoulder separation, caught three of them and Ricky Watters caught two more and ran 9 yards for a third score.
“This is something you’ll never forget,” Rice told Young as the quarterback cradled the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the game.
“You can’t describe the feeling. That’s why football is the ultimate team game,” he said. “When you get there, you share it with 50 other guys. It’s geometric - 50 times 50 - the elation you feel.”
Young, the unanimous MVP, finished 24 for 36 for 325 yards without an interception. He also was the game’s leading rusher with 49 yards on five carries before leaving with 5:39 left.
That overshadowed all kinds of achievements, including the record-tying three TDs by Rice and Watters, and the record set by linebacker Ken Norton, who after winning two titles with Dallas signed with the 49ers as a free agent, and became the first player to play on three straight Super Bowl winners.
It took exactly 4 minutes and 55 seconds for San Francisco to demoralize the Chargers, playing in the Super Bowl for the first time. Touchdown passes by Young of 44 yards to Rice and 51 yards to Watters did the trick.
But more important to Young, it was a smashing certification in his exorcism of Montana’s ghost. More important to the 49ers, it completed their single-minded mission of winning the Super Bowl after losing the NFC title game three of the last four years.
It also gave 49ers coach George Seifert a Super Bowl title he can call all his own - his first, in 1990, was with a team handed him by Bill Walsh. “I’m just pinching myself, the elation I feel,” Seifert said.
Young demonstrated his elation after his fifth TD, a 15-yarder to Rice. He celebrated lying on the ground with his arms signaling touchdown, as Rice trotted into the end zone.
But those two were only part of what may be the best offense in history.
“That’s the best offense you’re probably ever gonna see,” Seau said. “They give you a lot of mixtures of run and pass but that passing game is one in 1,000.”
“They’re the best I’ve ever seen,” said San Diego coach Bobby Ross.
There were plenty of examples.
The 131 points scored by San Francisco in its three playoff games broke yet another record held by the 1990 49ers, which scored 126 in its three postseason victories.
And the three TDs each by Rice and Watters were another reminder - the only other players to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl were both 49ers - Rice in 1990 and Roger Craig in 1985.
Rice, who twice received intravenous fluids before the game for flu-like symptoms and then played most of the game with a slightly separated shoulder, caught 10 passes for 149 yards, and administered the quick shock - splitting the San Diego secondary for the first TD just 1:24 into the game. He also caught second-half TD passes of 15 and 7 yards.
“Jerry Rice with one arm is better than anyone else with two arms,” Young said.
But it was the quick TD that probably squelched any chance the Chargers, 18-point underdogs, might have had.
“We’ve scored quick like that all year,” Young said. “That’s one of our strong points.”
“We just missed a read on a simple post pattern,” Ross said.
Like most teams in their first Super Bowl, they clearly had the jitters.
They dropped passes, took silly penalties, missed tackles and generally did what most AFC teams have done over the past 11 years - lose big. Only two of the 11 straight NFC wins have been close. The average margin in the first 10 was 38-15. Coincidentally, that was the score by which the 49ers beat the Chargers on Dec. 11 in a regular-season game in San Diego.
“I don’t know whether we were awestruck or what,” Ross said.
The highlight for the Chargers came when they were down 42-10 - Andre Coleman’s 98-yard kickoff return for a score with 3:01 left in the third period after Young connected with Rice for a 15-yard TD.
Then the Chargers set a record of their own when Stan Humphries threw to Mark Seay for a 2-point conversion, the first in the Super Bowl in this first season the NFL has gone to the 2-pointer.
But by the end, it was more a sideshow than anything else. Even Sanders, who accomplished his goal of an NFL title, got in on offense and nearly caught a long pass. Then, with 2 minutes left, third-string quarterback Bill Musgrave got in and completed a short pass to backup tight end Ted Popson.
49ers 49, Chargers 26
San Diego 7 3 8 8 - 26 San Francisco 14 14 14 7 - 49
SF-Rice 44 pass from Young (Brien kick), 1:24.
SF-Watters 51 pass from Young (Brien kick), 4:55.
SD-Means 1 run (Carney kick), 12:16.
SF-Floyd 5 pass from Young (Brien kick), 1:58.
SF-Watters 8 pass from Young (Brien kick), 10:16.
SD-FG Carney 31, 13:16.
SF-Watters 9 run (Brien kick), 5:25.
SF-Rice 15 pass from Young (Brien kick), 11:42.
SD-Coleman 98 kickoff return (Seay pass from Humphries), 11:59.
SF-Rice 7 pass from Young (Brien kick), 1:11.
SD-Martin 30 pass from Humphries (Pupunu pass from Humphries), 12:35.
SD SF First downs 20 28 Rushes-yards 19-67 32-133 Passing 287 316 Punt Returns 3-1 2-12 Kickoff Returns 8-242 4-48 Interceptions Ret. 0-0 3-16 Comp-Att-Int 27-55-3 25-38-0 Sacked-Yards Lost 2-18 3-15 Punts 4-49 5-40 Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-0 Penalties-Yards 6-63 3-18 Time of Possession 28:29 31:31
RUSHINGSan Diego, Means 13-33, Jefferson 1-10, Harmon 2-10, Gilbert 1-8, Bieniemy 1-3, Humphries 1-3. San Francisco, Young 5-49, Watters 15-47, Floyd 9-32, Rice 1-10, Carter 2-(minus 5).
PASSINGSan Diego, Humphries 24-49-2-275, Gilbert 3-6-1-30. San Francisco, Young 24-36-0-325, Grbac 0-1-0-0, Musgrave 1-1-0-6.
RECEIVINGSan Diego, Harmon 8-68, Seay 7-75, Pupunu 4-48, Martin 3-59, Jefferson 2-15, Bieniemy 1-33, Means 1-4, Young 1-3. San Francisco, Rice 10-149, Taylor 4-43, Floyd 4-26, Watters 3-61, Jones 2-41, Popson 1-6, McCaffrey 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALSan Francisco, Brien 47.
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: SUPER BOWL XXIX MVP: San Francisco quarterback Steve Young, who completed 24 of 36 passes for 325 yards and six touchdowns. He was not intercepted. Co-stars: Jerry Rice of the 49ers had 10 receptions for 149 yards and three touchdowns; Running back Ricky Watters also finished with three TDs.
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