The game itself was another competitive bust, as it invariably is, so once again the Super Bowl found itself desperate for someone to redeem it, someone to make it worth remembering.
Well, he wears No. 8 and he throws left-handed to perfection, and he showed up right on cue.
His name is Steve Young and he made an otherwise mundane and forgettable game his.
With his accurate and diversified passing and his sly and nervy running, he demonstrated conclusively that he is the best quarterback now playing football.
Who knows? Maybe even San Francisco now will embrace him as passionately as it did his predecessor, St. Joseph of Montana.
So this Supe turned out to be precisely the coronation we had expected, official confirmation of the San Francisco 49ers’ status as the flat-out best team of their era, with an offense that is equal parts cold steel and blue flame.
The argument is not whether this team is the best of its time but, offensively at least, the best of any time.
But more compelling was the performance of Brigham Young’s great-great-great-grandson. Some games are simply that - just games, but some games are emergings, are validations. This was one of those games, more important for the pristine performance of a quarterback than for just another lopsided, one-sided beating.
Either way, win or lose, Steve Young was going to be the story of this Supe.
If the 49ers had lost, his would have been the most inglorious pratfall in Super history. They won, with graceful ease, and Young played with calculating aplomb. It was harder than it looked, much harder, because winning a game you are supposed to win weighs a whole lot more than engineering an upset.
Young threw for six touchdowns and the only reason he stopped there was that they didn’t need any more, and yes it helped a lot that a receiver of the divine quality of Jerry Rice was grabbing half of them and yes it helped even more that the San Diego secondary looked slew-footed and foolish and utterly befuddled.
But Steve Young was clinical.
Hard to believe that barely four months ago this was the same quarterback who had been yanked from a game in which the Philadelphia Eagles beat the 49ers by 32 points. Young spent the rest of that day raging along the sideline, and now he and all of the Niners agree that that game was the turning point. The Eagles did them an immense favor.
The Niners won every game but one since then and in the process outscored their opponents by the fairly awesome margin of 509-247.
Sunday night, after 10 years of laboring in the vineyards, of being either unappreciated or always measured and found wanting against St. Joseph of Montana, Steve Young played so well that ringing vindication and unanimous acceptance were his at last.
Young and the Niners went after San Diego where it hurts most. Right in the gut.
The Chargers are especially vulnerable down the middle of their secondary, and that is where Young speared them again and again with quick slants and deep posts.
Not only did Young attack the Chargers’ weakest part, but in so doing he nullified their strongest part - the samurai linebacker, Junior Seau. He is most effective when he is able to roam and free-lance. But the 49ers always seemed to have Seau accounted for, and they either rolled Young away from him or thwarted his every attempt to blitz.
Seau is the heartbeat of the Chargers’ defense, and with that heartbeat stilled the San Diego defense clearly lacked the verve and ferocity that you had come to expect from it.
The Chargers became accustomed to falling behind early and often this season, and almost always were able to come back. But the 49ers are particularly lethal when they establish early control because they do not relent or relax. They get a chokehold and they just keep squeezing.
Which is what they did Sunday night.
They only bothered to run the ball enough to keep the pass rush at bay. And Young mixes up his drops - one play will be a three-step cock-and-pop, the next a five-step retreat and fire, the next a seven-step fallback and bomb. And he rarely drops straight back, either fanning out in a half arc or rolling out, almost always to his left.
It doesn’t seem to matter how the plays start out, they always seem to end up in the same place, in the end zone or on the way there.
The best quarterback on his first team in pro football - the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League - folded on him, and then he was 4-28 in Tampa Bay before undergoing the humiliation of being replaced by Vinny Testaverde. The 49ers got Young at the cost of a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick.
And then they used him as a back-up for four seasons.
So he was a long time getting to where he got Sunday night. Now the trip seemed to have been worth it.
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