Jon Steven “Steve” Young (born October 11, 1961) is a former American college and professional football player who was a quarterback in the National Football League (NFL) for fourteen seasons during the 1980s and 1990s. Young played college football for Brigham Young University, and played professionally for the Los Angeles Express of theUnited States Football League, and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers. Young was named the Most Valuable Player of the NFL in 1992 and 1994, and the MVP of Super Bowl XXIX. He is a member of theCollege Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At the time of his retirement, he had the highestpasser rating among NFL quarterbacks who have thrown at least 1,500 passing attempts (96.8), and is currently ranked third. Young also won a record six NFL passing titles.
Young was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He attended Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Connecticut. He earned 1978 All-FCIAC West Division First Team honors in his junior year, his first year starting at quarterback for the Cardinals. In 1979, he once again earned All-FCIAC West Division First Team honors, along with CIAC All-State honors, rushing for 13 touchdowns. In two seasons, he ran the ball 267 times for 1,928 yards. In the option offense run by Greenwich, passing was always the second option; he completed only 41 percent of his throws for 1,220 yards. During his senior year he was co-captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams. In basketball, he averaged 15 points a game. In baseball, he hit .384 and played center field when he wasn’t pitching. He was 5-1 and threw a 3-0 no-hitter against New Canaan High School.
Because Young was such a great runner, he was heavily recruited by North Carolina, who wanted him to play quarterback in the option offense the Tar Heels were using at the time. However, Young ultimately decided to attendBrigham Young University. Initially, he struggled at throwing the ball, and BYU’s coaching staff considered switching him to defensive back because of his athleticism. However, he worked hard to improve his passing skills and eventually succeeded record-setting Jim McMahon as the Cougars’ starting QB. Young’s senior season (1983) was spectacular. He passed for 3,902 yards and 33 touchdowns in the regular season, and his 71.3% completion percentage set an NCAA single-season record. He also added 544 yards rushing. With Young at quarterback, BYU set an NCAA record by averaging 584.2 yards of total offense per game, with 370.5 of those yards coming from Young’s passing and rushing. The Cougars finished the year with an impressive 11–1 record; Young was named First Team All-American by several news organizations and received the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, which recognizes the nation’s best collegiate quarterback each year. He also finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy, behind Nebraska running back Mike Rozier. Young capped his college career by scoring the game-winning touchdown (he caught a halfback pass) in BYU’s 21–17 victory over Missouri in the 1983 Holiday Bowl.
Young finished his college career with 592 pass completions for 7,733 yards and 56 touchdowns, along with 1,048 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. He was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
Young signed a record 10-year, $40 million contract with the Los Angeles Express of the now-defunct United States Football League in 1984. He agreed to take his payment in the form of an annuity to help the fledgling team; he would receive 40 million dollars paid out over 40 years. At the time, it was another huge signing by the fledgling league, who had also succeeded in signing then current Heisman Trophy winner, running back Mike Rozier of the University of Nebraska as well as the previous winner, University of Georgia‘s running back Herschel Walker. Despite being surrounded with some talent, such as future NFL’ers Jojo Townsell, Mel Gray and Kevin Nelson, and making the playoffs in Young’s first season, the Express never was able to create a sustaining fan base in Los Angeles. Young missed the first six games of his rookie season because he took some college classes so he could graduate on time. However, he started the final 12 games and had a decent year. His most notable accomplishment was becoming the first pro football player ever to pass for 300 yards and rush for another 100 in a single game.
As it turned out, Young would have done well to take his contract in the form of an annuity, but according to Steve himself, he took the roughly $1 million that it would have taken to fund the annuity as a lump sum. In his second season with the Express, owner William Oldenburg went bankrupt, and was forced to turn the team over to the league after being unable to find a buyer. The season rapidly became a fiasco. Before one game, the team bus driver refused to drive the Express to the Coliseum after his paycheck bounced. Young contributed a lot of money, as did some of his teammates, and the driver got them to their game. Young then lined up in the tailback position and took snaps from the shotgun formation because the Express were left with no healthy running backs.
The league ceased operations in 1986 after losing most of its claims in an antitrust suit against the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Young signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985 after being the first player selected in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft of USFL and CFL Players. However, the Buccaneers posted 2–14 records in each of Young’s two seasons with them, and Young’s record as starter was 3–16. In his 19 games, he threw for only 11 touchdowns with 21 interceptions while completing fewer than 55% of his passes. Although his time in Tampa Bay was miserable, San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh was impressed by Young’s natural abilities and felt that his problems were due to the struggling Bucs organization.
Trade to the San Francisco 49ers
The Buccaneers selected University of Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde first overall in the 1987 NFL Draft because Young was deemed a bust, and he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers on April 24, 1987, to serve as a backup to Joe Montana. The Buccaneers received 2nd and 4th round draft picks in the trade, which they used to draft Miami linebacker Winston Moss, and Arizona State wide receiver Bruce Hill, respectively. Young would spend the final 13 years of his career with the 49ers, a stint during which he would become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and earn membership in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 2005.
Montana’s backup: 1987–1990
Steve Young played behind Montana his first several years, but shone as a backup. Substituting for an injured Montana, early in the first quarter of a 1987 game against the Chicago Bears, he threw 4 touchdown passes in a 41–0 victory. On October 30, 1988, Young ran through the Minnesota Vikings for a 49-yard, game-winning touchdown run. He started the game out with a 73-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor, after Montana went down with an injury. The play earned the 49ers a 24–21 victory and a bit of revenge on the Vikings, who had defeated them in the 1987 playoffs.
In 1989, he displayed his potential to become the team’s starter in the future. While Montana won the NFL MVP award and led the team to victory in Super Bowl XXIV, Young still had a good season, completing 69% of his passes for 1,001 yards and 8 touchdowns, with only 3 interceptions. On October 22, 1989, he posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 when he completed 11 of 12 passes for 188 yards and three touchdown passes in a 37–20 victory over the New England Patriots. In his four seasons as a backup, Young had thrown 23 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.
He rushed for a career high 102 yards on just 8 carries vs. the New Orleans Saints on December 23, 1990, making him only the second 49ers quarterback to rush for at least 100 yards in a single game. The 49ers lost the game 13-10.
Montana out, Young in
Following an elbow tendon injury to Montana in the 1991 pre-season which forced him to miss the entire 1991 season, Young got his chance to lead the 49ers. It was a rough start for Young. Midway through the season, the 49ers found themselves struggling with a 4–4 record. In the ninth game of the season, after throwing a franchise record 97-yard touchdown pass to Taylor, Young suffered a knee injury and was replaced by backup quarterback Steve Bono. After a loss in that game and the next, Bono led the 49ers to five consecutive victories, playing so well that coach George Seifert decided to keep him in the starting lineup after Young had recovered. It wasn’t until late in the 15th game of the season, after Bono went down with an injury of his own, that Young got to play again. Young then closed out the season by throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns and also rushing for 63 yards and another touchdown in a 52–14 win over the Chicago Bears in a Monday Night Football game at Candlestick Park.
Young finished the season with an NFL best 101.8 passer rating. Despite missing five full games and most of a sixth, he still threw for 2,517 yards and 17 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. But despite Young’s strong season, the season for the team was widely regarded as a disappointment. The 49ers had slipped from a 14–2 record in the previous season to a 10–6 record in 1991. While 10 wins is usually enough to make the playoffs, this time it wasn’t, and San Francisco ended up not playing in the postseason for the first time since 1982. It was thought by many that Young’s days as the 49ers starter were numbered due to the impending return of Montana from the injury to his right elbow, and some observers said the 49ers should trade Young and keep Montana and Bono. However, none of that happened.
By the start of the 1992 season, it appeared that Young’s starting job was in serious peril. In addition to having to compete with Bono, Montana appeared to be close to recovering from his elbow tendon surgery. San Francisco came close to trading Young to the Los Angeles Raiders, but no deal was finalized and it turned out that Montana would not recover in time to start in the opening game. Montana would not return until the final game of the 1992 season, a Monday Night home game against the Detroit Lions. Montana played the entire second half and guided the 49ers to victory.
Young ended up as San Francisco’s starting quarterback, but once again got off to a rough start. On the fifth play of the opening game, he suffered a concussion and was replaced by Bono, who threw two touchdown passes while leading the 49ers to a 31–14 win. The following week, San Francisco lost 34–31 to the Buffalo Bills, despite a career high 449 passing yards and three touchdowns from Young, in a game that for the first time in NFL history there were zero punts from either team. However, Young recovered and led the 49ers on a five game winning streak, capped off by a 56-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons in which Young passed for 399 yards and three touchdowns. After missing most of the next game (a 24-14 loss to the Cardinals) with the flu, he led San Francisco to victory in all of their remaining games of the season, giving the team a 14–2 record. He went on to throw for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns, and rush for 73 yards, in a 20–13 divisional playoff win over the Washington Redskins. The 49ers lost the NFC title game, however, 30–20 against the eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys. Young threw for 313 yards, completing 71.4% of his passes while passing for one touchdown and rushing for another. He also threw two interceptions, but the final one came with the outcome of the game already decided.
Young finished the season with 3,456 passing yards and 537 rushing yards, along with an NFL best 25 touchdown passes and 107.0 passer rating, earning him the NFL Most Valuable Player Award and his first selection to the Pro Bowl. He was the first quarterback ever to record a triple digit rating in consecutive seasons. Many credit Young’s turnaround to the arrival of then 49ers Offensive Coordinator Mike Shanahan, who mentored Young just as he would mentor John Elway in the years to come. Shanahan worked with Young on combining his running skill with on-the-move passing decisions.
Before the start of the 1993 season, team owner Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. announced that he wanted Montana to resume his role as starting quarterback for the 49ers. However, a rift in the locker room had developed, with players split on whom they wanted at quarterback. In the spring of 1993, at Montana’s request, San Francisco traded Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs. Young was now the 49ers’ undisputed starter, and would remain so for the rest of his career. But once again, he had a rough start to the season. Over the first four games of 1993, Young, who was hindered by a swollen thumb on his throwing hand, threw eight interceptions, more than he had thrown during the entire 1992 season. But after his thumb healed, Young went on an incredible streak over a span of seven games, throwing 16 touchdown passes with only 2 interceptions and a 122.2 passer rating. By the end of the year, Young set franchise records for most passing yards (4,023), and consecutive passes thrown without an interception (189), while leading the NFL in touchdown passes (29) and passer rating (101.5). The team slipped to a 10–6 record, but advanced to the NFC championship game again by blowing out the New York Giants 44–3 in the divisional round. However, once again they were defeated by the Dallas Cowboys, this time 38–21.
1994 Super Bowl season
After several key free agent signings including All-Pro cornerback Deion Sanders and NFL Draft selections, the 49ers looked to win their first Super Bowl since 1989. They started fast, beating the Los Angeles Raiders 44–14 on the strength of four touchdown passes from Young, one of four games during the regular season in which he had at least four. After a loss in a much anticipated game to Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs, the 49ers won their next two games before losing to the Philadelphia Eagles 40–8 at Candlestick Park, a game in which Young was eventually benched in the middle of an offensive series. Although head coach George Seifert later said he only pulled Young because he was getting manhandled by the Eagles’ defense, Young had had enough of being scapegoated for 49er shortfalls and loudly (and visibly) lambasted Seifert over his decision.
“Is this great or what? I mean, I haven’t thrown six-touchdown passes in a game in my life. Then I throw six in the Super Bowl! Unbelievable.”
But the game was considered a turning point in the season; from there, Young led the team to 10 consecutive wins, by an average of 20 points, before losing the meaningless finale against the Vikings in which Young completed his first 12 of 13 attempts before going to the sidelines. They finished an NFL best 13–3, securing home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The 49ers had the number one offense in the NFL, and were so dominant that Seifert often took Young out of games early if he felt that the 49ers had an insurmountable lead at the time.
After an easy 44-15 victory over the Chicago Bears in the divisional round of the playoffs, the 49ers jumped out to a 31-14 halftime lead over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game, holding on to win 38-28. Young threw for two touchdowns, while adding 47 yards and another touchdown on the ground. As a result, he would head to his first Super Bowl as a starting quarterback. The 49ers were heavy favorites to become the first team with five Super Bowl victories.
On the strength of a six touchdown performance that surpassed the previous Super Bowl record of five, owned by the man Young replaced, Joe Montana, Steve Young was named the MVP of Super Bowl XXIX, as the 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers, 49-26. Young also threw for 325 yards and rushed for 49 yards, making him the first player ever to finish a Super Bowl as the game’s leader in both rushing and passing yards.
The victory capped off an incredible year for Young, who had one of the best seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. He threw for 3,969 yards, a then-franchise record 35 touchdown passes with only 10 interceptions, completed an 70.28 percent of his passes—the highest completion percentage of the 1990s, third all-time, and at the time, the best completion percentage by any quarterback with more than 400 attempts (later eclipsed by Drew Brees in 2009). Young also broke Joe Montana’s single season mark with a then-record 112.8 passer rating, and he was named NFL MVP for the second time in his career.
Later years and injuries
In the three years following Super Bowl XXIX, the 49ers would be eliminated each year by Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, twice in San Francisco. In addition to the early playoff exits, Young suffered a series of injuries that forced him to miss several games from 1995 to 1997. Young entered the 1998 season at age 37 and some began to wonder if his skills would diminish because of his history of injuries and a general decline in his game due to age. However he silenced all critics once again, putting up career numbers in passing yards (4,170) and passing touchdowns (36). He finally beat Favre and the Packers in the NFC wild card game that year, as he threw the winning touchdown to wide receiver Terrell Owens with three seconds remaining to win the game 30–27. In reference to Dwight Clark’s legendary catch against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC championship game, Owens’ grab was called “The Catch II.” A week later, however, Garrison Hearst broke his ankle on the 49ers first play from scrimmage. Without the threat of a running game, Young threw three interceptions (the last one a hail mary pass with under 30 seconds remaining in the game) and the 49ers were defeated by the Atlanta Falcons 20-18. Over that span of seasons from 1995 to 1998, Young led the NFL in passer rating twice (in 1996 and 1997), and led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes in 1998.
The 1999 season would turn out to be Steve Young’s last. Young was plagued by concussions throughout his career. Officially, Young had suffered seven concussions, but many believe the number to be higher. During a Week 3 Monday Night Football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Young was violently sacked by Cardinals’ cornerback Aeneas Williams due to a missed blocking assignment by 49ers’ running back Lawrence Phillips. Young was knocked out of the game with a concussion, and didn’t return again for the rest of the season due to symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. The concussion he suffered against the Cardinals was reportedly his second in a season that was only three weeks old. Young was forced to retire at the end of the year; the team informed him that he would be released if he did not retire. Although Young was offered a job as the Broncos starting quarterback, he retired because of his repeated concussions.
Although he did not become the 49ers’ starter until his 8th NFL season, and he played a full season only three times during his 15-year career, Young compiled impressive career numbers. He completed 2,667 of 4,149 passes for 33,124 yards and 232 touchdowns, with 107 interceptions, and 43 rushing touchdowns. His 96.8 career passer rating is the third highest in NFL history; his 4,239 rushing yards are the third most ever gained by a quarterback, behind Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham. In his stint with the San Francisco 49ers, Young passed for 29,907 yards, 221 touchdowns, and 86 interceptions, with a passer rating of 101.4, highest in franchise history. He was also sacked 290 times, also most in franchise history.
Records and legacy
- Third-Highest Passer Rating, Career – 96.8
- Most Rushing Touchdowns by a QB, Career – 43
- Most Passing Titles, Career – 6 (tied w/Sammy Baugh)
- Most Consecutive Passing Titles – 4 (1991–94)
- Most Seasons With a Passer Rating Over 100, Career – 6 (1991–94, 1997–98)
- Most Consecutive Games w/300+ Yards Passing – 6 (Young was the first QB to do this in 1998; Kurt Warner (2000) and Rich Gannon (2002) have since tied the mark)
- One of only 4 QB’s to lead the league in touchdown passes 4 times (tied w/Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, and Len Dawson)
- Most Passes Attempted, Playoff Game – 65 vs. Green Bay, 1995
- Most TD Passes, Playoff Game – 6 (tied w/Daryle Lamonica & Tom Brady)
- Most TD Passes in one Super Bowl – 6
- Most Rushing Yards by a QB, Postseason Career – 594
- Most Rushing Touchdowns by a QB, Postseason Career – 8
- Second most career passing yards amongst left-handed QB’s (behind Boomer Esiason).
- First Super Bowl MVP to be the leading QB and leading rusher in a Super Bowl. (Rushed for 49 yards)
A left-handed thrower, Young was famous for his ability to “scramble” away from the pass rush. In 1999, he was ranked #63 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Young was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on February 5, 2005; he was the first left-handed quarterback to be so honored. He was enshrined August 7, 2005. His induction speech was given by his father, LeGrande “Grit” Young.
The San Francisco 49ers had his #8 jersey retired during a halftime ceremony against the New England Patriots on October 5, 2008. He was the 11th player in team history to receive this honor.
He appeared in All Sport, Visa, and Gatorade commercials with Jerry Rice while the two played for the 49ers. His 1988 scramble against the Minnesota Vikings was featured in a 2006 Burger King commercial with the Burger King “King” digitally superimposed over the young quarterback.
He appeared in the football video game All-Pro Football 2K8, along with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
He is also the star and voiceover talent of the iOS game “Steve Young Football“.
Young is a great-great-great-grandson of Brigham Young, second President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for whom Brigham Young University is named. His father, LeGrande “Grit” Young, played football at BYU in the late 1950s. He led the school in scoring in 1955 and in rushing and total offense in 1959. Steve Young’s younger brothers Mike and Tom both played quarterback at BYU after Steve, but neither received much playing time.
He married former model Barbara Graham, on March 15, 2000, in a ceremony at the Kona Hawaii Temple in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii. They have two sons and two daughters together.
Steve Young received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters at Utah Valley University for speaking at its graduation ceremonies in 2005.
Serves as a managing director of Huntsman Gay Global Capital after being involved in business ventures with this private equity firm founded by billionaire industrialist Jon M. Huntsman and former Bain Capital executive Robert C. Gay, also a co-founder of Sorenson Capital, in Lehi, Utah. Moreover, he sat on the board of Foundry Networks before it was acquired byBrocade Communications Systems in 2008.
When Salt Lake City was awarded the 2002 Winter Olympics in 1995, Young was the first volunteer. During the 2002 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, Young carried the placard for Great Britain. Additionally, Young was among the contingent at Salt Lake City in February 1998 to receive the Olympic Flag after the 1998 Winter Olympics closed in Nagano, Japan at Salt Lake City International Airport.
He has also maintained involvement with football. He can be seen alongside Stuart Scott and Trent Dilfer on the pre- and post-game shows for ESPN‘s Monday Night Football. He also co-hosts a radio show on KNBR at 5 pm on Wednesdays during football season along with The Razor and Mr. T, Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert.
Young spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2000, leading some to speculate that he might be interested in entering politics in the future.
Steve Young caught the ceremonial first pitch thrown by Jerry Rice at the season opener for the San Francisco Giants on April 9, 2010.
Young was one of several notable BYU athletes and coaches who appeared in the school’s 2011 “Real Cougar” advertising campaign, which featured the individuals telling an actual cougar about being a “real cougar.” In one of the ads, Young poked fun at himself:
- Young: I love BYU so much I even got my law degree here.
- Cougar: (growls)
- Young: Lawyers… I know.
Young was originally offered a part in 1998 movie There’s Something About Mary, but turned the role down due to the film’s coarse nature. He was replaced by Brett Favre. Young made a cameo appearance in the Mormon comedy The Singles Ward in 2002.
Steve serves as a National Advisor to ASCEND: A Humanitarian Alliance. This non-profit organization plans expeditions to African and South American countries to provide life skills mentoring with sustainable solutions in education, enterprise, health and simple technology.
In 1993, Steve founded a charitable foundation known as the Forever Young Foundation, which serves children facing significant physical, emotional, and financial challenges by providing academic, athletic, and therapeutic opportunities otherwise unavailable to them.
Steve also serves as the National Spokesman for the Best Shot Foundation, an organization founded by former Save Darfur Coalition executive director and founder,David Rubenstein. He began his affiliation with the organization in 2009, when he became the honorary league commissioner for their charitable dodgeball tournaments held on college campuses nationwide.