Steve Young's enshrinement speech transcript

Enshrinement Published on : 1/1/2005

2005 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
August 7, 2005
Pro Football Hall of Fame Field at Fawcett Stadium

GRIT YOUNG: Mayor Creighton, Commissioner Tagliabue, the Hall committee and the Board of Directors.  Chris Berman, all the media.  All you NFL fans.  All you Canton folks.  I’m grateful to be here in this capacity today, and I’m honored.

When I first drove up to the hotel last Friday, a fan jumped out with his son and said, ‘Son, this is Y.A. Tittle. Can we have your autograph?’  (laughs) I almost gave it to him.  It would have been an honor to be Y.A. Tittle.

Steve I’m very humbled to be selected by you to do this presentation.  You could have chosen a number of other people in your football life and in the other aspects of your life.  He actually chose his mother, but she deferred.  She said that I was always the one that said I wouldn’t ever let him play football.

Grit YoungIn the sporting world we talk about most likely to happen and less likely to happen as odds.  High odds is like the derby winner, 50 to 1, a long shot.  The odyssey of Steve Young to become, in his football career, to arrive here at Canton, has to labeled as unlikely as a long shot.

He was born in ’61.  His first toy, much to his mother’s dismay, was a nerf football.  At six months he suffered his first concussion.  We lived in barracks type student housing at the University of Utah on the second floor which is 45 steps up.  And he was in a little walker with wheels, and down the steps he went with his mother close behind him saying, ‘My baby, my baby.’

His first organized football was in Greenwich, Connecticut, a town not exactly (cheering), a town not exactly known for tough plow boy atmosphere.  Rather, it’s known for squash, tennis, sailing, and yes, a crisp game of badminton.  The midget football league was actually organized by the dads.  There was no town support, no Pop Warner, no anything.  But Steve was eight and he played in this eight-to-ten league. He didn’t learn a lot about being a quarterback at that time because they made him a wide receiver.  He always said to his great wide receivers, ‘I know what it’s like; I’ve been in your shoes.’  Why not the quarterback?  Well, that position was always saved for the coach’s son.  And I said, ‘Son would you like me to be a coach?’  And he says, ‘No, I don’t want to be known as the coach’s son.’  So Canton seemed like a long ways away at that time.

By junior high he gravitated to quarterback and he started to learn the art of passing.  An ironic thing happened about that time.  He was 13 years old and I had a week off and I said, ‘What are we gonna do kids, it’s for vacation.’  And Steve says, ‘I wanna go to Canton, Ohio, to the Hall of Fame.’  And all of the other children said, ‘What? We’re not gonna do that.’  And he prevailed, he wanted to come here.  And so we drove to Chicago, stayed with my sister, and then we came down and went to the Hall.  We actually got a picture of Steve at 13 years old in front of the Hall of Fame.  And of course we had to go on to the chocolate factory at Hershey to satisfy the rest of the children.

In high school, as I mentioned, Greenwich wasn’t known as a football place.  But they had a great coach named Coach Ornato and his staff.  And these were great high school coaches.  And they took essentially mediocre athletes and turned them into great football teams through team concepts and creating an aura of football.  But here Steve learned how to be a running quarterback.  The system there was a wishbone type system and passing was not emphasized.  And when the coach was asked why he didn’t pass more he often said, ‘well, when you throw a pass,’ he says, ‘three things can happen and two of them are bad,’ he says, ‘so we played the odds.’  So Canton was a long ways away at this time.

When he finished high school he was really known as a running quarterback and the recruiters came from the schools that had running quarterback systems.  For instance, North Carolina, and other eastern teams put the real heat on him.  And it wasn’t until 10 days before the commitment date of February that we got a call in our home, and it was LaVell Edwards from BYU, who was in New York on other business and had heard about Steven and just came and asked to come to our home.  And he said, ‘Steve I’d like you to take a trip to our school.’  There was only 10 days left, he had already taken four of his five allowed trips, and he had another one scheduled some place else but he decided to take it.  And he got out there and a lot of his relatives where there and he felt comfortable and so, when commitment day came he did commit to that school.

He arrived that next fall and quarterback coach Doug Scoville had never recruited Steven and when the first depth chart came out it had Jim McMahon on top and Steve on the bottom, eight positions down.  He didn’t even get to scrimmage that fall, let alone get in a game.  He was relegated to the hamburger squad which was the team that usually runs the plays of the opponents for the next week.

At Christmas vacation he came home and said he had an interview with the coach and the coach had suggested that he will never play football at quarterback position at BYU and if he wanted to play, he better switch to defensive back.  So he said, ‘What do I do?’  And I says, ‘Well, Steve what do you want to do?’  He says, ‘I wanna play quarterback.’  I said, ‘Well, why don’t you go back and try the spring practice and see what happens.’  Well, as luck would have it for Steve, the quarterback coach Scoville left and went to a head coaching job elsewhere.  And Ted Tollner, of USC fame, came in as quarterbacks coach and leveled the playing field and allowed all the quarterbacks to have a shot and Steve was able to show what he could do, and by the fall he was listed at number two behind Jim McMahon.

Well finally after waiting all that year and really being the backup, in his junior year he was finally able to start.  And one of the first games was a game against Georgia, in Georgia, in Athens.  And we drove from Connecticut down to Georgia to watch him play.  And woke up Saturday morning and it was pouring rain, it was a miserable day, it never stopped pouring.  And Steve had a great game of five interceptions (laughs).  Canton was a long ways away at that time.

By his senior year though, BYU, through its great coaching and great players did very well.  They won a lot of games and went into post season.  One of the most ironic games was against Missouri in the Holiday Bowl.  One of the last plays of the games BYU was behind, and he threw a lateral pass to a receiver over on the right, who then turned and threw a pass back to Steven coming down the sideline, caught it on the backside of the football, went in for a score to win that game.  It was kind of irony that he wins a game by catching a pass.

At the end of college it was an amazing thing.  He was a consensus All American and every agent known to man was calling our home.  At this time I got a phone call one night and this fellow said, ‘This is Wayne Flagger.’  And I said, ‘Is this the Wayne Flagger I knew in high school 35 years ago?’  And he says, ‘Ya.’ He says, ‘I finally found out who your son is.’  He says, ‘You must have married one heck of an athlete and a fast woman,’ he says, ‘because we remember you and there ain’t no way,’ he says.  He hangs up and I’ve never heard from him ever since.

So anyway, at the end of his career, the ’84 draft came, Cincinnati had the first draft pick, so they were pre-negotiating with Steve’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, for his services.  The USFL was in their second year. The L.A. Express had picked Steven in their draft, and so there was competing negotiations going on. And the L.A. Express was attractive at the time.  They had a lot of NFL people in them.  Don Klosterman, long time general manager of the Rams, was general manager of the L.A. Express. The coach was John Hadl, and Sid Gillman, the dean of forward passing, was associated with that group.  And the team was loaded with young talent.  And many of them had played years later in the NFL; Mel Gray, for instance, and Gary Zimmerman.

And yes, there was the money, the $40 million dollar man.  It was never about the money with Steven. But anyway, all his consultants sat down and decided that the USFL was probably the best deal for him. So after that decision he was whisked off in a private plane to Mr. Oldenburg, the owner of the L.A. Express’s offices to sign.  And sign he did.  But not long after that though, Steve figured he’d lost his dream.  The NFL at that time, because of the competition, issued a poster and sent it around to various athletes.  And we got one of those.  You can’t read it, but I can tell you what it says.  It says, ‘Hold on to your dream.’  And it was issued by the NFL.  I can tell you that Steve felt that he’d lost his dream.  Again, Canton was a long ways off at this time.

And he played for the L.A. Express and he did okay and the team did okay but by the second year, Mr. Oldenburg had been indicted and charged with financial fraud.  He was in the savings and loan thing, his whole financial house of cards collapsed.  And by that time, they did not even have money to ride, there was not even a bus provided for them to go to the games, and no towels.  Steve was sure he’d lost his dream at that time. And it wasn’t long after that that the whole league collapsed.  And then as the teleprompter indicated, Tampa Bay took him in the supplemental draft.  And Tampa Bay had fallen on hard times at that time.  Steve did a lot of running at that time, mostly to save his life. And I remember one particular game, the ultimate indignity, was in Green Bay.  Tampa Bay showed up there in December, there was a blinding snow storm, and wouldn’t ya know it, Tampa Bay was dressed all in white.  And the quarterback couldn’t even see his players, let alone throw to them.  And I remember one particular play he was trying to scramble off to the left, and he was tackled from behind and his head went down into a bank of snow and he came up with just a helmet full of snow.  Canton was a long ways off.

Then in the ’86 draft, Tampa Bay took the great Vinny Testaverde, and Steve was expendable.  Mr. Culverhouse said, ‘Well I’ll try to make a good trade for ya,’ and a good trade he made.  He traded him to San Francisco at that time.   San Francisco seemed like a good situation for Steve.  The great facilities, great ownership, great managers, a winning tradition, great coaches, and he could tutor under the great Joe Montana.  So, he was scheduled to back up for a while.  But back up he did – four long years.  He seldom played.  He just moped up.  It was tough. He never sat before in his life.  And it was tough on his psyche.  It tested his patience to the nth degree.  And again, the Hall seemed like a long way off.

The deal was never to be a back up.  But he watched and he waited and he learned.  And in those years another irony occurred.  He ran into an old teammate of his named Blair Buswell.  Blair Buswell is the man that does all of the busts, he’s a sculptor that does all of the busts here at the Hall of Fame.  And he saw Steve and he said, ‘One day, Steve, I’m gonna do your bust.’  This was a time Steven was sitting in San Francisco.

Finally Steve got his break in ’91.  It wasn’t a popular thing in the Bay, following the legend, Joe Montana. The media ate up the alleged controversy between the two.  The fan base had no confidence.  They said he rushed too much out of the pocket.  It was tough following a legend.  But then he became the passer that everyone said he couldn’t be.  All those lessons paid off.  All those years of watching and emulating, all those coaching tips lined up behind the stars.  He could still run and he did to keep opponents honest and to move the chains.  His stats grew thanks to the San Francisco system and the great coaching.  And his accuracy became his trademark, due again to the great receivers and the great offensive line he had there.  In the ’94/’95 season it all came together.  And he was able to go to the Super Bowl and win it and that’s all history.  During his career the press often said, ‘That was a Hall of Fame performance.’

When he was nominated to be a candidate here in Canton, I went to the internet and got an entire history of the Hall of Fame.  And I became in awe myself when I saw all of the players that I idolized as a kid, the Otto Graham’s, the Hugh McElhenny’sNorm Van Brocklin’s, Y.A. Tittle, Jim Brown“Night Train” LaneBart StarrRay NitschkeJohnny U, and all the rest of these great fellows out there, behind me here.  Then it hit me.  What a tremendous honor, just to be named a candidate with such great athletes and men. Steve’s mother couldn’t get over it.  She got a call from one of the staff here at Canton, and said, ‘When your son is enshrined…,’ and she said, ‘my son enshrined?!’  And she still struggles with it.

Steve, specifically, and we as a family believe intensely that this honor extends to all those people who share the responsibilities and helped along the way.  Teammates, coaches, managers, owners, agents, friends, teachers, family, all the supporting cast.  One of his teachers received the NFL’s Teacher of the Year award, Terry Lowe of Greenwich High School, Steve was so proud of that award.

Though Steve was sort of forced from the game five years ago due to concussions…concussions?  When I played, concussions were called dings, and if you could say your phone number you were back in the game.  But anyway, Steve thinks he can still play and is tempted to do so from time to time. But his very wise wife and mother have come in with the ultimate block that would put any offensive lineman to shame.

Leigh Steinberg, Steve’s agent, was attractive as an agent to me because he taught and encouraged his clients to be ever grateful for their talents and to give back to their schools and their communities.  I’m proud of Steve’s give backs.  He has given thousands of inspirational and motivational talks to youth all over the country.  He’s made numerous treks into Indian reservations, encouraging the Indian youth to have confidence.  He’s established and maintained the Forever Young Foundation, with goals to help disadvantaged and sick children.  He’s established end zones in hospitals for terminally ill children and technical zones in inner cities with help from the NFL to provide technology help to under privileged children.  It’s a worthy goal of all of us to generate the funds necessary to carry on these type of projects.

Steve was a very ambitious person but when he would come home after a season he would play golf and just sit around.  I said, ‘Steve you’re one knee hit away from oblivion.  You need to get further educated.’ So he did.  He went to law school. It took him six off seasons and he finally got his law degree and I’m proud of that.

Steve is a dedicated and devoted family man.  He loves, honors, and obeys his lovely and talented wife Barb.  It took him a lot of years to find her but he’s making up for lost time.  He’s ever grateful for his two young boys and he spends and inordinate amount of time raising them with Barb.  And he supports his siblings in many many ways.  He’s a man of God.  He’s devout and lives a Christian life.  As a father I am indebted to God to have a lovely and fast wife, five productive and dedicated children, including Steve. Congratulations Steve.  Though unlikely, though the odds were very long, you have earned this great honor.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present Steve Young.

STEVE YOUNG: Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thanks Dad for the great introduction.  Since becoming a father several years ago, I have come to more fully appreciative of the role that mothers and fathers in life, and I thank both my parents for being such great examples and teachers to me.  Dad, thank you very much, and Mom too. 

Ironically it was my mom who kicked off my football career with a bang as she charged the field when I was 8 years old.  She was upset that another kid had neck tackled me and knocked the wind out of me. She knew that neck tackling was illegal and since no penalty was called she felt it imperative to rush the field and help her little boy.  I was scared to death as I saw her sprinting across the field, with good speed I might add, assuming she was coming to give me a kiss or something.  Imagine the visual: late 1960’s—20’s aged woman, lady, in a dress, on a football field, purse on her shoulder, big sunglasses, high-heeled shoes aerating the field.  In horror, she passed by me and grabbed the kid from the other team.  Adrenaline pumping, she picked up the boy by the shoulder pads and told him that the hit was illegal and that he better not do it again!  Mom, now you know why we never gave you any field level tickets over the last 17 years. My greatest cheerleader.

I thank all my friends and family that have come here, so far to be here today.  You can’t imagine how far it truly is from San Francisco.  I’m blown away for how many of you are here.  I judge a man by the company that he keeps, then you guys are making me look really good.  Thank you.  There is no way to give each of you the proper credit, so forgive me for not naming everyone.  But the impact you have had in my life, suffice to say, without your friendship and council, I would not have made it very far.  During our lives we face many forks in the road and decision points that influence the direction we go.  I feel so fortunate to have had so many people in my life who have been great friends and teachers who have played a significant part in guiding my journey so far.  Especially my family, my brother Mike, and Tom, and Jim, and my sister Melissa…all All-Americans in their own right. 

Steve YoungI am so honored to join this class of the Hall of Fame.  You are wondering why it is so special, I know you are.  It’s because we’re all quarterbacks of course.  Dan, it’s a privilege to share the stage with you today.  To the Pollard family, I honor your heritage through Fritz, a pioneer, African-American, and quarterback. 
To the Friedman family we honor the memory of Benny. A pioneer in his own right.

Our hearts and prayers go out to another one of our comrades as well today, Jim Kelly and his wife Jill who lost their son Hunter.  Jim we love you and our thoughts are with you today.

As my dad said, I’m not sure where a Hall of Fame career starts.  I look back, and he mentioned the six interceptions, he forgot to mention my JV year when I also threw six interceptions or is it the six touchdowns in Super Bowl XIX or the six passing titles.  In between was a lot of failure and a lot of success, so I know the road to greatness is not a smooth path.  Learning from our failures, all of us, is as important as learning from our successes. 

I did not learn all of these things on my own, I have been the recipient of the best coaching that one person has collectively ever had over my 30-year football career.

My dad mentioned Mike Ornato at Greenwich High School, the hotbed of football.  Then there’s Lavell Edwards, also a Hall of Famer himself.  Mike Holmgren coached me fresh from San Francisco State at BYU, and Ted Tollner.  It was the great John Hadl, with Hall of Famer, Sid Gillman, who convinced me to let them tutor me in L.A.  Along with Don Klosterman, they made a great threesome and taught me more about pro ball and quarterbacking than I could get in a lifetime.

Sid Gillman would tie my feet with a rope and taught me that playing quarterback was an art form.  He’d always gravely say, ‘This is not a game, it is a canvas and you are Michelangelo.’  I loved Sid.  He convinced me not to listen to the many people who believed at that time, in the mid 80’s, that you could not be a great quarterback if you could scramble.  Go figure.  Times change, it never made much sense to me anyway.
The coaching hit parade never subsided in my career.  When I got to San Francisco it was only my favorite college coach again, Mike Holmgren, a future Super Bowl winner, and again Bill Walsh .  The man with the most impact in football over the last 25 years.  The innovation and enlightenment that he brought to the game is now commonplace in the league. We know about the West Coast offense that half of the league runs now in some form as well as the other intangibles that he brought to the game, like limiting contact in practice to save legs and injuries.  His influence is now all over the league and I was grateful for the formative role he played in my progress. He believed in a scrambling lefty.  Thanks Bill.

George Seifert pushed me very hard, and never let me rest.  The situation we were both in demanded no excuses. It was Super Bowl or bust in San Francisco.  Tough place to live.  I never thought I would like a defensive minded head coach but he and I were champions together.

I have to say today in the audience I have never been more productive as a player then when Mike Shanahan and when Gary Kubiak were my coach.  Mike, thanks for coming today, on your off day in training camp.  That tells ya a little something.  He and I were equally intense and he drove me beyond my own standards.  He believed that I could be an MVP quarterback.  One of the best game day play callers I have ever seen.  His famous quote to me before Super Bowl XIX ‘Steve, don’t worry we’re going to crush these guys.’  Ya, well, we did.  And he knew.

Steve Mariucci coached me to the end. His enthusiasm and vigor for winning was contagious.  Both he and Marty Mornhinweg made me enjoy the game more than I ever had in the past.  They helped me realize how much fun a game can be even with all of the expectations of Super Bowls.  “Mooch” always yelled at me ‘is this fun or what?’  Yes it was.

Along with teammates that have your back, as my dad mentioned, Leigh Steinberg, over the years, was a sports lawyer ahead of his time.  With Jeff Moorad they were the sports rep dream team.  Joined by Dave Dunn every negotiation I had, which there were many, they had done it like as if I had done it myself.  I never felt awkward because they negotiated with an eye to what I would have done if I would have done it. What better representation can you have than people who represent you - the person as well as the player?

Football is a unique sport.  There is no statistic, no touchdown, or passing yard that is accomplished by a single person.  The rarest of sports in that you cannot do it alone.

Just think about the times you have achieved something on your own.  How great was the celebration compared with when you achieved something when you were on a team?  Whether in sports or in a business or with your family, the celebration is so much richer and enjoyable when it is with other people. My favorite moment still was the five minutes after the Super Bowl when we were alone in the locker room.  Just the 50 players and coaches kneeling in the Lords prayer, then looking up at each other and realizing that, yes, we were world’s champions.  No media, no one, just us.  That feeling when you do something great together is like no other.  No MVP, or passing title can compare to that feeling.

That is why football players talk about the camaraderie with a deep sense of passion and commitment.  It is the sport that when one of your guys says, ‘I’ve got your back’ it is not figurative.  You depend on them physically and emotionally.  A Hall of Fame career is loaded with hundreds of best friends.  Guys that have your back.  I am overwhelmed today to think about the great men that I knew in my 17 years as a pro, that taught me about what it means to play as a team with your heart, might, mind, and strength. Men who shared my passion for working together to get it pushed across the line despite injury and fatigue.  Many were my heroes while I played with them and only more so now that I don’t.  This honor for me today is also an honor for all those that I played with.

The season of an NFL player is fierce, unlike baseball and basketball where you play lots of games, in football it’s only 16.  You can’t afford to lose.  The routine of training camp, the tricks we played on each other, the hang time with the boys, the gallons of sweat left on the practice field.  The drama of who would be the starting players, the daily routine of tightening the cleats, smelling the newly cut grass, laboring through the films, getting constant feedback are all things I will never forget.  The anticipation of playing the Cowboys on Monday night, the rhythm of the three step drop, the thrill of the two minute drill, the memorization of all the plays and the multiple options Bill Walsh forced me to learn are lasting memories.

Cinching up the shoulder pads and pulling up the socks, walking out into the tunnel and seeing a stadium full of red, Blue Angels buzzing over the stadium like today, the Star Spangled Banner all leave an indelible impression on my mind.  I think we all love the game because it in someway is a microcosm of our lives in four short quarters over a three-hour period.  Filled with twists and turns, unexpected and thrilling, and can leave you breathless and heartless at a flip of coin.  How exciting, makes me want to strap it on again.

I can taste the pride that I felt to be able to put on a 49er jersey and represent the great city of San Francisco.  We did not think we were going to win, we knew that there was no alternative!  Eddie DeBartolo, as anyone who played for him knows, is one of the all time greats.  Playing for him was a pleasure.  Eddie and Carmen Policy took a huge chance with me, in essence bet the farm, and we collectively delivered.  How could you not love playing for Eddie?  The rumors are true.  He was the best.

I am also grateful for the friendships I have developed with John and Denise DeBartolo York.  They have been kind and supportive, especially during this Hall of Fame year.  And also thanks to Jack Lambert , the surrogate father to all of the DeBartolo’s, and my right hand man.

The 49ers of that time will always be remembered for our successes.  Anyone who followed our team will remember all of the great moments.  I’d guess there will never be another period of time like that in sports franchise history.

I love the faithful fans of San Francisco.  I wanted to live up to your amazing expectations, you were the heart of it all.  Thank you so very much, even for the boos that motivated me to work harder to gain your trust and confidence.  No fans ever deserved it more.  They were halcyon days never to be forgotten.

In San Francisco I found football in its newly enlightened form.  Along with Eddie, Bill and Carmen there was Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, thanks Ronnie for coming out today. Roger Craig, John Taylor, Tom Rathman, Tim McDonald, John Frank and of course all the men who protected me, Harris Barton, Jesse Sapolu, Steve Wallace, Bart Oates, Derrick Deese and on and on.  I had found heaven on earth for football. Think back to the 49ers of the late 80’s and 90’s. Think of all the names that rush to your memory. How lucky was I to be in the middle of that. If I named all the great contributors in the San Francisco organization and players on the field, I would be here a way too long in this heat.  Just know, that I know that I was blessed to spend 13 years in a football nirvana.  A nir