Class of 2022: Bryant Young - From 49ers gold to a Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket
By Barry Wilner
Special to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
BRYANT YOUNG is No. 30 in the San Francisco 49ers’ Pro Football Hall of Fame pantheon.
The outstanding defensive lineman for 14 seasons in San Francisco was a star from his rookie year of 1994 after being the seventh overall draft pick. He was a leader throughout his NFL career, earning individual honors and, most significantly, the respect of everyone in the sport.
Oh yeah, he also helped the Niners win the Super Bowl in his rookie season.
On Saturday, Young, a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s, was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“I’m grateful to Hall voters and humbled to join the 2022 class and 29 former 49ers who preceded me,” Young said. “I proudly wore gold throughout my career. I’ll cherish this jacket for the rest of my life.”
Young already was a force in the NFL when he sustained a broken leg in 1998 so serious there was consideration of amputation. His return to the lineup the next season was so spectacular (11 sacks, 41 tackles, 19 of them for losses) that he was voted AP Comeback Player of the Year. He made the second of his four Pro Bowls that year.
He won the team’s esteemed Len Eshmont Award for “inspirational and courageous play” eight times; no other member of the 49ers has won it more than twice.
“Football also brought adversity,” he noted. “During a November 1998 game against the Giants, my right leg was badly broken. There were complications. I could have lost my leg.
“I fought back, playing another nine seasons. But while dealing with the injury, (wife) Kristin was pregnant with (daughter) Kai. Few knew it at the time.
Rather than being cared for, Kristin was caring for me. My vulnerability and loss of control were disorienting.
“I learned some things about trusting God, living with doubt, accepting help. We passed the test.”
With Kristin, Kai and four siblings on hand Saturday, Young then spoke about his late son, Colby.
Colby was born in 2001 and was a fun-loving youngster with, as his dad said, “an infectious smile.” When he was 13, Colby began having headaches, and doctors discovered a brain tumor that was cancerous.
“Colby was back at school eight days later,” Young said. “His spirits were good. He had the heart of a lion. My injury seemed trivial.
“Knowing radiation would weaken him, doctors told Colby to give up football. It absolutely broke his heart, but he turned the page and focused on basketball.”
Colby’s health improved, but the cancer returned. Doctors tried immunotherapy, but it had spread too far too fast.
“Colby sensed where things were heading and had questions. He didn’t fear death as much as the process of dying,” Young said. “Would it be painful? Would he be remembered?
“We assured Colby we’d keep his memory alive and continue speaking his name. On October 11, 2016, God called Colby home.
“Colby, you live on in our hearts,” Young continued, tears falling. “We will always speak your name.”
Young’s tearful conclusion to his speech offered his mantra.
“I’ve learned to trust God’s plan and timing, not mine,” he said. “In this, my 10th year of eligibility, I enter the Hall as a member of its 2022 class. Twenty-two.
“It was Colby’s favorite number.”
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