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Niners Nation interview with Steve Young

Steve Young has been working with Van Heusen and has created the "Achieve with Steve" program, where one lucky winner gets to shadow Young for a week and learn how to be more like the accomplished former QB.


Steve Young was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1987 from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He quickly made a name for himself and a quarterback controversy emerged between he and Hall of Fame quarterback, Joe Montana. Young waited his turn, but eventually took over the position after the 49ers traded Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Young brought the 49ers their most recent Super Bowl win, setting a Super Bowl record by tossing six touchdowns in the 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers. He retired from the NFL after the 1999 season saying, "The fire still burns – but not quite enough."

Young has found success as a radio show host, an NFL analyst, among many other avenues of success – one being his ties with the men’s clothing brand, Van Heusen. Van Heusen wanted to take the every day man and make him a little more stylish, which was right up Young’s alley. According to Young he was never known for his style - with his messy hair and nonchalant attitude toward fashion, so when Van Heusen approached him for the partnership, he felt it fit perfectly.

Young was in the Bay Area last week doing the Fall 2014 photo shoot and spending some time with Cameron Lewis – the Achieve with Steve contest winner, and was kind enough to give Niners Nation some of his time to answer a few questions.

Niners Nation (NN) – Why did you choose to align yourself with Van Heusen?

Steve Young (SY) – I was never known for being real stylish – With the different clothes, and the haircut, and the pork chops, you know? They came to me and said, "We’re a clothing company that is looking to upgrade people and get them more styled up." It’s not high fashion; it’s just straight up, you know, just good-looking stuff and I told them, "I’m your guy! That’s what I need!"

NN – What was it about Cameron that stuck out to you?

SY – Cameron is just a good, hard-working kid - very respectful. He just had that eager look in his eye like, "I want to learn.  Tell me what to do and I’ll do the work." To me today, work ethic and an eagerness to learn, and a humility about not knowing everything – Cam is the epitome of that, he is awesome.

NN – What can Colin Kaepernick do to make the biggest strides in being a productive quarterback for the 49ers?

SY – First of all, if you’re going to be an elite player, you’ve got to orchestrate the CEO job like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning – it’s night and day – it’s number one. Second, he’s now going to have to transition, like I did, into doing the job of the orchestrator. If you’re going to be an elite player, it’s delivering the ball from the pocket.

He has to tie his legs up, put them away, and that’s what I had to do. Not meaning they didn’t come out for game day, but you have to forsake them because they can get in the way of your development to really throw the ball from the pocket.

NN – Are people jumping the gun a little bit with him only being a starter for a year and a half with the expectations being so high?

SY – You’ve got to be careful because Colin has such dynamic ability – he has changed big playoff games with his legs. I did that a little bit, but Colin has done it exponentially. People feel like, "Well my gosh, his legs aren’t going anywhere," and the real question is, can you continue to do that in big football games and do what, say, Randall Cunningham did as a career, kind of, making plays, but never really tying your legs up and learning the fundamentals.

That’s what I am concerned about, but maybe he defies what I believe is the truth – that you’ve got to deliver the ball from the pocket. That’s what I believe [the truth] is, and that’s the expertise, but I don’t think I’m wrong. I think Colin still has a big transition to make and I think he’s trying, I mean, he’s going to make every effort to do it.

If Colin really believes, and he believes that I am right, then the expectations are not unfounded. I think it only becomes unfounded if it’s "I’m just going to be a playmaker, I don’t really need to know all that stuff and study all that stuff, I’m just going to make plays." I think that’s a failed philosophy.

NN – There is a concern with the "running quarterbacks" being injured and the NFL is doing a lot to make sure that player safety is in the forefront of everyone’s minds.  Is the NFL doing enough to balance the offenses and defenses abilities?

SY – No, no.  It’s an unfair fight. I have said this for a few years now. The defense cant [keep up], it’s not fair, and the quarterbacks are heavily protected. A running quarterback, to me, is safer. Because, once I got out [of the pocket], I didn’t run where there were a lot of people. I ran where there was nobody. [You just have to] know how to get down, get out of bounds, get out of the way, and avoid the big hits. I always felt like hanging around the pocket was trouble, but the truth is, the great players take the beatings in the pocket and expose themselves – and that is the real risk.

NN – So you had the opportunity to play with Jerry Rice – who was the second best wide receiver you ever had the opportunity to play with?

SY – Oh my gosh…I am going to say John Taylor. Taylor was so underrated. Jerry took so much of the limelight and John didn’t mind that. John was probably one of the top two or three athletes I ever played with. Just watch his highlight film – he was unbelievable. Playing the X receiver, taking the balls Jerry didn’t get – he was one of the greatest players I got to play with.

NN - What is your best memory of Bill Walsh?

SY – Oh boy, there’s a lot. There were just so many things with Bill. Ok – he wasn’t coaching and I was playing in ’91, and he called me into his office. We were, around 5-4, I had replaced Montana, Joe was hurt, and around the Bay Area it was kind of a disaster. He said, "Look, you’re taking the blame for everything. Honestly, if I had said to you, ‘what’s wrong with the defense, you would say it’s your fault.’ He told me I was killing my team because I wasn’t allowing them to be accountable as well. If they don’t have a change to hold themselves accountable – the team is not going to win."  He told me to be accountable for the things that I did wrong, but to allow other people to be accountable for the things they did wrong. I thought that was pretty good advice.

NN – Tell me a quick story about Eddie DeBartolo that exemplifies everything he was to you.

SY – The first time I met him, 1987, Bill [Walsh] was clearly going to pit Joe and I [against each other]. I look back on that, and he was going to do it right away.  Despite the fact that Joe had won Super Bowls, he was going to pit us [against each other]. That was how it was going to be, and Eddie knew that too. The first time I met him, he said, "Steve, this is my family. Everyone who comes in here is a member of my family. I know this is going to be a wild ride, but if you ever have any problems, any issues…you come to me. I’ll treat you like a son and we are going to work this out together." It ended up being [true], it wasn’t just talk.  We had some hairy times, some great times, but some hairy times, and I had to count on that cause, there were a lot of tough situations.  He might not have sided with me every time, but he lived up to exactly what he told me. I have to tell you, that is why people love him.

NN – You have had fantastic success post-NFL. Do you ever miss it enough to go back and be a coach or a consultant?

SY – Unfortunately, I don’t have the time with my family commitments and what I’ve got at home and the things I am doing in business, I just don’t have the time to do it. The analyst role is just enough to stay associated. It’s not heavy lifting, it’s a connection and I appreciate it. The truth is, you will never re-create third and 10, down by four, at Texas Stadium, in the fourth quarter, don’t try. I talked to John Elway, Ron Rivera and people that I know and played with, it’s not the same. It’s great, it’s unique, but it’s not like playing.  In many ways, I don’t want to try and recreate that. I put it away, cause its not [the same], it’s not like playing.