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Steve Young’s autobiography: Great parts buried within a repetitive read

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Perhaps worth a read for anyone who was around during his time, but Steve Young’s autobiography falls short of anything making it a must.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Young’s autobiography came out last year, and we put off reviewing it for quite a while. With the bye week slowing things down a bit for me, I finally was able to dedicate a few hours to finishing this. The first thing to remember when talking about Steve Young’s autobiography, QB: My Life Behind the Spiral, is that the original intent of the book was for Young to write something to hand off to his kids. Something that showed the family how Young fought with adversity and his journey through the NFL. Obviously, the story of Steve Young is one that more people besides his kids would want to read, so we can be thankful the book is out at all.

But despite what should be a great subject matter, and what should write itself, the book fails to be interesting half the time and is almost a chore to read. This is largely due to some clunky shifts from present to past tense in the narrative, and an overabundance of stats that no one unless the most devoted of Steve Young fans will recall, or even care about.

The book starts quite strong, beginning with Young’s life as a child and how competitive he was. It details his relationship with his competitive father, Grit (someone who did over 1,000 sit-ups a day due to a challenge) and his relationships with his family and religion. His time at BYU is well documented for a good 40 pages and then, obviously, the meat of the book is his professional career and how he was brought back to his LDS teachings several times.

Speaking of faith, it’s applauded how it is handled. Young is simply a Mormon living in an area that Mormons are the minority. This creates some of the better moments of the book, his relationship with Brent Jones being a great example. We’ve all been out of our comfort zone and Young seems to have spent an extensive time away from it. However, while the book isn’t preaching anything or trying to get someone to join a certain religion, it certainly does start to get redundant towards the end. Young clearly is vigilant in his faith, however with the book’s length of almost 400 pages, it feels like some of this could have easily been cut out. Especially in the last quarter.

Young doesn’t pull any punches when talking about some of the more defining moments of his career, the most important being his relationship with Joe Montana. Young is very candid about their rivalry and goes into great detail about their interactions before, during, and after his arrival in San Francisco. The Montana/Young controversy has always been something shrouded in mystery and speculated on, with only a few accounts that can be taken seriously. Many times you can read an autobiography and find holes or little things not elaborated on, Young brings everything to light about what went on in that quarterback room and it is definitely the best part of the book. In fact, you could jump right to the chapters detailing Montana’s inevitable exit from the 49ers and get your money’s worth. There’s other great sections too like Young’s never-ending quest for a wife (as he says, Mormons are meant to marry young so he feels strange having gone into his 30s single), his relationship with Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, and Steve Mariucci, and his decision to retire.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to work to get to any of that. The book has these great detailed sections swimming within chapters describing stat lines, obscure game references and the redundant storyline of Young dealing with anxiety. We aren’t talking stat lines or details of the Super Bowl or beating the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs. We are talking the most regular of regular, forgotten and necessary games. Obviously games like his amazing set-up to the Catch II deserve this kind of detail, but regular season games against the Atlanta Falcons left me just skimming the pages to get back to the actual flow of the story. This is probably a matter of taste, as the stat junkies will absolutely eat this detail up, it is a football book after all. Personally, I wanted to know more of the story of Steve Young, not the stat-line. Then again, I was 10 years old when Young won the Super Bowl so I didn’t care much for, or remember the play by play.

It doesn’t help with the actual writing. Far too often chapters have the tendency to go from past tense (which most of the book is written from) and try an immersive form of present tense, usually during an important game or important moment. These transitions felt clunky and jarring, taking me out of the story far too often. Jeff Benedict (Young’s collaborator/ghostwriter) has some great nonfiction under his belt so this is very strange. How much of this is Young, I have no idea, but it feels like that’s what you’d have Benedict for: to coach you out of these things. Then again, Young is published and I’m not. So what do I know?

Final Thoughts:

If you were around at all to see even a glimpse of Steve Young or find yourself a bit of a 49ers historian, this is definitely worth a read for his insight on a lot of the crucial moments—if you can find it for $5.00-$8.00. The sections with Joe Montana and Bill Walsh are fantastic. However, that is 40-80 pages of a very repetitive, nearly 400 page book. Stat hounds and those with memories of Young tearing it up Sundays on specific games will love this. This was originally intended for Young’s family, and I can see a different perspective coming from them as opposed to a 49ers/Steve Young fan reading this.

I can’t say I regret my time with QB: My Life Behind the Spiral like I did with the Pete Rose biography, Triple H biography or several other terribly bad cash grabs. This is an interesting read, but finishing it felt like so much work after such great sections. If you’re anything like Young’s dad Grit, you’d probably enjoy the discipline though.

3/5