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Steve Young survived the collapse of a league, being labeled a bust, being traded, being Joe Montana’s replacement, seven concussions and only playing three full seasons in 15 years to make it into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
But it could easily have gone the other way.
Following the collapse of the United States Football League in 1986, Young was selected first in the 1984 NFL supplemental draft of USFL and CFL Players by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—and promptly had a terrible time.
Young’s two seasons with the Bucs went the same way—a 2-14 record and a lot of criticism.
He threw almost twice as many interceptions as touchdowns, completed just 55 percent of his passes and was sacked 68 times— 47 of those coming in 1986 alone.
Although the Bucs team was acknowledged to be the worst in the NFL and he received no support from the likes of Phil Freeman and Gerald Carter, Young’s days in Tampa Bay were numbered when the Bucs selected Vinny Testaverde with the first overall pick in the 1987 draft.
Young was traded to the San Francisco 49ers before the start of the season.
Going to the Niners during the reign of Joe Montana meant backup duties with question marks still hanging over his head after his time at the Buccaneers. However, Bill Walsh obviously saw potential in Young and traded two draft picks for him, and Young negotiated the season by taking the field whenever Montana was injured.
Young evidently decided that if he was indeed destined to be a backup, then he would be the best backup in the NFL. Over the four years he served in this position he threw 23 touchdowns and six interceptions before being promoted to starter in 1991 following injuries to Montana.
Young himself struggled with injury that year and missed five games after a midseason knee problem, but then turned in a remarkable eight-year performance that saw him sitting on top of the NFL in a number of categories—passer rating (six times), completion percentage (five times), touchdown passes (four times) and interception percentage (twice).
His passer rating of 96.8 is ranked third on the all-time list. His average yardage per pass attempt is ranked fifth. His completion percentage is seventh.
The thing all of these statistics have in common? They all rank higher than those of Joe Montana, widely considered the best of all time. In conjunction with Young’s 43 rushing touchdowns, this is a phenomenal achievement from a player who didn’t even start an NFL game until he was 30 years old.