Jeff Benedict: A true one of a kind — Steve Young's example helped me grow into my own skin
Then David changed his order to a chocolate milk shake. Pretty soon the entire table switched. The waiter brought six chocolate shakes. Why not?
Looking back, I treasure the way that I was raised. I love the fact that my mom confiscated the swimsuit issue and that we went to church every Sunday. Among other things, it was great preparation for my profession. I am right at home interviewing people who are different, misunderstood or alone. Most famous people I know fit all three categories.
Eventually, Steve and I ended up in the same industry. He talks about football on television. I write about football in magazines and books. We both have a lot of other interests, though. Those other interests caused our paths to finally cross a while back. For me it was like finding a long-lost best friend. The connection was instant.
The best kind of friend is one who listens and understands, but never judges. That’s what I found in Steve.
Before the Monday Night game, Steve introduced me to former Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis. He retired after the last Super Bowl and recently joined the ESPN Monday Night broadcast team.
When Lewis shook my hand I thought my bones were going to crumble. I gave him an advance copy of my new book "THE SYSTEM." He thanked me, read the jacket copy, smiled, and said, “Oh, boy!”
But what really impressed me was the instant chemistry between Steve and Ray. Steve was already in ESPN’s production truck when Ray showed up for the pregame briefing. They locked hands, patted each other on the back and paid each other a heartfelt compliment. They belong to a small fraternity of elite players who are considered among the best in the history of the game. Very few people — even among NFL players — know what it was like to walk in their shoes.
A while later we went on the field. Redskins and Eagles fans shouted: “Ray Lewis.” “Steve Young.” Current players approached to shake their hands. At one point Robert Griffin III ran over to hug Steve.
Then it was time. The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” blared through the sound system. Smoke filled one end of the stadium. Fireworks went off. The crowd roared. Cheerleaders strutted.
As the Redskins sprinted onto the field, I thought about the pressure on RGIII. Then I glanced at Steve and my mind went back to Jan. 15, 1995, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It was the NFC Championship game between the Cowboys and the 49ers. Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders on one sideline. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Charles Haley on the other. John Madden and Pat Summerall had the call. Cheerleaders shook. Fans screamed. The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” pulsed. Steve had the weight of a city on his shoulders that day. Now that was pressure. And he delivered. He led the Niners to the Super Bowl.
Amidst all the swirl, a 60-year-old security guard assigned to escort Stuart Scott approached me. He knew I was Steve’s friend. “I watched that guy play since he was at BYU and all through the 49er years,” he said. “I have so much respect for him. That guy knew how to play under pressure. Love the way that guy carried himself.”
“I know what you mean,” I told him. “I know what you mean.”
Jeff Benedict is the author of the forthcoming THE SYSTEM: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College football, which has been excerpted in the Deseret News this week. Part one tells the story of how Bronco Mendenhall came to coach BYU football. Part two recounts the process behind BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy's recruitment. Part three tells the story of how Van Noy almost didn't make it to BYU because of honor code troubles.
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