In sports it's all about getting the opportunity and doing something with it.

Nobody really cares how or why. The issue is what, as in what you did, or what the team did.It doesn't matter if the 49ers concocted a story worthy of Baron Munchausen when they told us Joe Montana had strained an abdominal muscle and therefore didn't even suit up for Sunday's loss to New Orleans.

Joe didn't play, for whatever reason, real or imagined, and Steve Young did play. And the 49ers were defeated by the Saints, 13-10.

Young doesn't get the blame, because San Francisco gave away four fumbles, but neither will he get the credit. A quarterback is judged not on how he spirals a pass but on whether he gets a team into the win column.

Two years ago former coach Bill Walsh seemed compelled to replace Montana with Young, but Joe, the best in history, wouldn't permit such heresy. Montana went on reinforcing his credentials while Young went back to the bench.

There's no longer a quarterback controversy on the 49ers, indeed if there were one to begin with, but the interest in Steve Young never wanes.

He's the highest paid backup in the NFL. They tell us he's the best backup in the NFL.

They also tell us he's finished being a backup in the NFL, and that when his contract has ended at the close of this, his fourth season with the 49ers, Steve Young will sign with someone new - as difficult as that may be in the NFL where a team must exchange No. 1 draft picks for top-line free agents.

Young then not only was making his first start of 1990 for the 49ers, he may have been making his last appearance at Candlestick Park for the 49ers. He'll play next week at Minnesota, to be sure, but who knows about the playoff games.

What we know about Steve Young is that he's tough and has great pride, if those items are not redundant, and that he has a reputation for running when he should be throwing.

We similarly know he's been standing there on the sideline growing older and more frustrated.

Well, he played every offensive down for the 49ers Sunday.

On the 49ers' opening series, using plays called without a huddle, a tactic that had been designed for Montana but was kept for Young, Steve moved the team 67 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown. It was to be the 49ers' only touchdown.

Young isn't Joe Montana, and we shouldn't expect him to be. What we should expect, what Steve Young expects, is for him to be effective, which means winning games.

He completed 22 passes in 37 attempts for 208 yards. He rushed eight times for 102 yards. He did as well as he could. But he didn't win.

"And that's the one thing I can't take," said Young. "If I'm going to play I can't lose, can't lose ... can't. I can't believe we lost."

Believe it. Believe Dexter Carter lost two fumbles and Brent Jones another and Young himself another. Believe the 49ers are now 13-2. Believe Steve Young went home Sunday and agonized.

"I improved," Young said. "I did what I wanted to do. I played some good quarterback. But the bottom line is we lost, and that's not good around here. No matter what the situation is, who else is in the lineup, when they call on you, you'd better win."

The 49ers trailed by the three points that would be the difference when they got the ball on the 50 with 2 minutes 11 seconds to play.

Montana, master of the two-minute offense, would lead them to a win. But Montana wasn't in there. Young was. And the 49ers moved and moved. And then Carter botched the handoff from Young, and the Saints recovered.