If 49ers quarterback Steve Young were a ship, they'd write a song about his journey late Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park. They'd call it something like "The Trek of the Bay Area Backup" and get Gordon Lightfoot to sing it.
Bucking, rolling, twisting, turning, taking on water and, at the end, losing his wind, Young survived more storms in a few moments than the Mayflower, the Titanic and Christopher Columbus' three boats combined.And when it was over, the Minnesota Vikings were the ones left feeling like the S.S. Minnow.
"I don't think that one's gonna be in our offense," Young said afterward. The play in question was his wild, weaving 49-yard touchdown run, with about two minutes left, that turned a 21-17 Vikings lead into a 24-21 49ers victory.
That Young might run for a touchdown wasn't surprising - the scrambling, 26-year-old backup had given the Vikings fits when he replaced Joe Montana in their playoff game in January. That he might run for that kind of a touchdown, at that moment, was shocking.
Strictly Kirk Gibson stuff.
The situation: Third down at the Vikings 49, 2 yards to go for a first down, time running out and the 49ers in need of a touchdown, nothing less. Coach Bill Walsh made the call.
"I can't remember what it was," Walsh said. "About halfway downfield, I had forgotten it completely."
Young, starting in place of Montana to spare the veteran's aching back, remembered the original play just fine. But executing it. . . .
"It was a weak-side hook to Mike Wilson. But (Vikings defensive end Chris) Doleman got his hands up. I guess I tried to move the other way," Young said.
"I kind of spun out and was looking for Brent (Jones, another 49ers receiver). But it was third-and-short, so I felt I could make it on my feet. I got about three blocks downfield and my legs took me just far enough."
Actually, Young looked like Steve Old by the time his legs got him to the end zone, staggering in for six.
But first, Young had to elude what seemed like every Viking on the roster, the coaching staff and their entire families.
"Any time I've had a long run in the past, it's been in the open field," Young said. "Usually when I get running, I head for the sidelines. But I remember cutting back and all of a sudden, I'm using my forearm. I don't know where that came from. Right at the end, I got a great block (receiver Jerry Rice on Solomon) and that helped me. It certainly wasn't my stiff-arm."
For the Vikings, the play flashed by in a split-second. For the 49ers, it was the kind of slow motion normally reserved for nightmares.
"The momentum built," 49ers tailback Roger Craig said. "It was like, `Did he go down? No. Did he go down? No.' He kept fighting, breaking tackles. That was a running back's style of running."
Young was exhausted by the time he neared the goal line. Two questions loomed: Would he make it? And would he have to avoid the Stanford band?
"I was kind of laughing," Young said. "I couldn't believe I was having trouble getting to the end zone. That would have been embarrassing."
As much as it stung, the Vikings had to give Young credit. "His receivers were definitely covered," quarterback Wade Wilson said. "He bounced off our guys, his guys and it was just an outstanding effort."
The play hurt the Vikings, helped the 49ers and gave a boost to Young, a man growing impatient in his limited role.
"What Steve doesn't have in knowledge of this offensive system, he compensates for in enthusiasm," center Randy Cross said. "His running style is very much like his personality: Aggressive. A Joe Montana, a very calculating individual, might hesitate considerably on a run like that."
Some San Francisco fans left Sunday's game convinced that Montana never could have made that play. Of course, with Montana, the 49ers might not have needed it.
Said 49ers quarterback coach Mike Holmgren: "They're two great quarterbacks. They have a different way of doing things is all. Steve's instincts are pretty good. I just want him to know why he's doing things and the reasons for doing it."
And Young, who has heard the criticism before? "I guess results have a lot to say about how you did," he said.