PARK CITY On a sparkling, summer day at the Promontory golf course, "The Gimmick" is playing the back nine, without a club. He is shaking hands, greeting wealthy businessmen, renewing acquaintances and making new ones.
It's the ninth annual Steve Young Mountain Classic charity golf tournament, where people pay big bucks to play golf and mingle with The Gimmick, which is what Steve Young calls himself. He's the gimmick that attracts those willing to plunk down cash to meet Hall of Fame quarterbacks and, it is hoped, make future donations to his Forever Young Foundation.
"I'm just The Gimmick," he likes to say. If trading on his celebrity and playing The Gimmick means donations for charity, he'll do it. "I'd feel guilty if I didn't," he says. Young greets participants in his tournament warmly, exchanging small talk, posing for photographs, signing autographs. Many return year after year.
"They're like family now," he says. "We've been doing this so many years. We've become friends. We've got a good thing going here."
The Gimmick was actually supposed to fly in from his home in Palo Alto, Calif., the previous night; instead, he was in a Palo Alto hospital with his 5-year-old son, Braedon, who had cut his head while roughhousing with his little brother, Jackson. Now Young is trying to make up for lost time. He wants to get out on the course and greet the tournament participants he was supposed to mingle with last night, but first there is another domestic problem.
One of his boys he brought Braedon and Jackson with him and reluctantly left his wife, Barbara, with their infant daughter, Summer Ann, for a night has tossed a toy onto the roof of the clubhouse. Young reaches up onto the roof with a borrowed golf club to knock the toy onto the ground. After sending his boys off with an assistant, Young climbs into a golf cart and drives in search of the friends of Forever Young.
Usually The Gimmick plays golf, too, but not today. Because he missed the previous night's event, he's got to make up for lost time "There are just a lot of people I want to see," he says. He parks his cart near one of the tee boxes and greets the foursomes as they come along.
Welcome to Steve Young's latest incarnation.
If Chapter 1 was his youth, and Chapter 2 was his rise to football stardom at Brigham Young University, and Chapter 3 was his NFL career, this is Chapter 4, with Barbara and their three children and the world of high finance and his fund raising.
The update: He lives in Palo Alto, but he retains a small, old home in Provo (he's selling another house in Park City). He is building a new home next to his home in Provo and another new home in Palo Alto to replace the family's primary residence, which is really just an old bachelor pad. Young claims a life of normalcy they don't live in a gated community, he notes but the other day he went jogging in his neighborhood and ran past Steve Jobs, the CEO and founder of Apple Computer, and Larry Ellison, the CEO and founder of Oracle, which represented billions of dollars on the hoof.
Young is building a new home in Provo because he and his family spend more and more time in Utah to be with extended family. His parents, Grit and Sherry, moved from their longtime home in Connecticut to Utah about a year ago to be closer to their five children and 19 grandchildren. (Sherry is a part-time columnist for the Deseret Morning News.) Mike is an emergency room doctor at American Fork Hospital and serves as an LDS bishop. Melissa, a former Nu Skin employee, is a full-time mother living in Provo. Tom is an anesthesiologist in Phoenix and also a bishop. Jim, married, one child, attends medical school in Las Vegas.
Palo Alto seems a strange place to settle for a former 49er Hall of Fame quarterback who is seeking a normal life, but Young is unfazed by his celebrity/hero status in the Bay area.
"My life is Mayberry RFD," he says. "People recognize me. They say, 'Hey, Steve!' My life is a small town in a big place. It's not a negative. It's a positive."
The 44-year-old Young, who earned a law degree at BYU between NFL seasons, is not exactly coasting on his celebrity and his millions. (When he retired from football, he said he hoped his tombstone would read, "He did this, this and this, and he played some football.") He has a day job as one of five managing partners in Sorensen Capital, a Utah venture-capital firm. The lead investor is Utah entrepreneur James Lee Sorenson, who put $75 million into the fund, and the firm's co-founder is Utah's Fraser Bullock, the former head of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee. The company buys out or invests in small or midsize companies in the West, including many in Utah, and keeps them there.
"So many get bought out and taken out of Utah," says Young. "It's a tremendous challenge. We're funding companies in that midmarket sweet spot."
On the side, Young does color commentary for NFL games on ESPN. On Sundays, he teaches a Sunday School class, also known in Latter-day Saint parlance as the teachers' quorum (for a time, he served in a bishopric in a student ward in Palo Alto).
He works out of his house most days but makes frequent day trips to cities in the West, often to Salt Lake. "That was the deal I'd be home at night," he says. He changes diapers, feeds the kids, walks the floor with them late at night and dashes to the store on errands, although there is often a nanny around to help.
"He's a family guy with an earpiece in one ear and a BlackBerry in his pocket," says Sherry. "He's on the phone a lot. You'll be talking to him, and all of a sudden he's talking and making no sense, and you realize he's talking to someone else. He's multitasking. He can do 10 things at once."
For the record, Young appears to be as fit as he was during his playing days, which ended in 1999, the result of jogging and swimming laps. Early on in his marriage, he was nonplussed one day when Barb told him, "You're fat."
"Fat!? Whaddya mean?"
"You're fat," she repeated.
"I won two MVPs at this weight!"
Says Young, "I lost 15 pounds and called it a day."
Young says he is happy to let Barb lead the team "Barb, she's the quarterback now. I enjoy that" although he might balk on one point.
"I'm going to be 62 for (Summer Ann's) graduation," he was telling a foursome as they waited to tee off. "Now (Barb) says (Summer Ann) needs a sister. That's great, but now I'm going to be, what, 65!"
Barb is a strong personality and, according to Sherry, "She's a very organized person. She's been a tremendous asset to Steve, advising him. She has a background in marketing. I'll ask Steve something on the phone, and he'll say, 'Um, let me run it by Barb.' They work together."
Among other things, she has introduced a reading program into the marriage. They buy two copies of the same book and read them simultaneously, rotating genres each time religion, classics, history, novels.
Barb saw her husband play in only a handful of football games and wishes now that he had played a little longer so she could watch. He reminds her that she might have seen more of his playing days if she had not rejected several attempts by friends to set them up years earlier (she wanted nothing to do with famous athletes).
"Obviously, I wish I had met her 10 years before," Young says. "She says, 'We could have four more kids.' Exactly."
Those close to Young say this is the happiest, most relaxed they have ever seen him.
"He is in the sweet spot of his life now," says Jim Herrmann, one of Young's closest friends for 25 years. "He's beyond happy."
But to really understand and appreciate this happy state, you have to go back. The years in which Young was in the national spotlight were the most tumultuous of his life, with the self-imposed pressures of football, his bouts with anxiety and his long, public search for a wife.
He suffered from anxieties as a kid, and those were later exacerbated by football and playing in front of crowds. "In school, I was always the kid in the back row, twirling his hair with his fingers and scared to death," he says. "You take that kid and make him quarterback, and he would have thrown up before every game."
At BYU, he threw up before games and wished the stadium would blow up before Saturday arrived. Seeing him throw up before and during 49er games, new teammates wondered if he had the flu until they noticed it lasted all season. Driving back to the team hotel after his Super Bowl victory in 1995, Young threw up on the side of the road. He was so frazzled before that Super Bowl that 18 hours before kickoff he called the front desk of the team hotel and requested that the bed of tight end Brent Jones be moved into his room so they could go over the game plan together.
"Before games we'd find him in the bat cave that's what we called it," says Sherry. "The day before a game he would hole up in the dark in his hotel room watching movies, trying to relax and get his mind off the game."
Young once made a telling remark when an old acquaintance asked him, at the height of his days with the 49ers, if he was enjoying his life. "You know me," he said. "Do I ever enjoy anything?"
While vacillating over the decision to retire, he told his father, "Maybe I'll just go out and play relaxed and enjoy it this time." But Grit told him he could never do that, and his son knew he was right.
Herrmann, a former NFL and BYU player himself, lived with Young for two years in San Francisco and saw firsthand how anxiety ate at his buddy.
"He had so much anxiety and wanted to succeed so badly, he let it almost ruin his life," says Herrmann. "It overtook him. He became an unhappy guy. I'd say, 'Let's go see a movie or walk around the mall,' and he'd say, 'Are you crazy? I have a game in two days.' I'd say, 'Yeah, so what's the problem?' It was so consuming that it really sucked the life out of him. It was overwhelming.
"He's really grown and matured," Herrmann says. "He's looked back with well, not quite with regret but he's said, 'What was I thinking? Why didn't I smell the roses along the way?' But and I hate to say this it's kind of what made him successful, too."
Looking back, Young, who once collected his uncashed 49er paychecks in a drawer because cashing them translated into more pressure in his mind, says, "There is tremendous satisfaction in facing fears and succeeding. It was anxiety I couldn't control. Its seeds were in childhood. I wouldn't sleep over at a friend's house; I wouldn't go to school. It manifested itself in football it was performance anxiety. In 18 years in the pros it never went away. Plus, I knew what Montana did" as a great 49ers quarterback, "and I knew Mormons were watching me, and I wanted to represent them. I took all that on. I'm grateful for it in many ways. I don't fear anything now."
His marital status was mixed in there with the football anxieties. It took him nearly two decades to get married, and it ate at him. Holidays were the worst. While spending the Christmas of 1999 in Connecticut with his family, he told his mother, "I'm not doing this again. It's just too hard (not having a family). I just can't do this another year."
He met Barb a short time later. He married in March 2000 at the age of 38 and retired from football a few months later, closing one chapter and opening another one, nice and neat.
"He is where he should have been all along," says Herrmann, who recently spent a weekend with the Youngs. "He is as happy as can be. You can't get more involved as a dad. He's involved in every aspect. He's 'Mister Mom.' "
"He loves his life," says Sherry, emphasizing each word. "It is wonderful. He's relaxed and happy. His anxiety for his wife and children have taken over his anxiety. He's gotten over himself. It's amazing what he can handle and not be stressed. Somehow, having to think of these other people, he doesn't think as much about himself. He doesn't worry.
"He's always loved his brothers and sister, but now he shows it. He's not so paranoid. He'll call and say, 'I love you, Mom.' He really enjoys being around family. He couldn't do that before because he wanted a family. He was hard to be around because he just wasn't happy. He would worry too much about himself and his life."
While making his NFL Hall of Fame acceptance speech in Canton, Ohio, last year, Young discussed his new life.
". . .For me, it will never again be third and 10 late in the fourth quarter down by four at Candlestick Park," he said. "Nothing in life can be like those great moments. But with those experiences then and all the other good things that happened, life today is even better. With my wife, Barb, and my two sons, Braedon and Jackson, I have found the secret to life: Loving others more than yourself."
With Barb weeping in the audience, he said, "I sincerely love my family and know that being a Hall of Fame husband and dad is what will eventually define my life."
Bill Walsh, the legendary coach, was so moved by Young's comments that he said, "I'd love to have it on tape to show to high school teams, college teams and professional teams."
Sitting in a golf cart, waiting for the next foursome, Young reflects on his current life.
"We read to the kids, we tag team everything. I go to the grocery store, I pick the kids up from school. It's life. It's sublime. I did miss football at first. But I look back and it's not third and 10; it's richer. You know, being in the ER yesterday, holding Braedon down while he's crying, that's good stuff.
"Things are good. Life is good. It's great to be fully engaged in my kids. Forty-million-dollar deals are great, but I'd rather put my kids to bed. It's kind of my favorite moment."
Just then, another foursome arrives and Young climbs out of his cart to greet them. The banter begins again. One of the golfers jokes with Young, "There were five 20-year-old girls asking for your (hotel) room last night." Young doesn't miss a beat: "Where were they 15 years ago? I was available for a long time."
Young moves easily among people. It's hard not to be impressed as he makes his way through new and old acquaintances, remembering names and tidbits of their lives where they live, children, church callings, mutual acquaintances. He's charming and affectionate, slapping people on the back or putting his arm around them.
"He has a gift," says Sterling Tanner, executive director and president of Forever Young. "He has a unique ability to connect with people and to convey his sincerity. He's also blessed with a great mind. I've been in settings where he is conversing with (LDS Church) general authorities and billionaires, and he's driving the conversation. He didn't waste all those years being single. When you're single till you're 38, and you're not out partying, and you're Steve Young, you want to make good use of your time, and he did. He did a lot of reading. He still does."
Young jokes about his role as The Gimmick, but he takes it seriously, having recognized early the power of celebrity and the opportunity to use it for good. The Forever Young Foundation has grown on his name value and its small infrastructure (three employees, donated office space and equipment). It builds Forever Young Zones either in hospitals or inner-city areas 14 so far. The former are interactive playrooms where kids with extensive hospital stays can go for a break (no doctors and nurses allowed), and the latter are technology centers for inner-city kids. And the foundation provides grants for small, selected, well-run children's charities in Utah, Arizona and northern California.
In 1993, FYF's first year, the foundation doled out $50,000 in grants; last year it was $960,000. The foundation raises money through donations and golf and ski events, which is when The Gimmick is sent into the game.
The genesis of The Gimmick was this: Young was being asked to participate in numerous charity dinners and golf events that were organized by charity organizations. The charities were spending months and thousands of dollars for a fund-raising event that would raise relatively small amounts of money. As Tanner tells it, "Steve finally told them, 'You're wasting your time. Let us raise the money, use my name, and we'll get companies to donate what you're paying for, and instead of raising $5,000 we'll raise $200,000. We'll raise the money, and you do what you do best, which is research and working with kids."
Most charities believe that if they can get 15 minutes in front of a CEO or a potential donor, they will usually donate. "The challenge is getting that 15 minutes, because there are thousands of charities out there that want the same thing," says Tanner. "Steve's name opens the door. He says, 'Put my name on the deal. I understand that people are willing to do things to come and rub shoulders with celebrities, so let me be The Gimmick. Put me out there, and we'll have people behind the scenes who are doing great work with children, and we'll let them keep doing that.' "
Young makes public appearances for Forever Young or other charities, which gets media attention, and he meets with or calls potential donors when Tanner thinks he needs Young's clout to close the deal. Young and Tanner invited potential donors to his Hall of Fame induction and paid for their hotels and other amenities. By the end of the week, one man agreed to donate $600,000 annually to FYF.
"We were ecstatic for two reasons," says Tanner. "One, the money, and two, here was a guy who was obviously successful who put this kind of confidence in Forever Young. Like Steve says, we just have to be good stewards with the money."
As Young pulls up in his cart, several children beneficiaries of Forever Young's efforts are playing on the tee box. A few of them are wrapped from the neck down in bandages underneath their clothing in the middle of summer.
"Have you heard of EB (epidermolysis bullosa)?" Young asks. "It's a skin disease. It's the worst thing that can happen to a human being. The skin just falls off."
Watching Young visit with the kids while golfers hit their shots, Tanner notes: "You should see him at the (Steve Young) Ski Classic (at Snowbird). The kids are crawling on him in the snow. I've had people who work with kids tell me they have never seen anyone so engaging and comfortable with the kids. He walks into a room and they gravitate to him, and many don't know (he was the famous quarterback). I think his insecurities as a child make him more sensitive to kids who are scared."
OK, you have to suspend the cynicism about athlete hero worship around Young, or maybe you're wondering if this guy is for real. The truth is, Young is a known flake, difficult to pin down for appointments and return calls, difficult to get places because he's pulled in so many directions family, business, charities, ESPN and because he likes to put off decisions. But his feelings about assisting children and using his name for good and defining his life someday in a way that meets his exacting, high-minded expectations are genuine and consuming.
"He's not out there because he wants to make a public appearance," says Tanner. "He's there because he cares about these kids. When I call him to do something, he might moan about it once in a while because he does so many, but then I remind him what it can do for the foundation, and that's all it takes. Once you get him there, he's there. The meetings and phone calls feel more like work to him. He has a lot more fun showing up at hospitals and giving footballs to the kids."
After a pause, Tanner continues: "We fund things through the foundation, but I've seen Steve walk up and give someone a check for $5,000 of his own money and tell him, 'Don't spend this on research or doctors; throw a party for these kids.' "
Tanner and Young hope that one day Forever Young will be known more for what the foundation is doing than for its famous namesake and, ultimately, thrive without relying on him.
"Early on, people donated because of Steve," says Tanner. "Now we're getting a reputation for doing a lot of good and doing it effectively. Steve says that is the goal."
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