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It's Painful, but 49ers Feel Young Again

NFC: Veteran quarterback perseveres despite sore ribs and leads San Francisco to 14-0 wild-card victory over Eagles.

December 30, 1996|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Beneath his white shirt they applied bandages, an ice bag and more bandages to ensure the pain-numbing refrigeration of Steve Young's ailing ribs.

With Young's left arm useless, a training-room assistant had to button the quarterback's shirt for him and then help him into a black trench coat, snapping that shut from bottom to top until it appeared Young was attempting to conceal the San Francisco 49ers' worst nightmare: An unhealthy Steve Young.

Young, who took almost a dozen pain-killing injections to his ribs in the second quarter after being hit while scoring on a nine-yard quarterback sneak, returned to finish off the Philadelphia Eagles with a three-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice for a 14-0 NFC wild-card victory on Sunday before 56,460 at Candlestick Park.

Young, listed as questionable for Saturday's rematch of last year's divisional playoff game with Green Bay, will have his ribs X-rayed today, although he predicted none would be discovered broken.

"I'm not worried about him," 49er linebacker Gary Plummer said. "The scary part right now for an opponent is that Steve Young is a man on a mission with something to prove because of all the doubters and second-guessers out there earlier this season."

Already this year, Young has overcome a serious groin injury, a pair of concussions, questions about his long-range health and talk of the impending Elvis Grbac era, and now he will have to take on the Packers, the NFL's No. 1 defense and the Lambeau Field mystique.

When the 49ers (13-4) lost, 23-20, in overtime at Green Bay earlier this season, they played with Grbac at quarterback because of Young's injuries.

"Steve is amazing," said Jesse Sapolu, 49er guard. "When he's in rhythm, we're as good as any team out there."

Although windy and rainy conditions inhibited the 49ers' attack, Young masterfully dissected the Eagles' defense with a ball-control attack that resulted in no turnovers. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 161 yards, was sacked only once and led all rushers, including former 49er Ricky Watters, with 65 yards in 11 carries.

Parked at the Philadelphia nine-yard line on third and one in the early minutes of the second quarter, Young called his own number, although the Eagles' defensive alignment suggested an impending painful collision.

"I probably should have changed out of the call," Young said. "But the night before the game I was reading about the weather for the game and thinking the quarterback was going to play a bigger role running the ball. Bill Walsh told me the same thing this morning, and so I went."

Young scraped off a couple of defenders inside the five and took the full blow of defensive end William Fuller's helmet to the ribs before being smacked again by safety Michael Zordich in the end zone. While lying on the ground yelping in pain, his happy teammates began pulling him to his feet oblivious to his discomfort.

After returning to the game and grimacing in pain after failing to make a successful pass to Rice, Young ran to the locker room for a series of injections to deaden the area around his ribs.

"It's football and some guys won't do it, but a guy like Steve Young is willing to do whatever it takes," Plummer said. "I look at a guy that's hurt and running around making plays and it's inspirational. That's just Steve Young."

In the third quarter, Rice fought through cornerback Bobby Taylor's bump at the line of scrimmage and then raced across the field to make a one-handed catch of a pass from Young for the game's biggest gain--a 36-yard reception to the Eagles' three. On the next play, Young rolled left toward Rice, and safety Brian Dawkins didn't have a chance as Young threw to his partner for a three-yard touchdown.

"The Eagles were playing a big box-and-one on Jerry all day, with Bobby Taylor playing man-to-man on him," Young said. "But there is just no way to stay with him all day."

While Young and Rice made the key connection, their Eagle counterparts--quarterback Ty Detmer and wide receiver Irving Fryar--were left mired in talk about what could have happened had Detmer not self-destructed.

Three times in the first half, the Eagles (10-7) marched deep into 49er territory only to leave with no points. Their first attempt ended with Gary Anderson missing a 40-yard field-goal attempt, and the next two with Detmer's passes being intercepted.

"This was not a good game for Ty Detmer; I think everyone knows that," Eagle Coach Ray Rhodes said. "My expectations were so much higher: I thought we could compete with this team."

Rhodes also let it be known that he was not happy with the play calling of offensive coordinator John Gruden on Detmer's first interception. After pushing the ball down the field with Watters, on third and one from the 49er seven, Gruden had Detmer throwing.

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