By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) – Twenty-five years after he led the 49ers to Super Bowl glory in a glittering offensive performance on a humid Miami night, former quarterback Steve Young will once again watch San Francisco try to claim the NFL’s championship title.
But the one-time MVP sees contrasts between his Super Bowl XXIX team and this year’s Bay Area contenders.
“They don’t even know how good they are yet,” Young told Reuters. “We were definitely a little bit (in) different places.”
Beaten in back-to-back NFC title games at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, the Niners finally defeated their tormentor in their conference championship for the 1994 season, ultimately defeating the then-San Diego Chargers 49-26 for the Lombardi Trophy.
For Young, who spent years battling for sole claim of the starter position over larger-than-life quarterback Joe Montana, it was the kind of pedigree that made his a “battle-worn” team.
“We were veteran rough. We had a lot of scar tissue to get to that Super Bowl after getting beaten by the Cowboys a couple times,” said Young, who completed a Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes in the contest to cement himself as a Bay Area icon.
In contrast, the current team is only just getting to recognize its potential after a 13-3 regular season, the three-time Super Bowl winner told Reuters.
“This is a young team that’s just now figuring out how good it is and I hope that that doesn’t keep them from taking advantage of (the) rare opportunity to win the Super Bowl,” said Young.
With 40-year-old Kyle Shanahan, one of the youngest head coaches in the league, and 28-year-old quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo flourishing after years serving as Tom Brady’s backup in New England, the Niners are poised to be championship contenders for years to come.
“This team is built from personalities and a sense of self-sacrifice that you don’t see very much in football in the pros,” said Young. “From owner to coaches to players, they’ve done it right and that tells me that they’re not going to disappear from the championship landscape.”
Young will travel to Miami ahead of the Super Bowl once again this year, but this time in pursuit of a passion that’s far more in line with the year 2020 than 1995: esports and gaming.
Along with his former teammate Jerry Rice, Young is hosting charity games on the mobile gaming platform Skillz to benefit his Forever Young Foundation’s efforts in connecting at-risk youth with education in technology and esports.
The competition kicks off on Skillz on Saturday, with a pair of tickets to Super Bowl LIV among the prizes for top players.
Young said the intersection of sports and gaming extends far beyond one tournament.
“Digital athleticism is exploding,” said Young. “Our working with Skillz is not just fun but I think it’s the future for athletes, esports and on the field sports kind of coming together.”
(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Kim Coghill)