Former 49er has learned hard lessons on his road to success
Steve Young has done some remarkable things during his varied career, but hasn’t always had an easy ride. He’s learned some hard lessons and developed some great aptitudes along the way, and many of them directly apply to other occupations—including meeting planner.
Young, who holds a law degree, is co-founder of a financial firm and nonprofit organization, has appeared in many television shows and commercials, and is currently a TV analyst and co-host of a radio program. But his biggest claim to fame is his Hall of Fame football career.
A Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers, Young, 54, had a passion for sports from an early age. He was co-captain of the football, baseball and basketball teams at Greenwich High School in Connecticut. Young was quarterback of the school’s very successful football team, and was particularly known for his outstanding running ability.
Hard Work & Flexibility
Young hadn’t developed his passing skills, however, and this led to problems when he moved on to play at Brigham Young University. In what was to become a pattern in his life, Young overcame the challenge by working hard. During his senior season, he completed 71.3 percent of his passes, a National Collegiate Athletic Association record.
He turned professional in 1984, playing with the Los Angeles Express in the United States Football League. He joined the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers the next year, and then played for the 49ers from 1987 to 1999. It took a while for his pro career to get on track. Initially, he wasn’t an effective passer, and when he joined the 49ers he was the backup to the legendary Joe Montana before becoming the starter in 1991.
Young faced another challenge: He is 6 feet 2 inches tall, a bit shorter than most pro quarterbacks, and often couldn’t see his receivers over the arms of opposing linemen rushing at him.
“So, I had to learn how to throw the ball blind,” he says. “I knew that if I didn’t let the ball go, I would lose my job.”
It sounds very precarious, but Young was able to master the task by working on his timing with receivers and by utilizing his outstanding maneuverability.
Young’s mobility and speed enabled him to amass the most rushing touchdowns of any quarterback in the history of the NFL, but it also presented a dilemma.
“It’s a challenge to have the ability to run around,” he says. “If you’re just a pocket passer, you have clarity as to what your job is, but if you’re a runner, this opens up all kinds of other opportunities and can create confusion. It can be a curse, but if you learn to manage it well, it can be a huge benefit.”
Despite suffering concussions throughout his career, Young led the San Francisco 49ers to victory in many postseason games, including Super Bowl XXIX in 1995. He also won a record six NFL passing titles.
Failure & Accountability
Young has had plenty of success on and off the field, but he recalls the failures better than the triumphs.
“It’s the way my brain works,” he says. “I was on three Super Bowl champions, but my team [the 49ers] also lost five or six championship games. I had to put in a lot of hard work and recalibrate after the failures.
“Part of my fundamental philosophy is when mistakes are made, you need to recognize and fix them. In many ways, failures are the roots of success; they’re part of the equation. And humility sits in the middle of success.”
Young’s parents, Grip and Sherry, taught him this principle as he grew up, and he now applies it to his wide array of activities, including public speaker.
He addresses church and civic groups, as well as corporate gatherings, sometimes explaining principles he lives by—he is a Mormon, and the great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young, one of the early leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—including those he learned from the 49ers.
“One thing they emphasized is the importance of accountability,” Young says. “It’s important for everyone to be held accountable. As the quarterback, I needed to stand up and take responsibility. When I did, other players did, too. The effect was powerful.”
Team Building & Giving Back
Bill Walsh, one of his coaches with the 49ers, stressed the importance of integrating to build a stronger team.
“He emphasized the need to break down differences between people,” Young says. “The more people break down barriers that keep them apart, the more they respect each other. Integration was so important to the success of the 49ers.”
Young employs these principles in other involvements, including HGGC, a successful private-equity firm. He previously was a member at Northgate Capital, LLC and general partner of Northgate Capital Partners, L.P. in Danville, California.
He has also served nonprofit organizations, including Forever Young Foundation, which he co-founded with wife Barbara in 1993 to help children facing significant physical, emotional and financial challenges. Funds raised provide academic, athletic and therapeutic opportunities to the children, who primarily are in Northern California, Arizona, Utah and Ghana.
“I just had an instinct to start the foundation,” Young says. “There are lots of needs in the world, but I choose to help these children because their needs are so great and the impact we make on their lives is so dramatic than it can be seen for years.
“The foundation is organically driven. We attract like-minded folks and partner up with them in our own little solar system. We want to always be open to their input.”
Young also has been heavily involved in media, serving as an ESPN football analyst; co-host of a sports radio show on KNBR in San Francisco; actor on television shows such as Frasier, Beverly Hills 90210 and Dharma & Greg; and in commercials for Toyota, Visa and Gatorade, among others.
Performing Under Pressure
Rather than shying away from new challenges, Young embraces them. In fact, looking at his career, it’s easy to think that he even seeks them out.
In football, one of the greatest quandaries a quarterback faces is needing his team to advance 10 yards on third down, and thereby gain a first down. Young was unusually successful in these situations.
“My dad always said, ‘You really like third-and-10.’ I told him ‘No, I don’t really choose to have third-and-10, but I sometimes find myself in that position,’” Young says, laughing.
Young, who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, has plenty of wonderful memories of his achievements, but recalls one particularly special moment in 1982 that marked a turning point.
BYU was playing its rival, Utah, on Nov. 20 at Rice Stadium in Salt Lake City. BYU is owned and administered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while Utah is a public university.
Young was a junior at BYU, and in 1982 he had replaced Jim McMahon, who had moved on to the NFL, as the starting quarterback. BYU won the game, 17-12, and then was invited to the Holiday Bowl.
“As I stood in the stadium tunnel, with the snow drifting down, I realized that I could do something great,” Young says. “I needed that, because it provided proof to myself.”
Smart Meetings’ Super Bowl Preview
During Young’s career, the 49ers played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Their new home is Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, site of Smart Meeting Northern California, which will be held on Jan. 6. Participants will be able to tour the stadium and run through the player tunnel onto the turf track. It’s a particularly special opportunity because Super Bowl 50 will be played at the stadium just a few weeks later, on Feb. 7.