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The 2006 San Francisco 49ers are about to showboat exactly what they have been keeping in the confines of the Santa Clara training facilities this coming weekend and beyond, with a defensive alignment coiled around the trigger of a high-magnum handgun ready to fire.
Changes have taken place under Head Coach Mike Nolan and defensive coordinator Billy Davis to the tune that the D-line will hold the O-line on any given running attack and will apply new heat on opposing quarterbacks like never before. It all starts with All-Time Veteran Pro Bowler (and last of the Mohegan Super Bowlers) Bryant Young. Believe it or not, he is playing in the final year of his contract.
Back in March of 2001, in the midst of great upheaval and concern of where the franchise was headed, the 49ers still managed to recognize one of its founders on defense. They managed to sign defensive end/defensive tackle Bryant Young to a six-year contract worth nearly $38 million dollars. This was when the 49ers were still managed by the legendary architect of glory, Bill Walsh. As one of his final moments as an active 49er, he managed to get Bryant Young signed to that deal out of fear that the Cleveland Browns, without contention by former 49er staff executives Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark, would sign him away.
Bryant Young has been the most steadfast name on the San Francisco 49er roster. He has been a teacher, mentor and friend to a great deal of players that have come and gone and generated undying loyalty and honor among all current and former athletes serving in the NFL. He has been a humanitarian and a community advocate for change and is always active and caring for those less fortunate than himself. He is one of the most selfless individuals that you’ll ever have the pleasure of coming to know and like.
He personifies the image of this organization in more ways than one. He is the last standing icon of what was the legendary run of the San Francisco 49ers back in the early 1990’s. He has held true and steadfast to being the ideal icon of the franchise.
“In one sense, this costs us any number of players we could’ve had,” Walsh explained at the outset of free agency back in 2001. “But a team without Bryant Young wouldn’t be fair.”
Both Mike Nolan and Personnel Chief Scot McCloughan have seen the light and recognize that he is the very name of this franchise, much like the stadium will always be known as Candlestick Park rather than Monster Park. Underneath all the new facades, lie the glory of the past and the tutorship of the future.
This is a guy that will actually play out the entire length of his contract this season as a San Francisco 49er. He has seen the 49ers go through two personnel chiefs and two head coaches before arriving, where he is today. Still, coaches and managers have come to the conclusion that this is an athlete the 49ers could ill go without for any real length of time without being sorry for it. Knowing that he is healthy and ready to go, like he is so consistently from one season to the other, Young suddenly has big decisions to make.
“As you can see, the guy can still play,” 49ers vice president of personnel Scot McCloughan said following a Monday practice.
“He did an excellent job in the off-season of taking care of himself. He’s a huge asset from the standpoint of leading by example. Just being out there, he symbolizes what we want as a whole.”
Being the team example, as he is always concerned with being, Young made it publicly known that he had every intention of playing out and fulfilling his contract with the 49ers. His performance over the seasons has never wavered and has been the model of consistency that all others have drooled to duplicate over the years here in San Francisco.
“Anything can happen but, in my mind, I was committed to playing out the contract,” Young said. “But in the back of my mind, I know what can happen in this game. You see guys like Ronnie Lott and Jerry (Rice) and Joe Montana, these were some of the greatest guys to play their positions, if not for the best…It can happen to anybody and I knew I wasn’t immune to it. I could’ve been in that situation as well. That was a way of keeping me humble.”
Bryant Young was the leading sack master in the defensive lineup back in 2005. He led the team with eight sacks before sustaining a knee injury in late November that forced him to miss three games. He worked so hard and diligently to prove he was still capable, that he returned to the field to play out the final three games of the season even at reduced ability.
In significance of his stewardship and steadfast consistency as an athlete and a player, the San Francisco 49ers have suddenly opened up negotiations with Bryant Young’s agent in hopes of keeping him around a bit more after his contract has expired. The organization and his agent are now holding preliminary discussions on signing him yet again to a lucrative contract or even a one-year tender offer.
“There have been discussions from the standpoint of what he wants to do and what we’d like to do,” McCloughan said. “We’d love to have him around. As long as he keeps showing he can play and help us win games, he’s a huge asset.”
In all my years of watching 49er games, I’ve always been enamored with his ability to take on seemingly endless double-teaming to thwart his relentless attack on the quarterback. He is in my opinion one of the best linemen to ever play the game of professional football, based upon his ability to be steadfast and consistent, and rebound from excruciating injuries. He is a teacher and motivator both on and off the field and is proud of the 49er heritage that he was bestowed with almost from the very get go during his internship.
His raw power and team chemistry set him far apart from the other athletes on this roster. He is looked up to and admired from both afar and up close by the younger players of today and yesterday. He will be someone that gives everything without notice or quivering as to what will they give me back in return. His solemn duty has always been to serve and replicate himself on a constant basis from one Sunday to the next and assist his teammates to being victorious as they leave the field.
In this year’s training camp in Santa Clara with limited openings for public viewing, Bryant Young was instructed by head coach Mike Nolan to take part in only one practice per day. The 12-year veteran soon quivered as to what his teammates might think should he take time off just for being the high-caliber veteran he is. After sitting on the sidelines during the first double-day practice, Young petitioned Nolan to allow him to begin working both sessions.
“I felt like I didn’t want to cheat my teammates,” Young said. “Being out there and being able to practice, it was tough watching.” Through the years, his presence has been expected by the 49ers as a status symbol and more.
His soft-spoken nature has materialized into becoming a moderator for change vocally and figuratively as well. Throughout most of his career he never really felt like he had to pipe up a lot and be that oracle leader that everyone wanted him to be. Instead, Bryant Young let his actions out on the field define what he really was thinking. And that was all about winning and being victorious no matter what the costs. His actions on the field since he signed that 2001 contract have influenced many younger players that are in the league today.
“As the players go, Bryant is one of the guys they all look to. If I said, 'Everybody go on that field,’” Nolan said, motioning to the right, “and Bryant started to head to the left, I’d have some defectors. What I love about it is Bryant is on board.”
Being the only player left over from the 1994 Super Bowl Championship team is rough, especially considering watching where the team has headed over the years. The team has gone from George Seifert to Steve Mariucci, and then to Dennis Erickson and now hopefully longer-termed with Mike Nolan in charge. He has seen the rapid decline of what was a championship caliber team and seen the results of the mandated salary cap and its mismanagement ramifications. He has seen personnel come and go by the boatloads, and is still optimistic as always whenever you stop and talk to him.
“It’s coming full circle for me,” he said. “I came in and it was all great and then we had some rough years and now we’re getting back on the rise. Going through that development stage makes me really appreciate what we had in ’94.”
Bryant Young shares the defensive stage with Marques Douglas, Anthony Adams, Isaac Sapoaga, Ronnie Fields and more. He has taken the approach of gearing up to be out on the field again at a full-time pace. Being the model of consistency both from a stamina standpoint and a mentally one, further explains what it is we have in Bryant Young. You can bet your bottom dollar that opposing teams will continue to throw two offensive linemen at Bryant Young every time they can out of fear and respect of his immense abilities.
He is always the highlight of the defense as it takes to the field on any given Sunday. Bryant Young epitomizes what it is to wear the uniform and be a force out on the field at all times. His extension as a San Francisco 49er has to happen, especially should he have a better than average season as it is expected we will.
Bryant Young, simply put, gets younger rather than older. His metabolism has not quite figured out right where he is supposed to be physically. He dominates with the power of sound conditioning, mental telepathy healing, and some prayer hotline he dials into from above that seems to have all the right answers for us.
God Bless this phenomenal athlete, and May Bryant Young live long and be free to play out his remaining years as a San Francisco 49er. It is requested and wanted by the masses of fans like myself, and it seems like the organization is now listening like never before.
I recently purchased a Bryant Young #97 authentic jersey. His is a household name in the Bay Area and beyond, obviously all the way to the very northeast corner of the United States.
I wear it this season with a great deal of pride and honor for an athlete that always puts the team first and is the role model of expectations for our young and tender team in 2006. It will be his motor and physical contributions that designate where we stand on the line of battle.
I salute you as a fan, and as a student to your visual teachings of selfless humanity out on the field and off of it.