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It was one of the most devastating sights I remember seeing on the football field. His screams of pain could be heard throughout 3Com Park in San Francisco. 49ers fans at the stadium and watching on television sat there in dead silence hoping and praying for the defensive heart of the team. He laid there in clear pain, gripping the hand of his head coach, Steve Mariucci. The date was November 30, 1998. Linebacker Ken Norton Jr. had just collided, helmet first, into fifth year defensive tackle Bryant Young's leg, breaking his tibia and fibula.
"It was an awful injury," Mariucci said. "Bryant's a tough guy. If anybody can make it back from an injury like that, he can - but not this year."
It was an injury that set the stage for one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. During his second surgery to repair the damage, a titanium rod was placed in his broken tibia in order to assist in the healing process and give him the support that he needed. Many doubted that Young would return to the level of play that he displayed prior to the injury. Some even doubted his return at all. Not only did he return the following season, but he also contributed eleven sacks to the defense. He won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award in 1999, an award given out to the player that shows perseverance in overcoming adversity. The dramatic event of his injury that evening showed us his courage, determination, and heart as he worked to return to the football field.
Young would go on to play nine more seasons with the 49ers, on his way to 89.5 career sacks. He is the last link to the team's championship days. Young was taken by San Francisco with the seventh pick in the 1994 NFL Draft out of Notre Dame. During his rookie season, he helped the 49ers to their fifth championship, a win over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Young was named the UPI NFL-NFC Rookie of the Year in 1994, attended the Pro Bowl four times (1996, 1999, 2001, and 2002), and was selected to the NFL 1990's All-Decade Team.
This season has taken its toll on Young. It was a season with high expectations. When things did not go as expected, Young was one of the more disappointed players on the team. His first season ended with a Vince Lombardi trophy. Since then, while remaining dedicated to the 49ers and the city of San Francisco, Young has waited patiently through numerous rebuilding projects, for his chance to return to the Super Bowl. With this season's breakdown, that goal does not seem near and it was time for Young to finally ride off into the sunset.
49ers fans will never forget the heart, sweat and tears that Young gave to this team. He will be remembered as one of the greatest defensive tackles to play in San Francisco and one of the best in NFL history. Even after fourteen seasons, he continued to amaze fans and has earned the respect of coaches and players throughout the NFL.
What are your favorite memories of Bryant Young? Post your memories in the comments area of this page.