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A victory ride for Bryant Young

Source: Contra Costa Times, California
Publish Date: Sunday, December 23, 2007
Summary: Retirement for NFL star, he plans to see the country in an RV.

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By Cam Inman

Dec. 23, 2007 (McClatchy-Tribune News Service delivered by Newstex) -- SAN FRANCISCO -- It was a riveting scene, one we might not see again from a 49er for quite some time, perhaps a decade or a generation.

It was an inspiring display, too, just as you'd expect from the most inspirational leader in team history.

Defensive linemen Bryant Young finished the final home game of his 14-year career Sunday by reluctantly getting hoisted atop his teammates' shoulders for a ride to midfield.

Appropriately, he was head and shoulders above the rest. That's how we'll remember him, or just go ahead and count his unprecedented eight Len Eshmont Awards, the club's highest honor which teammates bestow annually upon their inspirational and courageous leader.

Shoulder rides have been reserved for legends in 49ers lore, for a Bill Walsh, a Jerry Rice, and, on Sunday, a Bryant Young.

"He's the last of the Mohicans, that's what I call him. There's no one else left from that era," said Junior Bryant, a former teammate of Young's at Notre Dame and the 49ers.

Young's era began in 1994 during the franchise's fifth - and last - Super Bowl run. When his tenure here ended, he didn't actually exit with his 305-pound frame atop some shoulders.

A three-minute victory lap was in order, and not just because the 49ers defeated the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 21-19, for only their fifth win in 15 games.

"I was afraid that I might fall," Young said of sitting atop Marques Douglas' and Isaac Sopoaga's shoulders. "I wanted to walk off (Bill Walsh Field). It was a special moment, so I embraced it."

Several thousand fans did, as well. They cheered wildly as he headed to the east sideline, pumped his fist and applauded them. He had an escort of 20 cameramen, all snapping up what could be the final victory lap here until, say, linebacker Patrick Willis retires in 15 years or, perhaps, until the 49ers finally celebrate their next Hall of Fame quarterback.

"Forgive me if I didn't get around the whole stadium to thank the fans who've been so great," Young said.

Young then trotted toward the dugout behind the south end zone, where he blew kisses and spread his arms into the air. He looked like a conductor who just directed a wonderful orchestra, and that too was fitting because of the consistently sweet tune he's provided for 14 years, in good times and bad.

Said linebacker Jeff Ulbrich: "Some guys are attention seekers. He's genuinely doing it to say, 'Thank you.' ... He taught me how to be a better father, a better teammate. To see him leave is going to be very emotional. He's meant everything to me."

Young knew Sunday's good-bye would mean an emotional roller coaster.

"I was just trying to enjoy the moment, enjoy the game and focus on my job," Young said. "I tried not to get too emotional, because I knew I had a job to do out there."

That's just what he did, focusing on his job. Not linebacker Patrick Willis' 20 tackles. Not cornerback Nate Clements' clutch interception return. Not Shaun Hill's three-touchdown passes.

When Young walked off after his final play - a failed 2-point conversion attempt by the Buccaneers that would have tied the score with 1:20 remaining - he had his helmet tipped back, his hands on his hips and a parade of pats on his back from teammates.

He implored his locker-room disciples Sunday to appreciate the 49ers' long-standing foundation, to take advantage of opportunities, to realize tomorrow is never promised, to have no regrets and to love each other.

"They need to embrace that," Young said. "I hope I helped. ... I never put myself before the team, and I realized no one player is bigger than the team."

Said coach Mike Nolan: "What's great about B.Y. is he has passed the baton to a lot of guys."

Young's eyes welled up when he stopped the post-game press conference to thank his wife, Kristin, their four children, his mom and dad, his teammates, and his pastor, Paul.

"It's been a gamut of emotions. It's exciting and sad," said Kristin Young, whose proud smile lit up the room as she leaned on a pillar during Young's press conference. "We'll miss the relationships, but it's time.

"We'll get our RV and travel cross country."

B.Y. in an RV? Classic. So much for the notion of resting a body that's done so much dirty work in the trenches, a body that's included a 16-inch titanium rod since he broke his right leg in 1998.

"He has a five-second rule. Ever since his (broken leg in 1998), he has to pop up after five seconds to make sure I know he's OK," Kristin Young said. "I'm just proud of him as a father and husband. I'm not trading him in. I've got Mr. Mom."

For one final Sunday on Candlestick Point, Young went out as Mr. 49er.


(c) 2007, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).

Visit the Contra Costa Times on the Web at http://www.contracostatimes.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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Newstex ID: KRTN-0011-21870778

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