Happy Conference Championship Weekend! With football season winding down, it’s time we can really look back and muse on all the things we’ve learned from this season. We learned that the New York Giants were basically a Mutant League Football team; with so many injured players that I’m surprised Eli didn’t somehow fall into a pit of acid or get sacked and explode. We also learned that young quarterbacks sometimes fall back to earth after a hot start (see: Griffin III, Robert). But one young quarterback seemed preternaturally poised, leading his team to a record 24 wins in his first two seasons, and joining Dan Marino and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to throw 50 touchdown passes in their first two seasons. Russell Wilson, the third round pick of the Seahawks, has been consistently the best young quarterback in the NFL the past two seasons.
Sure, it might be easy to compare Wilson and Manning, thanks to their touchdown passes, but when I see Wilson play QB on Sundays, I don’t see Manning, or Marino, or even Griffin. I see the ghost of Steve Young. Young had the same mix of guile and drive, and, like Wilson, was often overlooked by his contemporaries. So I’m putting them head to head. If you were playing this Sunday, who would you start, the second year Seahawks starter Wilson, or pulled straight from the Wayback Machine, the second year 49ers starter Steve Young?
Note: All Stats taken from Pro Football Reference
Young was already 31 when he became the second year starter for the 49ers in 1992. After starting his career in Tampa Bay, he was traded to make room for Vinnie Testaverde in 1987. Considered a bust, he was a little used, but valuable backup to the legendary Joe Montana. He became the starter in 1991, after an elbow injury to Montana in the preseason caused him to miss the entire season. His first season at the helm had some growing pains, and a knee injury caused him to miss 5 games, but in ’92 Young flourished. Bolstered by a strong running game with Ricky Watters and the sure hands of Jerry Rice and Brent Jones, Young lead the league in passing TDs and completion percentage, while also scrambling for 537 and 4 touchdowns.
Young had an improvisational streak that Montana lacked, and used his mobility to help move the chains when the passing game broke down. The 49ers that year finished 14-2 and made it to the NFC Championship game before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Cowboys. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Young had fresh legs thanks to years of backup work, and played like a much younger player, while still having the locker room presence of a respected veteran. Two years later, Young would win a Super Bowl to come out of the shadow of Montana, and his productivity would continue through his age 37 season in 1998. Injuries caused him to miss a few games, and his reckless scrambling style left him vulnerable to concussions, which ultimately forced his retirement in 1999.
A Hall-of-Famer, Young often dominated, without receiving the same amount of acclaim as Marino, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman, and other contemporary quarterbacks. Seen as a bust as a first round pick in Tampa Bay, he rebuilt himself into one of the most efficient, dynamic, and fun to watch quarterbacks of the 90’s.
Russell Wilson was the 6th quarterback taken in the 2012, behind the illustrious Brock Osweiler and Brandon Weeden. While picked as the backup to high-paid free agent Matt Flynn, Wilson’s poise and natural leadership caused the Seahawks to name him the starter in his rookie season. Wilson went on to tie Andrew Luck for the best record for a rookie starting quarterback with an 11-5 record his first season. Going into his second season, Wilson was poised to continue what he started. This past year saw Wilson compile a 13-3 record, throwing and rushing for more yards, as well as reducing his interception percentage. Like Young, Wilson mixes the ability to make quick reads and accurate throws with an almost prescient ability to sense the rush and make plays with his legs.
Wilson, like Young, has an underdog sensibility about him. While Young was forced to play in the shadow of Joe Montana, Wilson was often overshadowed by fellow rookies Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin to start with. Young was a veteran with young legs and years of experience, however Wilson is the opposite, combining his youth with an almost infectious sense of pride and determination. Both quarterbacks in a short time have molded their offensive identities in their own image. Young had Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver in NFL history, catching his passes and the slashing running game of Ricky Watters to complement them, Wilson has the human wrecking ball Marshawn Lynch and a plethora of fleet-footed receivers around him to make the offense go.
Going into Sunday’s game, Wilson and the Seahawks have dominated their rivals, the 49ers in their meetings, going 3-1 in his career. The 49ers have their own running gunslinger in Colin Kaepernick, who may also conjure up images of Steve Young, but Wilson more closely mirrors the under-appreciated, improvisational impresario that was Young at the peak of his game.
It’s a push. While Young went on to great heights and an eventual Hall-of-Fame career, that legacy was not guaranteed in his second season at the helm of the 49ers. A career backup up to that point, and already once considered a bust, Young had a lot to prove. The fact that he went on to prove himself above and beyond expectations is a testament to his ability.
Wilson has quickly elevated from draft afterthought to one of the premier young quarterbacks in the modern NFL. His skill set seems to be perfectly suited to winning, and he has already shown the ability to make his team better. The fact that Young was 31 in his second year as starter for the 49ers detracts a bit, but we also know his end result is the Hall-of-Fame. For the 25 year-old Wilson, we don’t know the future, but in the present, he is one of football’s most fun to watch athletes. I’m also going to use this space to replay one of my favorite highlights of all time. Long live BEAST MODE:
Have a great weekend!
If you’ve got an idea for a Would You Rather, put it in the comments below and message me on Twitter @subtlehyperbole.
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