The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
It was the hit that changed a little history, at least for the 49ers, and the Cardinals were the ones that delivered it. There is some irony there, given that the two are rivals now, because back in 1999, they most certainly weren’t.
Still, the concussion-inducing shot absorbed by then-49ers quarterback Steve Young by cornerback Aeneas Williams ended Young’s career, and hasn’t been forgotten.
Back in 1999, the Cards were coming off their magical 1998 playoff appearance. The 49ers were still one of the best teams in the league. San Francisco was due to visit Sun Devil Stadium in a game that was rare on many levels. It was “Monday Night Football,” only the third time the Cards had been on MNF since coming to Arizona (and long before 49er-Cardinal games became practically annual Monday night viewing). Playing the 49ers didn’t happen often. The Cards were still in the NFC East. The 1999 game was only the third time SF would play in Arizona – although the first one remained (and still remains) a classic for Cards fans.
Then came the game. Young had piloted the Niners to a 17-0 when, late in the first half, Young was sandwiched by cornerbacks Williams and J.J. McCleskey coming on blitzes from each side. Williams drilled Young in the chest, and Young’s head banged into a teammate’s knee on his way to the turf. He was down and out, replaced by an unknown named Jeff Garcia, who threw for just 30 yards while the Niners held on to a 24-10 win.
Young was worried about his future, but wanted to keep playing football. Even the following June, Williams talked about how he wanted Young to keep playing. But a few days later, Young finally was forced to admit his career was over, while Williams recounted that night. “I remember it being really quiet, and seeing him laid out on the field,” Williams said. Young never did play again after Williams hit him.
In 2008, the Niners came to play the Cards in Arizona for “Monday Night Football.” Williams was there as alumni captain, and Young was too as part of the ESPN television crew. It made sense to bring up the story, and Young was asked if he would talk about that night at Sun Devil Stadium. He made clear it wasn’t a subject he wanted to re-visit. I’d imagine if the same scenario came up again, in the context of today’s Cardinals-49ers relationship, it’d be an even bigger sore spot.
Tags: 49ers, Aeneas Williams, ESPN, J.J. McCleskey, Jeff Garcia, Revisionist history, Steve Young
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