More than two decades later, even after he was voted the NFL’s MVP, Young’s performance anxiety spiked to nearly crushing levels, making him wonder if he’d survive certain seasons as he tried to replace Joe Montana.
So why did Young share so openly throughout 389 pages? The answer: He didn’t intend to have it published. He hired an author, Jeff Benedict, to help him write it with the intention of giving it to his four children, none of whom had been born when his career ended in 1999. But a close friend read the book and insisted he share it.
Young recently laughed when he recalled his response: “Oh, no.” His response now: Oh, now I get it.
Young has started to grasp that his story can profoundly impact and encourage others.
“That blows me away,” Young said. “Honestly, one of the things I didn’t want was for (my anxiety) to lead the way. I guess my fear is that I didn’t want it to be the thing. I felt like that informed part of my life, but there were a lot of things that informed my life. But for it (to help other people)? I’m blown away that that’s possible. And that would be awesome.” If you suffer from anxiety, check out this CBD FAQ to see how it could help you.
Young’s gift for football, what he was seemingly made to do, could also make him physically ill.
His paradox is captured when he writes of his mindset during his career, “I long to be the best quarterback in the NFL. I dread being the best quarterback in the NFL.”
Football exacerbated his biggest fear: disappointing others. During the offseasons, without a game looming, his anxiety dissipated. And now, 17 years removed from his final start, it has vanished.
“I don’t notice it,” Young said. “If you keep going through it, maybe you can work it out.”
There are ways to cope with anxiety, for example using cbd gummies from somewhere like https://puregreenliving.com/best-cbd-gummies. However, in an effort to harness his anxiety, Young, who wasn’t diagnosed until he was 32, went to elaborate lengths to minimize pressure.
At BYU, where he began his career as an eighth-stringer, he didn’t tell his parents when he vaulted to No. 2 on the depth chart. The pressure was mounting. He was an injury away from playing, but he told himself the promotion was trivial if he didn’t inform his mom and dad.
With the 49ers, before playing on Monday nights, he refused to watch NFL games on Sundays. The reason: He’d feel even more anxious if Pro Bowl peers such as Troy Aikman or Jim Kelly had stakes-raising performances.
Instead, Young stayed in his hotel room, watched “City Slickers” on a near-endless loop and had his roommate, tight end Brent Jones, bring him bananas and energy bars for breakfast.
No one else knew, but Young’s anxiety was the reason he and Jones, a friend who doubled as an amateur counselor, were the only 49ers who shared a room.
Still, Young’s efforts were futile, given the Triple Crown of Pressure that encompassed his career.
At BYU, he replaced Jim McMahon, the best quarterback in school history. In the USFL, he faced impossible-to-realize expectations created by his $40 million contract, then the biggest in pro sports history. And, then, finally, with the 49ers he replaced Montana, an exalted figure who is among the greatest in NFL history.
Young, a devout Mormon, also has never sipped alcohol or used recreational drugs, common pressure-relieving vices for the anxiety-ridden. In 1991, when he had a halfhearted visit with a psychologist, Young writes, the doctor was “stunned” when informed he’d navigated his first 30 years completely sober.
Before pressure nearly crushed him in 1993, Young had often considered quitting football.
In 1984, after he finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, he was viewed as the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. And while driving to a workout at BYU with the Bengals, who had the first pick, he fantasized about staying in Provo, earning a law degree and starting a family.
Later, just after signing his mega-deal with the USFL’s Los Angeles Express, Young expressed his non-football dream to his agent, Leigh Steinberg, before meeting reporters at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Couldn’t he be an average Joe instead of the $40 Million Man? Steinberg’s response: “Steve, you’d never be satisfied with that life.”
Young forged ahead, but he was staggering in 1993, his first season without Montana on the roster. He was the defending league MVP, but he’d thrown six interceptions in a 1-1 start. Replace a legend? He told a friend he couldn’t even survive the season.
Before a Week 3 game at Candlestick Park against the Falcons, Young was vomiting because of nerves and hadn’t slept for 36 hours, a wreck on the cusp of a revelatory moment.
After beating the Falcons, he followed through on a pregame pledge to seek help if the 49ers won. On a training-room table, Young shared his secret with a team doctor and, in turn, received a gift.
Young, in tears, haltingly began spilling his story to Dr. James “Reggie” Klint, who wrapped him in a tearful embrace. He understood, he told Young, and had endured crippling anxiety, particularly in medical school.
“I was like ‘What?’ ” Young said. “He says, ‘I know exactly what’s happening.’ I said, ‘What is it? I don’t know what you’re talking about?’ ”
“ ‘You had separation anxiety when you were a kid. It’s normal. People have it.’ ”
“… All the sudden, you’re scared to death to say something and the team doctor starts crying and we hug it out. ‘Really? Holy cow.’ I just remember that flood of relief. And then it was like, ‘My, gosh, why didn’t I say something when I was 8?’ ”
Young followed up with several helpful visits to a psychologist, but his breakthrough came with Klint, who truly understood. For years, Young had tried to confide to well-meaning family members and friends, who looked quizzical: Didn’t most professional athletes have pregame nerves?
But Young, who longed to be like some of his always-joking teammates, knew he was different. His sky-high fear of failure drove him to Hall of Fame heights, but it also made him feel ashamed, weak and guilty.
Klint explained it wasn’t his fault. Anxiety can result from past experiences, and it can also be inherited (Young believes his is genetic). Klint also explained that Young was as gritty away from football as he was on the field.
“It was like, ‘Wow, you are one tough sucker,’ ” Young said. “That helped. And finding out that it had a name. It’s on my mom’s side of the family. My uncle. It’s sprinkled around.”
Young is a legendary athlete with a law degree — an ultra-success — but he’s humanized by his story. His anxiety may be gone, but he suspects it would revisit if a playoff game was imminent.
He is free, but realizes others are in the midst of the type of crisis he endured 23 years ago when his breaking point resulted in a blessing.
For those, perhaps many still clinging to their secret, his book is a gift from someone who truly understands.
Eric Branch is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org