Great Endings Have Humble Beginnings #3: Jon’s Story

Great Endings Have Humble Beginnings #3: Jon’s Story

Jon was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 11, 1961 and raised in Greenwich, Connecticut.

His football career commenced in earnest at the tender age of 9 with Pop Warner Little Scholars (more commonly known simply as “Pop Warner”, a nonprofit organization that provides activities such as American football, for over 425,000 youths aged 5 to 16 years old, in several nations; it is the largest youth football organization in the United States).

High School Accolades

Jon went on to attend Greenwich High School, nicknamed the Cardinals, where he played quarterback.

He earned 1978 All-FCIAC (Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference) West Division First Team honors in his junior year, his first year as a starter.

Honors aside, Jon was not satisfied with his passing results.

So he proceeded down to the high school woodshop and fashioned a wooden football with tape for laces. In one end, he screwed in an eye hook and used that to latch the wooden football to a weight machine pulley in the high school gym. Then, gripping the ball, he’d move it back and forth in a passing motion, the added resistance developing his forearms and shoulders.

This little exercise made a BIG difference in his performance.

In his senior year, Jon rushed for 13 touchdowns and earned All-FCIAC West Division First Team honors and was named to the CIAC All-State team. In the rush-first option offense run by Greenwich, he ran the ball 267 times for 1,928 yards. Although his passing completion was only 41 percent, his 1,220 yards in the air was double over his junior year.

On Thanksgiving Day in November 1979, Greenwich lost to Darien High School, known for its “Tidal Wave Defense”, 17-0.

During his senior year, he was co-captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams. In basketball, he averaged 15 points a game. In baseball, he hit .384 and played center field when he wasn’t pitching. He was 5-1 as a pitcher & threw a 3-0 no-hitter against New Canaan High School.

Up until this point in his life, nobody could reasonably question Jon’s natural athletic ability.

The road ahead was about to get bumpy.

Collegiate Career

He was heavily recruited by the University of North Carolina, but elected to pursue his college football dreams at a school out west.

Jon commenced his collegiate career as the 8th-string quarterback. Given his lowly status on the depth chart, his coach relegated him to the “hamburger squad” — a unit composed of the least valuable players whose primary role was to run plays for the team’s defensive units. In fact, the coaches at one point considered switching Jon to defensive back because of his athleticism.

“Man, I wanted to go home”, he recalled. “I went to school my whole first semester with my bags packed…I remember calling [my dad] and just saying ‘Coaches don’t know my name. I’m just a big tackling dummy for the defense. Dad, it’s horrible. And this is just not what I expected…and I think I’d like to come home.'”

Jon’s father, whom Jon described as “the ultimate tough guy”, told him: “You can quit…But you can’t come home because I’m not going to live with a quitter. You’ve known that since you were a kid. You’re not coming back here.”

He stayed.

All season, Jon was first to practice and last to leave. After the team’s last game during his freshman year, he stepped up his private workouts: “There was a huge net hanging at the far end of the field house. I squatted behind an imaginary center, took the snap, did the three-step drop and threw into the net. From the beginning of January to the end of February, I threw over 10,000 spirals. My arm hurt. But I wanted to be a quarterback.”

By sophomore year, Jon had moved up from 8th string quarterback to #2 on the depth chart.

By his junior year, he was the starter.

Jon’s senior season in 1983 was spectacular. He passed for 3,902 yards and 33 touchdowns in the regular season; and his 71.3% completion percentage set an NCAA single-season record. He also added 544 yards rushing. With Jon at quarterback, his team set an NCAA record by averaging 584.2 yards of total offense per game, with 370.5 of those yards coming from his passing and rushing. The team finished the year with an impressive 11–1 record. Jon was named First Team All-American by several news organizations and received the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, which recognizes the nation’s best collegiate quarterback each year. He also finished second in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

USFL Calling

In March of 1984, Jon signed a record ten-year, $40 million contract with the upstart USFL’s Los Angeles Express. He agreed to take his payment in the form of an annuity paid out over forty years to help the fledgling team (and, by extension, the league).

Here, he would encounter more bumps along his road to glory.

After missing the first six games of his rookie season while taking some college classes in order to graduate on time, Jon started the final twelve. He had a respectable year, highlighted by becoming the first pro football player ever to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 in a single game.

But the 1985 season turned out to be a fiasco and the league folded the following year.

Transition To The NFL

Jon was the first player selected in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft of USFL and CFL Players, signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985. The team posted 2–14 records in his two seasons with them, going 3–16 as the starting quarterback. He threw for only 11 touchdowns with 21 interceptions while completing fewer than 55% of his passes. In spite of these atrocious numbers, the coach of another NFL team was impressed by Jon’s natural abilities and felt that his problems were due more to the struggling Bucs organization than anything else.

Jon was subsequently traded to this team purely to serve as a backup to their well-established starting quarterback.

The lesson that persistence eventually delivers rewards was one upon which he relied over the next four years as he sat on the bench with this new team.

Rather than request a trade, Jon apprenticed himself to the current starting quarterback, a quarterback who would go on to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“If I was ever going to find out just how good I could get, I needed to stay…and learn, even if it was brutally hard to do so…I many times thought about quitting…I heard boos during my sleepless nights, but I feared calling my dad. I knew what he’d say: ‘Endure to the end'”.

Well, endure he did.

After a smattering of starts interrupted by injuries & uneven play, Jon permanently took over the reigns at quarterback for the 1993 season.

Twice named Most Valuable Player in the NFL, Jon was selected MVP of Super Bowl XXIX, during which he completed a record-breaking six touchdown passes. At the time of his retirement following the 1999 season, he was the highest-rated quarterback in NFL history (96.8).

Jon Young currently serves as an NFL analyst for ESPN.

But you probably know him by his middle name, Steven.

Jon Steven Young, more popularly known as Steve Young.

(If Paul Harvey were telling this tale now instead of me, this is the part where he’d proudly announce “And now you know the rest of the story.”)

As an added point of interest, Steve Young is a great-great-great-grandson of Brigham Young, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for whom Brigham Young University (BYU) is named. Steve’s father, LeGrande “Grit” Young, played football at BYU in the late 1950s.

Steve’s jersey #8 has since been retired by both the San Francisco 49ers and his alma mater, the BYU Cougars. In 2001, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

I suppose you could call that a great ending, right?

Yours in success,

Bart Rippl


Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth


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