The life story of Steve Young—“QB: My Life Behind the Spiral” by Steve Young with Jeff Benedict (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), due out Oct. 11, but available for preorder now—is the rare sports book in which the heretofore pristine hero admits to some legitimate human scars. Young grew up so close to his parents that he could never attend sleepovers at friends’ homes, and the separation anxiety and homesickness was a real problem. He threatened to quit Brigham Young multiple times. Young had such performance anxiety that, before a 1993 game, he didn’t sleep for 36 hours, so petrified he was that he’d fail, and spent hours with a psychologist. In fact, that year, Young admits in the book that a depression specialist in San Francisco diagnosed him with separation anxiety and told him: “Never once have I seen an adult with the kind of separation anxiety that you have.”
This was months after Young was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, in 1992.
No one knew.
Young’s always been one of the most interesting men I’ve covered in my time covering this game. A Mormon growing up among non-Mormons in ritzy Greenwich, Connecticut. Playing behind Jim McMahon at Brigham Young. Signing the biggest contract in football history, with the USFL’s Los Angeles Express, and being sick over all the money. Jumping to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the USFL died, and then dealt to San Francisco when Bill Walsh wanted him to replace the great Joe Montana. And trying to live a normal Mormon life amidst the mayhem of the NFL. I covered Young a lot in my life, and I never knew so much of what he went through.
A few examples of the stuff I never knew, or was just plain so interesting:
• On a day spent at Joe Montana’s house, in the middle of their competition:
Bill [Walsh] scheduled a practice on Christmas. Afterward the players who were single were offered dinner at the homes of the married players. Joe invited me to dinner at his place. It was my first visit to Joe’s house. The meal was magnificent. His beautiful wife was gracious. While we were at the dinner table, Joe and I were talking when Joe’s daughter, who was probably around three years old raised her hand.
“Dad,” she said. “Dad.” Joe kept talking to me. “Dad,” she repeated. “Dad.”
“What?” Joe said sweetly.
“Is this the guy we hate?” she said innocently. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing.
“No,” Joe told her. “That was someone else.”
• On being traded from Tampa Bay to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987:
I get a call from [Bucs coach] Ray Perkins. He said, “Congratulations, you’re a St. Louis Cardinal.” I called [agent Leigh Steinberg]. He told me the Cardinals had offered the Buccaneers their first-round pick for me. That meant Tampa would have the first and second picks overall. Perkins had his eye on Alabama's All-American linebacker, Cornelius Bennett. I told Lee there was no way I was going to St. Louis. The Cardinals were another team that was going nowhere.
But I didn’t sit back and wait. I immediately called [Bucs owner] Hugh Culverhouse. I didn't even give him a chance to say hello. “You traded me to the Cardinals? You tell me I’m your quarterback for life and you send me to the Cardinals? You can’t do that to me!”
After I talk to Culverhouse, Leigh called him and issued a threat. He told him I would retire rather than go to St. Louis. Two hours later Culverhouse called me back and told me he had called off the trade.
• On the unending attention he got once the USFL died and he went to the Bucs:
Even on the field, I can’t escape the craziness. We play the Colts at home. Partway through the second quarter I’m in the huddle when the head referee taps me on the shoulder. “Can I talk to you for a second?” he says. I step away from the huddle. “Hey, listen, my daughter’s going to BYU,” he whispers. Next thing I know he starts trying to convince me that I should meet his daughter. “I'd like you to take her out,” he says.
I cannot believe this. We’re in the middle of a game! “Oh, okay,” I said. “What's her name?’’ He tells me and I return to the huddle ... Late in the game we’re down 31-23 and I'm trying to mount a comeback. I scramble out of the pocket and take a brutal hit. It causes me to fumble just before the whistle blows to stop the play. I am lying on the ground when the defense recovers the loose ball, all but sealing our defeat. Suddenly out of nowhere a yellow flag lands next to me. The referee whose daughter is headed to BYU calls a personal foul on the defense. First down, Tampa Bay. I get up and brush myself off. Then the ref walks past me and whispers she likes Italian food.
That’s why this book is life. It’s amazing, with an athlete covered so thoroughly as the NFL was getting so huge, that there’s so much you won’t know. I think you’ll like digging into it. You can preorder it here.