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(EDITOR'S NOTE: To listen to the Bryant Young interview, click on the following link: https://www.spreaker.com/user/fullpresscoverage/eyetest-20220112-1051)

Among the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, former San Francisco defensive tackle Bryant Young is the comeback story that deserves to be retold – and I’m not talking about his return as a candidate for Canton.

Young was a first-time finalist two years ago, then mysteriously disappeared from the group in 2021 … only to reappear on the ballot when the Hall’s board of selectors meets virtually next Tuesday, Jan.18, to choose the Class of 2022.

At that time, selectors will hear why some opposing linemen rank Young ahead of Hall-of-Famers Warren Sapp and John Randle and why teammates prized him so highly that eight times they named him recipient of the coveted Len Eshmont Award – given annually to the 49er who best exemplifies "courageous and inspirational play" – where no other player ... ever ... won it more than twice.

But they will also hear how he overcame a devastating injury that could have – maybe should have – ended his career to become one of the most beloved 49ers of all time.

Rewind the videotape to Monday night, Nov. 30, 1998. It’s the 12th game of the 49ers’ season, and they’re playing the New York Giants on national television. It’s midway through the fourth quarter, the 49ers are comfortably ahead, 24-7, and Giants’ quarterback Kent Graham has dropped back to pass.

“I’ll never forget that,” Young said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast (fullpresscoverage.com). “I remember on that particular play I had a good move on the guard there and beat him to go and try and sack the quarterback. He saw me coming … and he just hitched up in the pocket and started scrambling.

“So I retraced my steps, and I went to go converge. And as he went to slide I pulled up. Then here comes the linebacker, Ken Norton, just tagging him off and having his head down as I planted. His head went right into my leg. And so … I just couldn’t believe it.”

The blow was as brutal as it was swift. Young suffered a closed fracture of the tibia and fibula, a grotesque scene reminiscent of the Joe Theismann injury vs. the Giants in 1985. Horrified teammates knelt and prayed. Coach Steve Mariucci ran on to the field to be at Young’s side. Owner Eddie DeBartolo left his press-level box to comfort Young and ride with him in the back of an ambulance headed for Stanford Hospital.

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“There were a lot of memories from that night,” said Young. “It was a night to remember, for sure, and so you think in those moments (of) the pain, the injury, the suffering and the compassion that night – all of the people who cared. And for me, also, it was about: How would I ever recover from this? At the moment I was like: OK, this is really bad. What's going to happen?"

What was going to happen was that Young’s season would end immediately, and he would undergo surgery to insert an 18-inch platinum rod in his tibia to support fractured bones in his lower leg … endure complications that included compartment syndrome, a life-threatening condition that impedes blood flow … incur the threat of a possible loss of his leg … spend 17 days in the hospital … and come to the painful realization that an NFL future was no longer a certainty.

“The moment I was able to be aware of what was all going on after the surgery … that’s when I realized how significantly bad this injury was,” he said. “I had two gaping wounds on the side of my leg because of the pressure that built up after the surgery. They inserted a rod in my tibia, and I had two pins that were attached – two at the bottom and at the top of my leg. And it was me thinking: This is going to be a real tough recovery here.

“It was at that moment – it might’ve been three or four days later – when I was fully aware of what was going on … that I realized that this is going to be a tough one to overcome. And then to understand all that would have to take place in that moment to get back on the field ... I couldn’t grasp it.

"I basically was saying, ‘This is it. I think my career is over.’ But the never-quit mentality in me was like: This is another challenge, and we can overcome this. But it was a tough road back.”

Young did make it back the following season and was so successful (he had 11 sacks) he was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year and chosen to the league’s All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams. He would continue playing until 2008, missing only four games in his last nine seasons before dropping the curtain on a 14-year career that included four All-Pro selections, four Pro Bowls, all-decade inclusion, 89-1/2 sacks and a Super Bowl ring.

And, of course, that Comeback-Player-of-the-Year award.

“It is really one of the most memorable awards and impactful ones … or accolades … that I have earned,” Young said, “because of all the hard work that went into rehab and getting back on the field -- not only to play; but to be a significant factor in games to help your team win.

“Looking aback on all that transpired and that had to happen in those moments to get fully back to what I was ... it was a miracle. Lot of hard work. Lot of tough days, overcoming adversity. Lot of mental strain -- not only mentally, but physically as well.

“And so to earn something for all the effort you put into getting back on the field, that award means so, so much to me because of the impact and the devastating injury that occurred.”