THE 1998 American football season promised to be one dominated by the exploits of a new breed of exciting young quarterbacks. Instead, a month into the current campaign, the old guard are holding firm with a vengeance.
Steve Young, the San Francisco 49ers' inappropriately named playmaker, will celebrate his 37th birthday in a matter of days, but just like Denver's John Elway, Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins and the Seattle Seahawks' Warren Moon, he shows no signs of slowing down.
On Sunday, Young tore the Atlanta Falcons to pieces, the 49ers winning 31-20, a scoreline that masks the fact that the 49ers scored on their first five possessions and simply looked in a different class to their previously unbeaten rivals.
Young completed 28 of his 39 pass attempts for 387 yards and three touchdowns, and could have had a lot more if the 49ers elected to press home their superiority in the second half.
In three games to date this season, Young has thrown for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns each time, the first such streak of his 14- year career. At this rate, he will surpass the numbers he achieved in 1992, when he was named the league's most valuable player.
"I can't imagine ever being more comfortable than I was in 1992, but over the years you do get smarter," he said. "You have a much better handle on the full orchestra, the trombones, everything."
A naturally modest man, Young is not the type to blow his own trumpet, yet the fact that San Francisco have generated more than 500 yards of offense every game this season is a tribute to his mastery of the game.
He is also assisted by Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver ever to play the game. Last season, Rice's career hung in the balance as he shattered his right knee in the first game of the campaign, only to rush his return and fracture the same kneecap. …