If Mike Shanahan wants to hitch his wagon to John Beck, the Redskins’ 30-year-old mystery quarterback, far be it for me to stop him. But I will stop him if he tries to compare the halting start to Beck’s career to the halting start to Steve Young’s career. Them’s fightin’ words.
He did just that in a recent interview with Mike Wise of the Washington Post. Among other things, he asserted that Young:
● Was 2-14 as a starter with the Bucs before coming to the 49ers. (Actually, it was 3-16, according to pro-football-reference.com, but 2-14 is close enough.)
● Went 5-5 in his first season as the No. 1 guy in San Francisco (1991) – after Joe Montana got hurt – and had people saying he “could never do what Joe did.”
What Shanahan is suggesting is that, hey, if success could come to Young late in his career, then it could come to Beck late in his career, too. Fair enough. Every man is entitled to his opinion. But in making such a suggestion, Shanny ignores an awful lot of contrary information. Such as:
● When, as a Niners assistant, he “got ahold of” Young in 1992, Steve was hardly a schlub. In fact, he had just led the NFL in passer rating (101.8), completing 64.5 percent of his throws and averaging a league-high 9 yards per attempt. Shanahan undoubtedly contributed to his development in the next three seasons, but Young was already progressing nicely. He just happened to be stuck behind one of the greatest quarterbacks in pro football history. With almost any other team, he would have been a regular.
● Beck has started a grand total of four NFL games – all as a Dolphins rookie in 2007. Young, by the time Shanahan “got ahold of” him, had started 39 games (plus two more seasons in the United States Football League).
● Those Tampa Bay clubs Young played on were some of the worst in recent memory. The Bucs went 2-14 in ’85 and again in ’86. The second season, Steve was sacked 47 times in 410 dropbacks. That’s ridiculous, considering how mobile he was. (He was also the team’s second-leading rusher that year – running for his life, for the most part.) And yet … when the Bucs decided to trade him (and draft Vinny Testaverde), he was still valuable enough to be worth second- and fourth-round draft picks. What was Beck worth when the Redskins acquired him last August from the Ravens? Answer: practice squad defensive back Doug Dutch.
● When the USFL disbanded in 1986, Young was the first player taken in the supplemental (read: dispersal) draft held by the NFL. The third player taken in that draft was offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman, who wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The fourth player taken in that draft was defensive end Reggie White, who also wound up in Canton. This tells you two things: One, the USFL was a pretty good league. Two, Young was still highly thought of when he came out of it.
● Young, at 22, was the No. 1 quarterback for the USFL’s Los Angeles Express. Beck, at 22, was a freshman QB at Brigham Young (and was starting by the end of the season).
● Young, at 26, was in his fifth year in the pros. Beck, at 26, was in his first year in the pros (and the only one in which he saw any regular-season action).
There really isn’t much comparison between Steve Young in 1992 and John Beck in 2011 – except maybe in the mind of Mike Shanahan. To Shanny, Young and Beck would be perfect subjects for the revised edition of Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives.” If Plutarch had been a sportswriter, that is.