The San Francisco 49ers are back in the Super Bowl. One year after a paltry 4-12 campaign that tied them for the second-worst record in the league, San Francisco has turned into a juggernaut. Now, the Niners are 60 minutes away from capping off a year in which they won the NFC behind a backbreaking rushing attack, sound quarterback play, and a stout defense that terrorized opponents.
While Steve Young will be in Miami for Sunday’s tilt between San Francisco and the Kansas City Chiefs, that isn’t all that he has on the docket. Young, through the Forever Young Foundation and in conjunction with the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative (which doled out grants for the initiative), has teamed up with former Niners teammate Jerry Rice to open the latest 8 to 80 Zone in Miami. This will be the sixth such instillation, which looks to help kids in underserved communities develop “the skills to pursue careers in technology, esports, gaming, and media.”
Prior to Young making his way down to Miami for the ribbon cutting ceremony — which takes place on Saturday — of the newest 8 to 80 Zone and the game itself, Uproxx Sports caught up with him over the phone to discuss his foundation, the instillations, the Super Bowl, and the two guys who will line up under center at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Forever Young Foundation, I’d like to know backstory of how it was formed back in 1993 and why it was big for you to start this charity.
I’ve got to give my old agent, Lee Steinberg, credit. He told me originally, “Look, Steve, you’ve got to give back, pay it forward in your communities where you live.” We did that in high school, we did that in college, and there’s a global concept of creating … what I wanted to do, we created a children’s charity. I remember my uncle, Bob Steed, started it with me, and it was very simple. We were trying to raise money for great causes in the community and I think it was essentially to be a funding source for some of the small charities in the Bay Area that weren’t very good fundraisers, and I felt like I could do that for them and help them do great work in the community.
That’s how we started it. It’s morphed many, many times from then to now having many projects, we’re global, we’re one of the highest-rated children’s charities in Charity Navigator, and in fact, I think we’re like eighth of 15,000, it was nuts. We’ve just been really efficient and we have a great message and a great mission, and we just kind of plug along. One of our big things that we do now is called Sophie’s Place, it’s music therapy units in hospitals, and that’s been grown organically out of a tragic experience in our Forever Young family — a young girl who was a singer-songwriter passed away early and we honor her, Sophie Barton, with music therapy. Music therapy was a recent modality back 15 years ago when we started, and now, thousands and thousands of prescriptions are written every day for kids doing music therapy.
So that’s one of the many things we touch. We have schools, we’ve gone to Africa, it’s very varied, we do it very organically, we have a young family of people and we do the things that are closest to our hearts, and that’s how we’ve accomplished it over the years. I also should mention that the NFL has been a big sponsor and a help over the years. The NFL’s really worked hard, and I appreciate this, that they seek to help players — I guess this is what Inspire Change is really about too, which I really appreciate even more so, trying to help players pay it forward in their communities. I think it’s a great thing.
As I was looking into the foundation, the thing that I kept coming across was the motto, “Passing on hope and resources for the development, strength, and education of children.” How has it been able to stay true to that for nearly three decades now?
Well, that’s what we do. If you think about fundamentally, people always ask me, “Why’d you go to children’s charities?” And someone had mentioned to me as a young kid that if you change a kid’s life, you change, potentially, 80 years of life. Not that we don’t need to have senior citizens helped and adults and everything else, it just felt like as a young adult myself, it felt like, “How can we give aid to children so that their lives can be benefitted, and now benefit 80+ years.” If you can make a change in a child in a positive way, the impact is, obviously, decades long.
That’s kind of how I thought about it originally, and I think we stayed true to it because there’s never-ending needs for children’s education, health, and that’s why we’ve focused on hospitals a lot, education a lot. It’s not hard to hold true to that value statement, it’s just not complicated. Kids are at risk and we look for places where they’re at risk that we can actually make a difference. There’s a lot of projects that are way too big for us, there’s a lot of things that don’t fit because of scope or geography or anything else, but there are things that are right in our wheelhouse and we love to jump in.
With No. 6 opening up in the coming days, what are these 8 to 80 Zones and how important was getting Jerry Rice on board when they first started coming about?
It was Jerry’s idea. Jerry wanted to extend into … he saw what we were doing from an educational platform. There’s a school here in East Palo Alto where we got started, the first one, where there were kids that did not have the opportunity in music and in broadcast, in digital capabilities. That was 15 years ago when it was pretty nascent, and so we called it 8 to 80 — when I was playing with Jerry, I had thrown the most touchdowns between a quarterback and a receiver, ever in history. I think Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison might have beaten us. But at the time, 8 to 80 was the record-holder, so it felt pretty natural to call it 8 to 80, which is kind of fun, and what I’m a little bit surprised at is how other cities that aren’t necessarily around 8 to 80 and don’t necessarily cheer that on, have embraced what 8 to 80’s spirit is — in Atlanta, now Miami, and other places.
It’s fun, 8 to 80 has become as time’s gone by, it’s not necessarily about a couple football players, but just what capabilities it’s giving to especially at risk kids. I think Jerry was the first one to say, “Look, I want more fairness, I want more opportunities,” and we’ve always believed that with opportunity, anybody can thrive. So 8 to 80’s really about trying to bring more opportunity.
You touched on this a few minutes ago, but in your estimation, what is the importance of football players using the platforms that they have to make these kinds of positive impacts on their society through something like the NFL’s Inspire Change initiative?
I’ve always believed the NFL is a public-private entity. The indeed that it’s privately owned, but it’s a public trust in many ways. And the more we embrace that notion, the more good we can do, and I really applaud Inspire Change. The capability that the league has to change and inspire change is beyond … the scope is amazing. When they are willing to see it as a public trust, and then empower the players who certainly, really feel, whether it’s from where they grow up, or went to college, or where they’re playing today and they see problems in the community, to empower them to see they’re playing on this team as a public-private entity, you know what I mean? There’s a public trust to the Ravens, to the 49ers, to the Chiefs, there’s a public trust in what they represent because that’s how big the NFL is. And empowering players to extend that, giving them the platform to go extend it, you can see it’s the old 1 + 1 = 3, and the more serious the league gets in it, the more impact it can have. I really wanna amplify what the league’s doing with Inspire Change.
Let’s get into the game on Sunday. What’re the matchups that you’re gonna be paying the closest attention to on both sides of the football?
Number one, the Chiefs’ first quarter. They’re not fast starters, they’re amazing finishers. They can really send a message early, because you know the last five possessions will be wild for the Chiefs and expansive and explosive. If they can make the first three that way, they’re gonna be in a really good space.
For the 49ers, I think philosophically, they’ve always wanted to run the football, they wanna shorten games so they can keep the ball out of the other quarterback’s hands. So the end of that first quarter, if Patrick Mahomes has only touched the ball once, maybe at the end of the first quarter getting it for a second time, and they’re up 7 or 10, that’s the dream for the 49ers. And I think both of those scenarios cascade to the benefit of each team based on how they get started — are the 49ers able to hold them back and prevent them from getting the early start that they would love to have and slow the game down, or are the Chiefs able to expand early on their explosiveness? That’ll be one of the more important first quarters, I don’t wanna say in Super Bowl history, but pretty important for both teams.
You’re talking about the explosiveness of the Chiefs and I wanna talk about the quarterbacks a little bit in this game a little bit with you. When you think of the Chiefs, you’re thinking first and foremost about some of the really wild stuff we see out of Patrick Mahomes. Before diving into any of the minutiae, what’s your favorite thing about watching this guy play?
He is, and maybe it’s because he grew up around pro, I know it was pro baseball, but most of us have a transition period coming to the pros where there’s an awe. I love watching somebody who is at such comfort on the field that you get every inch of him, every expansive, creative power is at his disposal because he’s so at peace on the field. Usually young players need to transition to that — usually you’re too old to be as expansive by the time you get that comfort level, but he seems to have that at a very, very young age, and sometimes I think he does thing where he’s like, “Wow.” He surprises himself. And I think that comes out of the amazing comfort he has on the field. It’s an awareness that it usually takes years to evolve into that he had right away.
He’s faced some pretty good defenses, but this Niners defenses presents a pretty unique challenge in how aggressive it wants to be, how good it is at getting to you with four linemen. What’re the challenges he’ll face with this Niners defense and how do you expect him to respond?
The No. 1 thing he has to do is to have Nick Bosa wonder where he’s gonna throw the ball from, or that he’s actually gonna carry the ball. They have got to put the doubt into these four young pass rushers, and that’s what the Packers didn’t do — I have no idea why they didn’t do that with Aaron Rodgers, it makes no sense to me, it almost feels criminal that they didn’t. Because they didn’t put any doubt into that defensive front, they will maul everybody. But Pat is a guy that does it naturally, and I think the earlier he creates some doubt about where he’s gonna be is gonna help, because the 49ers, Kyler Murray got around and got some success, Russell Wilson always has success, Lamar Jackson beat them. There’s no question in my mind that part of that is putting doubt into that front.
On the other side, it’s Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s kinda been the opposite of Mahomes, he hasn’t been asked to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders because of how good the running attack has been, but it probably seems safe to guess Kansas City’s focus will be stopping the run. How much confidence do you have in Garoppolo’s ability to make them pay if they make that decision?
He’s done it, he did it against the Saints, he’s made game-winning throws against the Rams and the Seahawks, so he can do this. He’s not asked to do it every week, we understand that. The only concern I have is he really has not been asked to do it in the playoffs, and the playoffs are such a unique animal that, if it was me, I would have wanted to throw the ball more in the playoffs to get ready for the Super Bowl, but that’s just not how it materialized. But he’s certainly capable.
It’s interesting, because like you mentioned, he’s thrown it 27 times this postseason. If you’re in a situation like that, where it’s been run run run run run, how do you stay engaged and not let that effect your confidence if you get to a spot where you have to open up the passing game.
It’s not about confidence, necessarily, it’s just, you know, I always say with the Indianapolis 500, when you’re running around 230 miles per hour or whatever it is, you don’t wanna practice at 180 or 150, you gotta practice at 230, especially as you get into the Super Bowl. It’s just a matter of the sharpness that you have throwing the ball, making decisions, making sure you throw people open, there’s an art to it that needs to be practiced. So, when you’re not practicing it, well, you’re not practicing it. It’s not necessarily lack of confidence or a lack of anything, you’re just put into a spot where, for me, I would not wanna be in a spot where I’m not throwing the ball enough to not feel like I’m sharp. That’s just how I would look at it.
Are you a prediction maker or are you gonna save that for TV?
I’ll save that. It’s still early, Bill. You called me way too early for that one. [Laughs.]
All good. My last question, the Niners retired your number, you won three Super Bowls there, you are someone who is intrinsically linked to this organization. What’s it been like watching them go from a four-win team last year to one that has turned into a steamroller and is one win away from a Super Bowl?
Well, it actually happened in 2011 when they were really terrible, then they were great and they went to the Super Bowl. So we’ve seen this before, but this one’s different. This one feels like it’s got more lasting [ability] years into the future. This is a great locker room, a great leadership, they are partners with each other, partners with the coaches, the owner, there really is alignment. This Super Bowl run has come very early for these guys, but I get a sense that they’re gonna be hanging around it for quite awhile.