Steve Young has been where this current iteration of the 49ers are trying to go. He's hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. Bathed in glory's light.
Most of these 49ers, who now are 14-3 after a divisional-round win over the Minnesota Vikings, have never been on the biggest stage. Young has been speaking to the team, along with Jerry Rice and other past greats, since head coach Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch took over the franchise in 2017.
With the rebuild complete and the 2019 49ers speeding toward a Super Bowl berth, Young told them a story prior to their Week 16 game against the Los Angeles Rams. One to illustrate the importance of being 100 percent focused on the task at hand.
In a story published Wednesday, ESPN's Nick Wagoner detailed how Shanahan and Lynch have made their team embrace the 49ers' glorious past.
Per Wagoner, Young told the 49ers a story of the days before Super Bowl XXIX. Those 49ers finished the regular season 13-3, had rolled over the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs. They were 18.5-point favorites against the San Diego Chargers in Miami, where the 49ers would play Super Bowl LIV should they beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at Levi's Stadium.
Curfew in Miami was set for 11:15, but cornerback Deion Sanders didn't get back to the hotel until 11:40. The next day, coach George Seifert and his staff left the room so Young and Rice could address the team.
That's when, as Young tells it, Rice lit into Sanders, letting him know that sort of behavior was unacceptable that close to the biggest game of the season.
"It was intense," Rice told Wagoner of his talk with Sanders. "I just felt like, there's plenty of time to really just have fun after the big game is over. You have to be accountable and lock in on what matters the most."
With the 49ers now one win away from an NFC title and a trip to Miami to Super Bowl LIV, Young's story continues to hit home for a group that has been the most complete team in the NFL all season.
"He kind of put a foot in Deion's a-- and got on him," cornerback Richard Sherman told Wagoner. "And Deion took offense to it, and the rest of the team was like, 'No, you're wrong. You're definitely wrong on this.' They said it was just a huge moment for the team because it was just accountability. Everybody has to be held accountable."
That message of accountability is one the 49ers surely will take to heart as they prepare to face Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers waxed the Packers 37-8 back in Week 12, but they can't be overconfident due to a midseason beatdown. The Packers have won six in a row since the loss, and Rodgers is the type of generational player who can will a team to victory -- even if he's never won a game as at least a touchdown underdog.
Shanahan's club has come a long way from the rebuilding project he took over in 2017. Now, they are the big bullies of the NFC. The team no one wants to play.
If they keep their focus and lock in on the task at hand, they should be headed to Miami with a chance to win the franchise its sixth Super Bowl.
Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of "49ers Central" all week (8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday)
Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for "49ers Pregame Live," with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.
Steve Young told 49ers Jerry Rice-Deion Sanders story as Super Bowl lesson originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area