State Your Case: Why Bryant Young deserves more from HOF

Bryant Young photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

When we had NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal on last week’s broadcast, we asked him for an out-of-the-box choice for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So he gave us one.

Former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive tackle Bryant Young.

It’s not that Young isn’t qualified. He is. He was a 1990s’ all-decade choice. But what makes him a wildcard is that in his five years of Pro Football Hall-of-Fame eligibility, Bryant Young has never been a semifinalist. That means he’s never been one of the top 25 candidates in any year, and that’s more than surprising for someone with his qualifications.

It’s downright wrong.

Young not only was one of the best defensive tackles of his era, but he had more tackles and tackles for losses than Hall-of-Famer Warren Sapp and only seven fewer sacks (96.5-89.5). He had more safeties, too, with a 49ers’ record of three.

He was named to the Pro Bowl four times. He was named All-Pro four times. He was the 1999 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He starred for a Super Bowl winner (1994) and the NFL’s top defense (1997). And he was held in such high regard by the 49ers that, until this year, no one since his retirement wore his number 97.

“No offense to Warren Sapp,” Turney wrote earlier this year, “but Bryant Young was a more complete tackle. Sapp played the ‘three technique;’ Young had to play both the ‘shade’ tackle and the ‘three’ tackle. (And) he played the run better. Just solid in every way.”

Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers

So why isn’t he held in such high regard by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s board of selectors? Sapp was a first-ballot choice, but Young can’t get a sniff. But why? I wish I knew, and Young – who today is defensive line coach for Atlanta – wishes he did, too.

“It’s a bit baffling,” he said this week. “When you look at the numbers and the span of my career, it makes you wonder. When all the things that you consider in terms of character and representation of the game … and just the impact you make on a team and the organization … I think it deserves to be talked about.”

So do I.

He checked most of the boxes in his 14-year career. He was a Super-Bowl champion. He was an all-decade choice. He was an All-Pro multiple times. He’s among the all-time leaders in sacks at his position. He overcame a career-threatening injury. And he was a team leader. So what’s the deal?

Maybe it’s because he wasn’t as outrageous, boisterous, surly, marketable, you name it, as a Warren Sapp. Young not only is a private individual; he’s quiet, considerate and uncomfortable talking about himself. But he played with such a passion and fury on the field that he won the 49ers’ most prestigious honor – the Len Eshmont award – a team-record eight times, including the last four seasons of his career.

The award is given annually to the player who best exemplifies the insipirational and courageous play of former 49er Len Eshmont, and this is all you need to know about Bryant Young: His eight selections lap the field. No other player in the history of the award, which dates back to 1957, won it more than twice.

Not Joe Montana. Not Jerry Rice. Not Steve Young … or Roger Craig … or Hugh McElhenny … or Ronnie Lott … or John Brodie. Nobody.

So maybe it’s because he wasn’t a sack machine. Yeah, I know, defensive tackles aren’t known for sacks, nor should they be. Yet sacks are the sexy statistics that attract the most interest and often are used as measuring sticks of defensive linemen. Young had two seasons with double-digit sacks; Sapp had four.

Or maybe it’s the position. Defensive tackle is not considered a glamorous position, but it’s one of the most important in today’s game. Yet there hasn’t been a modern-era defensive tackle chosen to the Hall since Sapp in 2013, while Curley Culp – widely considered the best nose tackle in the game’s history – had to wait over 30 years before reaching Canton.

Or maybe it’s all of the above, I don’t know.

What I do know is what I saw, and what I saw in Bryant Young was an extraordinary and complete player whom opponents had trouble defending. In fact, when then-teammate Dana Stubblefield produced a career-best 15 sacks in 1997, winning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, some within the organization believed Young deserved part of that award – mostly because opponents were more concerned with him than Stubblefield.

“I thought Bryant Young was a force to be concerned about when you played the 49ers,” said Hall-of-Fame general manager Ron Wolf. “He was strong at the point of attack, but, even more so, was a penetrating type of defensive lineman. You had to be aware of where he was at all times.

“I doubt seriously he received the publicity he should have, but he was, to put it frankly, a pain in the butt to play against. He kept coming all the time. Relentless in his effort on every play. Really admire how he performed for San Francisco.

“I certainly think he is deserving of Hall-of-Fame discussion. He reminded me of a somewhat larger John Randle, though not as good a player as John was overall. It would be hard to find too many people, however, who were as good as John was with the Vikings.”

Wolf’s Green Bay Packers almost annually had to deal with Young, and, like other opponents, they didn’t go to sleep on him. You couldn’t. But Hall-of-Fame voters have, and it’s high time that ends. Bryant Young deserves nothing less.

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  1. bachslunch
    August 22, 2017

    Bryant Young’s honors are a little light (2/4/90s, about like Joe Klecko), but not poor, either. Long career as well. And as John T. suggests, he reportedly looks solid in film study; remember reading something positive about him via a Dr. Z article. Can definitely see a HoF case for him.

  2. August 22, 2017

    What a class act. Him and Steve Young are my 2 favorite 49ers. Met him outside the facility a couple of times and he always stopped his car to sign autographs. Want to talk about respect? When he took a leg injury in a game, all the O-linemen from the opponent (I think it was Seattle) were patting him on the shoulder. Tell me if you’ve ever seen that happen? I’m not sure if he’s regarded fondly by the Yorks though. I once saw Jed York outside the facility and asked him “hey Jed do you think we may have a Bryant Young day at a game?” and he seemed annoyed by the question and responded “i don’t know”. I think the guy is great and I wish he were on our staff. I have his authentic jersey signed twice by him in a glass case hanging in my office still to this day. Thank you for the forum, sincerely Steven Fusco Bronx N.Y.

    • August 22, 2017

      I covered him 1994-1999. Loved the guy. Great player. Better guy. One of the classiest acts on or off the field. One of my favorites in that locker room. Always, always accountable.

  3. August 22, 2017

    good article; also remember we need to get John Brodie and Roger Craig added.

    • August 22, 2017

      Believe this is Craig’s last year as a modern-era candidate. Deserving. Gets hurt by splitting career at FB and RB. Elected to Pro Bowl at both, so he shouldn’t. But seems to have lost momentum.

  4. Eric
    August 22, 2017

    I live in So Cal I was saw Jackie Slater out and about, and the one question I ask him was was Bryant Young a hall of Famer, He looked at me and said “yes absolutely” and I was happy for a week. Also want about Roger Craig 1000 1000 has to count for something. Come on man! How come Marshall Faulk and Craig is not?

  5. Don Hogue
    August 22, 2017

    Couldn’t agree more. Bryant Young is a standard bearer for all DTs.

  6. Chris
    August 22, 2017

    He is one of my all time favorites! I’ve always wanted his Jersey, but can never find it! Even when I try to customize one, it wont let me! People tend to only think of Justin Smith (who is amazing) But they forget the impact Young had! I wish he coached our D line!

    • Rick Gosselin
      August 22, 2017

      Bryant Young was an all-decade selection. That makes him amazing as well.

  7. Chad
    August 22, 2017

    It’s about time BY is spoken about.
    The 90’s Niner had alot of great talent, but B.Y. was always the less spoken of. I remember that Monday night football game when K. Nortor Jr. fell on his leg, nasty. But next season…. BOOM baby, back. I dont understand, Bryant has always been a threat on every play, and single handly took charge of what a great DT plays like. Why is this guy not on the replay films on NFL network.

  8. […] Over at Talk of Fame, they asked this same question and have little in the way of answering. They mentioned Warren Sapp as a comparison, with their interviewee, NFL historian John Turney, suggesting that Young was a more complete and difference-making player than Sapp, who was a first ballot Hall of Famer. […]

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