SAN FRANCISCO -- Steve Young slipped one tackle at the 5-yard line, then caromed off two more would-be tacklers at the goal line yesterday to get where he was going.
The 49ers' gritty quarterback nearly wrote the travel ticket himself in a 14-0 wild-card playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles when he ran for one touchdown and threw for the other, playing the entire second half with bruised ribs that required more than one shot of novacaine.
"I look at the guy playing hurt, running around out there making plays, and it's inspirational," said teammate Gary Plummer, a linebacker not necessarily disposed to quarterbacks. "It was kind of like at Cincinnati, when he came back and galloped in for the winning touchdown."
By now, the shock value of Young's ability to play with pain has long since worn off for the 49ers. They saw him limp back onto the field against Cincinnati in Week 8 and direct a three-touchdown comeback. They saw him try to come back from a concussion the following week in Houston, only to have the team doctor bar his return.
Even though a groin injury and two concussions knocked Young out of four games this season -- and parts of four others -- his reputation for playing hurt is one of the team's defining characteristics.
"If you watch Steve enough, you'll see him aching," said 49ers tackle Steve Wallace. "It's like he's about to die. [But] we're used to it. He's a competitor. It would have taken horses to drag him out today. As long as he can walk, he will play."
Still, it was dismaying for the rain-drenched crowd of 56,460 at 3Com Park to watch Young head for the locker room with two minutes left in the first half yesterday and the 49ers nursing a 7-0 lead.
He injured the ribs on his left side when he finished off a 9-yard touchdown run 3: 50 into the second quarter. On third-and-one, on a designed quarterback draw, Young bolted up the middle for the end zone.
He squeezed through an opening in the line and eluded linebacker William Thomas, then took a hit on either side from William Fuller and Darion Conner.
It was Conner's finishing hit that knocked Young into the end zone and almost out of the game. He got up gingerly and trotted to the sideline with his left arm bent at an awkward angle.
"I probably should have [changed the play] because there were too many players in the box [around the line of scrimmage]," Young said. "I had a good shot at the goal line.
dTC "I've said many times, that's the place I'm willing to take a shot. I thought 7-0 might stand up. I didn't think it irrational to take a hit."
It would have stood up, thanks in large part to a big-play 49ers defense that stuffed the Eagles three times in the red zone. The 49ers intercepted Eagles quarterback Ty Detmer inside the 5-yard line twice.
As it was, Young returned in the second half to tease the Eagles with his scrambling and his limited passing ability. Twice he rambled through the quagmire for 18 yards and first downs. Although he couldn't throw the deep ball in the second half, he threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice in the third quarter one play after Rice made a spectacular, one-handed catch for a 36-yard pickup.
Young's second-half numbers were remarkable for his own condition and the condition of the field. After completing seven of 10 passes for 63 yards in the first half, he completed seven of 11 for 98 yards in the second.
He also was the game's leading rusher with 65 yards on 11 carries. Altogether, he personally accounted for 226 of the team's 279 yards on offense.
"He's not afraid of anything," Plummer said. "He plays like he's got nothing to lose. That's when he plays his best. He's playing on instinct."
The question now is whether Young will be able to play in the NFC semifinal game at Green Bay, where the 49ers already have lost once this season.
Young said he will have his ribs X-rayed today and spend the week rehabbing in Phoenix, where the 49ers will go to prepare for Green Bay's deep freeze.
"I'm pretty sure they're not broken," Young said.
The 49ers leave no doubt they expect their iron man to be there.
"Steve's a resilient guy," coach George Seifert said. "If there's any way, he'll be on the field next week."
The Eagles were not so resilient. They lost the game in the second quarter when they drove inside the San Francisco 20 three times -- to the 15, 7 and 4 -- only to be denied each time.
A sack by 49ers linebacker Lee Woodall from the 15 resulted in a missed 40-yard field-goal attempt by Gary Anderson. Then Detmer was picked off by cornerback Marquez Pope and defensive end Roy Barker on a pair of third-down throws.
On a day when the 49ers' field looked like soup, this seemed a perfect way to prepare for the bitter conditions they're likely to find in Green Bay.
"We got a little experience playing in the swampy tundra of Candlestick," Seifert said, chuckling at his own little joke.
Pub Date: 12/30/96