49ers Clubhouse 

A "Young" Cade McNown

June 15, 2002

by Jeff Shaffer
Clubhouse Staff Writer

In another surprise quarterback move by the Niners, they have acquired the quarterback they coveted a few years ago. Coming out of college Cade McNown appeared to many to be the next coming of Steve Young. He seemed to possess a good arm, great mobility, a competitive fire, and that uncanny ability to make plays out of nothing when the team needed it most. 

Lets not forget McNown's final year at UCLA. He just about led that team to a national championship with what seemed like sheer offensive will. That team lacked defense in a big way, but McNown led the UCLA Bruins on an offensive terror, keeping that team alive in high scoring shoot-outs (over 40 points in 7 games) that demanded he repeatedly re-enter the game and conjure up another touchdown in the most unlikely of situations. He set school records in passing yards (3,470), touchdowns (25), total offense (3,652), and a passer efficiency rating of 156.9 (keep in mind, college ratings are typically much higher than pro ratings, this ranked 3rd in the Pac-10 conference that year). And this wasn't a fluke season for Cade, he put up similar numbers the season before in his junior year.

And now it is Donahue and Walsh at the quarterback game again. Walsh is well known for his quarterback acumen - having acquired such talents as Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jeff Garcia. 

Let's not forget though, Walsh has also been an advocate of Rick Mirer and Jake Plummer. After a great career at Notre Dame and fantastic rookie season with the Seahawks, Rick Mirer never panned out as the NFL success that Walsh seemed to think he would be. He ultimately landed with the 49ers, and some thought he might resurrect his career here under the tutelage of Walsh in the West Coast offense. But after his few disappointing years bouncing around the league, he seemed to have lost his passion for the game by the time he reached the 49ers. Jake "the snake" Plummer was thought to possibly be the next coming of Joe Montana out of college. But he has had up and down years as an Arizona Cardinal, which most people would ascribe to him playing for the Cardinals as his abilities. It is impossible to tell how good he would or wouldn't be with a better team, and in a better offense.

Which brings us to Cade McNown. He seemed to be a good fit for the Niners in the 1999 draft as a successor to Young. After all, if you are looking for a replacement for Steve Young, Cade seemed to match up the best to Young's unique abilities - both are left handed scramblers, with high passer efficiencies, and a competitive will to win. But after a couple of dismal years in Chicago and a year in Miami, Cade is an oft criticized and highly doubted prospect. But lets compare Steve Young's early years to Cade McNown's.

Steve Young had a similarly brilliant college career. In his senior year he completed 71.3 percent of his passes for 3,902 yards and 33 TDs. But he was in a significantly less competitive league playing at BYU, whereas Cade played at UCLA in the Pac 10 against nationally ranked teams. 

Lets compare their pro football statistics:

Steve Young
Year Team                Att.Comp. Yds. Pct. TD Int. Rating
1984 L.A. Express - USFL 310  179  2361 57.7 10  9   80.6
1985 L.A. Express - USFL 250  137  1741 54.8  6 13   63.1
1985 Buccaneers          138   72   935 52.2  3  8   56.9
1986 Buccaneers          363  195  2282 53.7  8 13   65.5

Cade McNown
Year Team                Att. Comp. Yds. Pct. TD Int. Rating
1999 Chicago Bears       235  127  1465 54.0  8 10   66.7
2000 Chicago Bears       280  154  1646 55.0  8  9   68.5
2001 Miami Dolphins        0    0     0  0.0  0  0    0.0

The similarities are striking - mediocre completion percentages, low TD to INT ratios, and low overall efficiency ratings. 

Like McNown, there were some personal criticisms of Steve Young when he entered pro football - he opted for the USFL instead of the NFL, he pursued and held out for a mega bucks contract in his rookie season with the LA Express. He was rumored to be unhappy in Tampa Bay. And it was widely rumored Young was unhappy and temperamental sitting on the bench behind Montana. The criticisms of Cade have been different - that he alienated fans and teammates in Chicago with his criticism of them and immaturity. But this may indicate an underlying similarity -- both personalities seem to be highly competitive and clearly had difficulty being part of struggling teams. 

Steve Young's first few years as a pro football player didn't seem to bode well for his future greatness. Even so, Bill Walsh saw something in Young worth trading for in 1987. Young's improvement with the 49ers seemed to be instantaneous. Even though he wasn't the starter, his passer rating skyrocketed in the Niners system. The biggest improvement was in the TD to INT ratio, indicating his improved performance within the offensive system.

Year  Team Att. Comp. Yds. Pct. TD Int. Rat.
1987 49ers  69   37   570  53.6 10  0  120.8
1988 49ers 101   54   680  53.5  3  3   72.2
1989 49ers  92   64  1001  69.6  8  3  120.8
1990 49ers  62   38   427  61.3  2  0   92.6

Let's just hope Cade McNown can develop in the 49ers system like Steve Young did. He seems to have the right physical tools, time will tell if he has the fierce desire, firm commitment, and intelligence that Steve Young and Jeff Garcia have used to ultimately succeed with the 49ers. 

Steve Young went on to become a great quarterback and team leader. He set a standard for competitiveness, performance, AND good sportsmanship that is still highly admired around the league. Jeff Garcia has followed in Young's footsteps admirably. 

Maybe Cade McNown can enjoy similar success in the 49ers system. And maybe in a couple of years we'll hear rumors he is unhappy about being number 2 behind the fan favorite Jeff Garcia. At that point, instead of shunning Cade, we will hopefully remember how we came to love that flip-flop wearing, uncombed hair guy - Steve young - that thrilled us with his spectacular "no helmet" scrambling, those unforgettable facial expressions, his passion for the game, and his fantastic play. Let's hope Cade develops into that guy - we'd be blessed to have another quarterback lineage like that again.

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