It was hard to witness Dak Prescott’s season-ending injury last weekend, but it was harder for some than it was for others.
Like former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive lineman Bryant Young.
Young endured a similar experience in Week 13 of the 1998 season when he fractured his lower right leg — an injury so severe that he was rushed to a hospital, underwent surgery, and had a titanium rod inserted in his tibia.
Young not only recovered; he played the following season. And he played so well he was named an All-Pro and chosen the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. But that’s not all. He played eight more years after that, was named this summer to the 49ers’ Hall of Fame, and was one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020.
He was also an eight-time recipient of the 49ers’ Len Eshmont award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies inspiration and courage and considered the team’s most prestigious honor. No other player in franchise history … not Joe Montana, not Jerry Rice, not Steve Young … won it more than twice.
So Bryant Young is a testament to what is possible … and what he believes is probable with Prescott.
“When I saw Dak’s injury,” he said on this week’s “Eye Test for Two” podcast. “I had a flashback. It took me back to all those feelings. The pain. The atmosphere (where I was) kind of just lost in the moment, not really understanding what was going on.
“And then (there was) the whole process of everybody trying to tend to my injury and get me to the hospital. So all those things kind of came back. You just hate to see that happen to anybody. So my heart goes out to Dak.
“I know it’s going to be a long recovery for him. But he’s young, which is the good thing. He’s going to recover. He’s going to get better. I just wish him the best, and (know) he’s going to come back stronger. I look forward to watching him become the Comeback Player of the Year.”
Young was hurt in a nationally televised “Monday Night Football” game vs. the New York Giants on Nov. 30, 1998. It happened in the second half when he bull-rushed the pocket, closed in on quarterback Kent Graham and inadvertently collided with teammate Ken Norton’s helmet. The impact shattered Young’s right fibula and tibia and left his leg at a grotesque angle.
“I knew exactly how bad it was,” he said. “The minute the injury happened I saw my leg at a 90-degree angle, and I knew it was not good. It did not feel good for one. So the look of it was devastating.
“It’s an amazing thing, but when you don’t see an injury you don’t feel all that the injury is. And so when I took a look at it, it was like the pain intensified. I knew immediately that it was something that was pretty serious.”
So did coaches and teammates. Then-coach Steve Mariucci knelt over the fallen lineman, holding his right hand and telling him not to look at his leg. Trainers and physicians manipulated the leg into an air cast as Young screamed in pain. Teammates knelt around Young, some looking away in horror, while 49ers’ owner Eddie DeBartolo rushed down from the owner’s box to join them. He would later jump in the ambulance to accompany Young as he was whisked from Candlestick Park to Stanford Hospital, 25 miles away.
“He was giving directions to the hospital to get me there as fast as they could,” said Young. “So there was just a lot going during at that time. I knew it was going to be a hard road back. I knew (there were) going to be some question marks on whether or not I could come back and play. That’s what I was faced with.”
That is what Dak Prescott is faced with today. The recovery was slow for Young and fraught with obstacles that Prescott will confront. But Young is confident the Cowboys’ quarterback will persevere as he did 22 years earlier and, like Young, reclaim success in the future.
“We always hear about facing adversity and overcoming obstacles,” said Young. “Well, this was a really big one for me, and it was a challenge … It was tough at times. I tell you: It wasn’t easy.
“There were times where I felt I just wasn’t going anywhere in the offseason. And then just a little bit at a time you see glimmers of hope. And I would hold on to that little glimmer of hope and keep going. And then soon you just saw the tables turn, and there was light … huge light … at the end of the tunnel, and things began to get better.
“So it was remaining hopeful. A lot of things kept me grounded during the process … my faith and working hard and making sure I did everything I possibly could to do what I can to get back on the field.
“But I had a great system around me. My family was around me. I had the organization. The fans were a huge part of that as well. (And) along with that, just my fortitude and my want-to. I had an awesome system around me.”
Prescott appears to have one, too, another reason Young is sure he will be OK.
“My advice to Dak,” he said, “would be, ‘Hey, man, continue to push forward. Don’t give up hope. You’re going to get better.’
“He’s a young player. The sky is definitely the limit for him in terms of what he can do and how he can come back. I wish him nothing but the best. My heart goes out to him.”