In his autobiography, Young had stories about his actual career on the field, his battle with anxiety, but also one of his experiences with a ref giving him some help in exchange for the date of his dreams.
After his college football career at Brigham Young University, Young chose to play professionally in the USFL with a contract offer that was too rich to turn down, signing with the Los Angeles Express. His time with the team wasn’t long-lived though, so he bought out his historic deal that would pay him until 2027 and entered the NFL Supplemental Draft.
In 1985, before he went on to win three Super Bowls as a San Francisco 49er, Young joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and started five games as a rookie for the struggling franchise. But it wasn’t the winning or losing, or even his stats, that make this season so notable.
In his autobiography, QB: My Life Behind the Spiral, and detailed by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in a column he wrote for MMQB, the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback told the story about a most-strange occurrence from an NFL head referee. Partway into the second quarter of a game against the Indianapolis Colts, the referee pulled Young out of the huddle and told him about his daughter at Young’s alma mater, who he thought Young should take out for a date.
Here’s how Young remembers it:
“‘Hey, listen, my daughter’s going to BYU,’ he whispers. Next thing I know he starts trying to convince me that I should meet his daughter. ‘I’d like you to take her out,’ he says.
“I cannot believe this. We’re in the middle of a game! ‘Oh, okay,’ I said. ‘What’s her name?’ He tells me and I return to the huddle.”
The story may not be as interesting if it ended there with a simple date offer. It would be weird, but nothing more. But it didn’t end there. The next thing to happen was the referee making sure to sweeten the pot.
Late in the fourth quarter, Young was trying to lead a comeback and trailing by eight points. While trying to make a play with his legs, Young was hit hard and forced to fumble. The Colts recovered the loose ball, but the ref tossed an unnecessary roughness flag, giving the quarterback a favorable call in hopes that he’ll actually go through with the date.
“I scramble out of the pocket and take a brutal hit. It causes me to fumble just before the whistle blows to stop the play. I am lying on the ground when the defense recovers the loose ball, all but sealing our defeat. Suddenly out of nowhere a yellow flag lands next to me. The referee whose daughter is headed to BYU calls a personal foul on the defense. First down, Tampa Bay. I get up and brush myself off. Then the ref walks past me and whispers she likes Italian food.”Advertisement
— Steve Young, via Sports Illustrated
It is pure craziness to know there was a referee willing to basically trade his integrity as an official for a small chance at having Steve Young as his son-in-law.
During that first season, the Bucs were 1-4 with Young as the starting quarterback, beating the Detroit Lions and losing to the Minnesota Vikings, Colts, and Green Bay Packers twice. He would play the 1986 season in Tampa as well, but then was traded to San Francisco to back up Joe Montana.
He played for the 49ers for 13 seasons, starting eight of those and leading the team to a Super Bowl in 1994. They beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship before beating the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. He was also a part of two other Super Bowls when Montana led the team to wins over the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals in 1988 and 1989.
On October 5, 2008, the 49ers retired Steve Young’s iconic No. 8 jersey forever. It’s one of the most prized collectors items among NFL fans of the late 80s and 1990s.
Young’s career was full of highlights, but getting asked on a date by a referee? That might take the cake.