Steve Young's playing days could be over.
No one came out and said it directly, least of all Young, who smiled but walked past reporters without a word Thursday on his way to watch the San Francisco 49ers practice.
But clearly, the groundwork is being laid for the retirement of Young, 38, who has been sidelined indefinitely by lingering symptoms from his fourth concussion in three years.
Dr. Gary Steinberg, the chief of neurosurgery at Stanford Medical School and Young's neurologist, has given Young and the 49ers his recommendation on whether the two-time NFL MVP should continue playing.
Young, Steinberg, general manager Bill Walsh and coach Steve Mariucci all declined to discuss the nature of the doctor's recommendation.
"The only one who can answer that question is Steve Young," Walsh said.
However, Walsh did say he met with Young, discussed his future and encouraged Young to seek additional medical opinions, leading to the possible conclusion that Steinberg recommended Young retire because of the potential for long-term health risks.
"Five to 10 years from now, when he's feeling really fit, he's going to say, `Why didn't I play football? I took the advice of one physician. I should have really checked into it,"' Walsh said. "I want to make sure he really checks into everything. He has to have more than one opinion, just for his own well-being."
Walsh said there might be a formal announcement of Young's future in the next two weeks. Young also is expected to meet Friday with his agent, Leigh Steinberg, who isn't related to the doctor.
"You have to remember Steve has been playing football all his life and for anyone to think that this process is going to be real quick and rapid, it's not going to happen that way," Leigh Steinberg said. "It's a deliberate process. But all the people around Steve are trying to help him do the right things."
"The thing is he's not playing right now so he's not hurting himself. He's 38 and he does have the right to make up his own mind about this."
Walsh, Mariucci, the doctor and the agent said Young still wants to play football.
"He's trying to hang on because he's so darn good at it. Certainly, in Steve's mind, there is some hope, somewhere he's reaching for some hope that, `Hey, I'll be back,"' Mariucci said. "That's what he thinks about. That's why I don't think it's going to happen today or tomorrow. We're going to give it its due time."
Steinberg said Young has shown improvement since the hit 2 1/2 weeks ago that caused his latest concussion. However, Young underwent neurological tests Wednesday and again wasn't cleared to rejoin te 49ers on the field.
"The reason he hasn't been cleared to play up until now is that it's my opinion and the opinion of the 49ers that it's in the best interest of Steve Young to allow his brain to recover," Dr. Steinberg said.
While Young viewed Steinberg's ruling as a temporary setback, it comes amid signs that his family, friends and some team officials want him to retire rather than resume playing and expose himself to another damaging hit.
Young, who endured two concussions in 1996 and another in the 1997 season opener, suffered the latest one when he was leveled by blitzing Arizona cornerback Aeneas Williams and struck his head on tackle Dave Fiore's knee before slamming into the ground.
Dr. Steinberg said there were no signs of bruising or permanent damage to Young's brain but that there are dangers from repeated concussions, which can lead to premature senility and other brain dysfunction.
"We want to be cautious in our recommendation," he said. "This is an unpredictable kind of event. You don't have a crystal ball to tell what's going to happen in any particular case. But my advice is my opinion and I don't dictate what the ultimate team decision is or Steve Young's decision."
Walsh said Young is being realistic about the situation and the 49ers management was there to help him along with the decision.
And if he can't make it on his own?
"We're here," Walsh said. "It would fall on us."
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