Steve Young and Jerry Rice spoke to the San Francisco 49ers during the heart of training camp in August. Their message was simple: The best teams are made up of players who truly have their teammate's backs.
"Well duh," would be a normal first reaction.
But having your teammate's back is easy to do with an 0-0 record and all the hope that comes with the start of a new season. It's a much harder concept when the losses start to pile up. It's more challenging yet when you consider the 49ers current run of five straight losses by three points or less. It would be easy to point fingers when each game has come down to just a few plays. But thus far, it appears that the team is avoiding the blame game.
The two 49ers legends came to practice on Monday and spoke to the team about building culture.
If Young were to come back and speak to the team again today, now that the 49ers are 0-6, he said he'd tell them to take their accountability a step further.
"I think No. 1 is to own it," he said on Wednesday from the Steve Young and Jerry Rice Bay Area Classic golf tournament at CordeValle. "Don't give me the mitigation. Don't give me the, 'Oh, but we were so close.' Own it and say, 'We haven't gotten a win. We haven't gotten it done in the fourth quarter.' Own that completely. Embrace it and say, 'Now what can we do to get better.' Use it as motivation to stay at it. They know they're close."
Rice tacked on the importance of learning how to execute in crunch time and cited the 49ers numerous chances to close games late in the fourth quarter.
"You've got to be real critical of yourself when you're watching film," Rice said. "Just keep working to get better. It's all about finishing."
Both Hall of Famers explained their belief in John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan as the brain trust behind the rebuild in San Francisco. Shanahan was around the team in the 90's while his dad, Mike Shanahan, was the 49ers offensive coordinator. Young recalled Kyle running routes with Rice. He also said that Lynch is a guy he's respected for years.
"These guys know football, and they know people," Young said. "In the long run, knowing people is going to win. They have time, and we are supportive."
Added Rice: "They've got to be great leaders right now. You've got to give them a couple of years to see what happens. It's going in the right direction."
Young noted the 49ers unique opportunity at hand. To emerge from the early-season adversity and continue to fight, even when playoffs are a long shot, would go a long way.
"You've got to stare it down," Young said. "They're in a spot where they could achieve a lot by responding to where they are now at 0-6. That's a brutal spot to be in. You have an opportunity for people to really gain some respect if they can pull themselves out of this."
Ultimately, Young and Rice are still very invested in the 49ers. It's why they took the time to speak to current players and why they'll continue to monitor the team closely.
"We are fans," Young said. "We want to see them be successful."