How 49ers haters helped soft-spoken Bryant Young reach the Hall of Fame

Bryant Young has beaten offensive linemen — but not his chest — throughout his 14-year NFL career.

And the soft-spoken defensive tackle’s aversion to self-promotion, which remains intact, might explain why his devoted former San Francisco 49ers teammates can get carried away recounting his exploits on the field.

That’s not to say definitively that the story linebacker Gary Plummer tells of Young’s prodigious strength isn’t true. But even Plummer admits Young “pooh-poohs” his recollection of how Young stepped in when Plummer was once getting rid of a Cincinnati offensive lineman.

“Bryant will act like it never happened,” Plummer said. “But I think the guy grabbed my face mask. And BY was behind me. He reached over my shoulder, grabbed the guy by the face mask, and – I’m not lying, I’m not exaggerating – the helmet stayed on this guy, but the face mask came off.

“I mean, these are secured with four heavy duty bolts and BY literally ripped them off. Looked like the guy was wearing one of those old motorcycle helmets.

Oh good? Former 49ers center Chris Dalman was questioned about the authenticity of Plummer’s story. He had never heard it before, but in no way wanted to diminish Young.

“If anyone is strong enough to do it?” said Dalman. “Oh hell yeah, that would be him.”

Was Young a modern-day Paul Bunyan? Maybe not. But he will eventually join the NFL giants when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday at ceremonies in Canton, Ohio.

Young, 50, endured a 10-year wait to reach the Hall and appeared to be on the periphery during that decade. Prior to this year, he was among the 15 modern-era finalists only once, suggesting his induction was not imminent.

It was strange because his CV seemed worthy of Canton. Young is the 49ers career sack leader (89½), a member of the 1990s NFL All-Decade Team, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, UPI Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1994 and Returning Player of the Year in 1999.

His teammates believed Young’s low-key personality largely hid him throughout his career and in retirement. He lacked a bag-dancing sizzle during his playing days and later had no desire to lobby the Hall’s 49-person selection committee, or others to do so on his behalf.

“I’m not saying you have to be a self-promoter to get a gold jacket, because you have to be an amazing player to do it,” Dalman said. “But I think there’s something about staying in people’s conversations, whether it’s being in the media about anything. And I think there are guys who are pretty good at it. I’m sure it slowed the process down for him.

Ultimately, it wasn’t the stories of teammates such as Plummer that transformed Young from an outsider to an inductee. It was testimonials from six NFL offensive linemen who faced Young extensively during their careers and agreed to defend him in December during a Zoom call with Hall voters. The meeting, unbeknownst to Young, was organized by former 49ers public relations director Kirk Reynolds.

Without such an unusual step, Young might have remained an under-the-radar star instead of being immortalized. Young’s lack of ego was evident when he was recently asked about his career highlights. He mentioned playing for an “iconic” franchise, winning a Super Bowl with “awesome teammates” and “overcoming obstacles.” What he didn’t mention was how he overcame a horrible broken leg in 1998 to post 11 sacks a season later.

“He didn’t celebrate after a sack,” Plummer said. “He didn’t celebrate after a tackle for loss. He was an absolute beast on the pitch, a gentle giant off the pitch and he was as humble as anyone I played with. This is the reason why Bryant Young was so respected by so many people.

A sign of this respect? Young won the 49ers’ highest honor, the Len Eshmont Award, given for courageous and inspiring play and voted for by players, eight times. No other player in franchise history has won the Eshmont more than twice.

Young, who has five children with his wife, Kristin, had to show more courage in retirement. Her son, Colby, died aged 15 on October 11, 2016, about two years after being diagnosed with childhood brain cancer. His absence will be felt when Young delivers his induction speech on Saturday, 13 days before what would have been Colby’s 21st birthday.

Last year, on Colby’s birthday, Young posted a photo of his son on Instagram and included a message: “I hold on to all the precious memories and hope in Christ to make me cross till I can see you again.”

Young says his faith helped him endure.

“It’s really learning to trust God at the time when we can’t see what’s at the end of the tunnel,” Young said. “And it’s hard to do often. But I learned to trust more. I learned to allow people to be a blessing. And also know that it is always God’s timing.

It will be a bittersweet weekend for Young. But there will be love. And there will be laughs as he shares his big moment with family, friends, coaches and teammates, some of whom have stories from his glory days that he can’t verify.

Did he really unfasten a face mask when coming to Plummer’s defense? Young laughs.

“I don’t remember that ever happening,” Young said. “Maybe I was so mad that I didn’t realize what I had done. But if Gary said it and he’s sticking to that story, I’m not saying it didn’t happen.

Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @Eric_Branch

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