GREENWICH — Legendary athlete and 1980 Greenwich High School graduate Steve Young’s life has been filled with incredible highs and struggles with anxiety.
It was of both sides of the coin that he spoke to nearly 800 GHS students packed into the performing arts center Monday as part of a two-visit trip to Greenwich to promote his new memoir, “QB: My Life Behind the Spiral.”
Young, a Super Bowl MVP, Pro Football Hall of Famer and perhaps the school’s most famous athlete, drew another 100 people to the Cos Cob Library for a book signing after his visit to his alma mater.
His stories were geared to inspire and uplift. He spoke of riding in a celebratory parade with Mickey Mouse in Disneyland — a high point of his life, he said — and his struggles with a disease that went undiagnosed well into his 30s, although it was with him constantly from the time he left home for the first time and before nearly every game.
“I hope you always lean into the challenges you face,” Young told the students and staff at GHS. “Don’t go around them. Go through them … All of the challenges I faced, I had this anxiety behind me. I thought ‘Oh my gosh I’ll never make it.’ ‘This is too hard.’ But that never won. The part that won was the part that said, ‘I can do it.’ ‘Yes I can.’ ‘I’m going to lean into it and make it happen.’ This is really the only tip I can give you. No matter what you have holding you back or whatever little demons you have, never let them win.”
For Young, who grew up in Riverside and attended Eastern Middle School before graduating from GHS, it was a thrill to be back at his old home. At GHS he was surrounded by young fans eager for a selfie and an autograph.
“You’re in a very unique place in the world,” Young said. “This is a very unique school, one of the best public schools in America. I know this is a great place for you to find out how good you can be.”
He also told the students and staff to always have a backup plan. For him, even as he pursued football stardom, he attended law school to make sure he could support his family.
Young’s memoir, which was released last month, focuses on a career that took him from Greenwich to Brigham Young University to the USFL to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the San Francisco 49ers. With the 49ers, he replaced the legendary Joe Montana and won a Super Bowl.
“I realized my kids are going to grow up and not know my story,” Young said. “I started writing it and what came out of it were my years in Greenwich. I was voted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and the moment I was voted in I started to cry because I remembered all the great times I had growing up in Greenwich.
”Why didn’t I think about the 49ers? Why didn’t I think about college? I had great times there. But what was so impactful to me at that moment was my time in Greenwich, because the things that happen to you when you’re in high school and when you grow up are what never leave you and they’re fundamental to who we are,” he said.
GHS Headmaster Chris Winters, who grew up with Young, said he embodied strength of character by working as hard in his classes as he did on the field.
“He was respected and liked by everyone at Greenwich High School, not because he was the big man on campus and the star athlete but because he was nice and he was respectful,” Winters said. “He always, always cared for the people around him, which says an awful lot about his character. When we talk about inclusiveness and tolerance of others, Steve is the embodiment of that.”
GHS senior Sam Colandro, a member of the GHS football team, said Young’s words meant a lot.
“He’s been everywhere in life,” Colandro said. “He’s been to the top of the mountain, and to know we’ve been on the same field and walked in the same hallways is pretty crazy. I really liked his message to never stop fighting and just keep on going no matter what the adversity is.”
“I learned to never let anxiety take over,” Schmidt said. “It never got ahead of him and he learned to work through it.”
“Even if at first you think you’re not going to do well, you can always improve and always look toward your dream,” Logiudice said. “What he said about always having a plan even when you work toward your dream made a lot of sense.”
At the library, Young reconnected with old friends and classmates and saw families he had not seen in years.
“I loved it here today,” Young said before leaving to be a part of ESPN’s broadcast crew for the Monday Night Football game between the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals. “It’s a really special thing for me to be in Greenwich.
“I’m so sad we didn’t schedule it right because I would have loved to spend more time. I hadn’t been to the high school in decades and it was awesome. I was just telling my wife that we’ve got to get back here more often,” he said.