Nearly three decades ago, quarterback Steve Young passed for a record six touchdowns as the San Francisco 49ers won the last of their five Super Bowl championships.
Lost in the stat sheet of that 49ers’ rout of the Chargers was that Young, the preeminent mobile quarterback of his generation, also rushed for 49 yards.
On Sunday, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy will lead the 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium.
In the NFC championship game, Purdy engineered a dramatic comeback victory over the Detroit Lions, passing for a touchdown but perhaps more importantly setting up two touchdowns with timely scrambles that helped him finish with 48 yards rushing.
Young, a Hall of Famer, said Purdy must again use his legs and deceptive speed if the 49ers are to defeat the Chiefs and star quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“I said before the [NFC championship] game, if he could spit out 50 yards that would be great,” Young said. “I think the Super Bowl, at least 50, because he’s going to need to do that.”
Purdy, 24, was the last player selected in the 2022 draft. After 49ers quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance suffered injuries, Purdy ascended to the starting role for the final six games of his rookie season and helped lead the 49ers to the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Purdy suffered an elbow injury early in the game, however, and the 49ers lost, 31-7.
After undergoing surgery, there were doubts about whether Purdy would be ready to lead a team that was on a mission to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2019-20 season, when they lost to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
But Purdy became a most valuable player candidate by passing for 31 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions, for a star-studded team that finished 12-5 and earned the top seed in the NFC.
Purdy led a comeback victory over the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, and then did it again as the 49ers overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat the Lions.
Purdy’s two 21-yard scrambles keyed the 34-31 victory over the Lions.
“It was the difference between winning and losing,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
The 49ers trailed, 21-14, in the third quarter before Purdy’s run set up Christian McCaffrey’s game-tying touchdown run. In the fourth quarter, Purdy’s scramble set up Elijah Mitchell’s short touchdown run that increased the 49ers lead to 34-24.
“My job is to distribute the ball to guys that are open,” Purdy said afterward. “Then if something is not there, especially in this kind of game, you got to find a way. … I had to do it, so I did it.”
That was similar to how Young operated under legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh. Young said there were occasions he ran for touchdowns and Walsh scolded him for deciding to scramble before the play completely developed.
“It was all about whether you exhausted the play or not,” Young said, adding that Walsh would say, ‘When you go when you’ve exhausted it, then you’ve given the play its full measure. And that’s what the team needs, that’s what championship football needs.’”
The Chiefs know well the value of a quarterback that can make plays with his legs.
In their Super Bowl LVII victory over the Eagles last year, Mahomes passed for 182 yards and three touchdowns but also rushed six times for 44 yards, including a 26-yard run late in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal.
Purdy, at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, is not as big as the 6-2, 225-pound Mahomes or Buffalo’s 6-5, 237-pound Josh Allen, but he still can make plays.
“You have to make decisions,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said when asked about Purdy the runner. “Do you commit one pass rusher to him scrambling? If you don’t commit a guy like that, is he going to hurt you like he did in both playoff games?
“As effective as he is throwing and the weapons that he has, when you add the fact that he can tuck it and run, it makes it that much more challenging.”
Especially for defensive backs.
“Brock Purdy is definitely someone that people don’t look at as a great runner,” Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie said, “but when you flip on the tape, I mean, dude gets out of the pocket, dude knows how to get out of a DB’s tackle, get out of the arms of D-lineman.”
George Kittle, the 49ers’ star tight end said Purdy “scampers” when he breaks loose.
“You ever see one of those little water dragons run across the water?” Kittle said. “Like, that’s what I envision every time he’s running with the football.”
Shanahan said Purdy has a “natural ability” to know when to go off schedule and make a play. If Purdy is successful doing that against the Chiefs, the 49ers could win their first title since the 1994-95 season.
“No matter what happens,” Shanahan said, “he gives you a chance.”
Staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this story.