There's a story that made the rounds some years ago and I'd like to believe it's true. Y.A. Tittle, then in his late 60s, and a group of his former NFL teammates were tossing a football around on a local beach. A group of college students wandered by and thought they could have a little fun with the older gentlemen and challenged them to a game of sand football.
An hour or so later, the college students, gasping for air, hands on their knees, couldn't believe they'd just been shown up so badly by this group of older gentlemen. Tittle and his cohorts, still in pretty good shape, used experience and precise passing to teach the youngsters a lesson.
After revealing their identities, the college kids discovered a new-found respect for the aging athletes.
Tittle, who passed away at the age of 90 Sunday at Stanford Hospital surrounded by family, was already a legend by the time I started rooting for the San Francisco 49ers in the mid-60s. I never saw him play but I read plenty about him and saw him in person as he was an ambassador of football who'd take the time to visit store openings in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
Tittle lived in Atherton and, following his playing career, opened an insurance business in Menlo Park that survives in San Jose and Pleasanton.
"The San Francisco 49ers organization and our Faithful fans have lost a dear member of our family," 49ers CEO Jed York said. "Y.A. Tittle will forever hold a special place in not only 49ers history but that of the National Football League. His individual accomplishments speak for themselves, but as a member of the 'Million Dollar Backfield' he was part of one of the most storied offensive attacks the game of football has ever seen. During his 15 years as a player and a coach, Y.A. made many significant contributions to this organization and the Bay Area. Our best wishes are with his family and the many friends and fans he leaves behind."
When I think of Tittle, I think of his broad, muscular shoulders and forearms, and of his balding head. He may have looked older than he was but he always played younger than his years.
His career was both memorable and historic. He led both the 49ers and New York Giants to unprecedented success. He evolved along with the NFL, setting the standard for quarterbacks to come.
John Brodie, Joe Montana and Steve Young followed Tittle and yet none could make 49er fans forget Tittle.