WALNUT CREEK — Some of the greatest 49ers ever sat together on a stage. Tales were told, egos were roasted, and, between all that, they slipped in enough touching words to reflect their love and bond.
They came to honor the late Dwight Clark as part of an annual benefit for 49ers alumni. And they came to celebrate Bryant Young’s upcoming Hall of Fame enshrinement. And they came to award Arik Armstead for his community service.
All the wonderful nostalgia aside, they also hit on the current state of the 49ers. Here are five highlights from Wednesday night’s event at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center:
1. TREY LANCE’S ADMIRERS
No, Lance wasn’t in attendance, but Steve Young was, along with general manager John Lynch, and their voices strongly endorsed Lance as the 49ers’ next quarterback as Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster looking for a trade elsewhere.
Young said it will be “super exciting” to watch Lance develop after playing essentially just 2 ½ games as a rookie.
“There’s not going to be part of his development as a player that happens somewhere else,” Young said. “At North Dakota State, it happened a little bit. But it’s all going to happen as a 49er.
“A lot of guys have it in college a lot more, play a lot more, develop in other places,” Young added. “We’re going to get to watch it all. We’re all invested and are in it for the long haul.”
Lynch, along with coach Kyle Shanahan, is responsible for trading up last year to get the No. 3 draft pick for Lance.
“I feel really good about what I think we have,” Lynch said. “But the answer is I don’t even know, because he hasn’t gone out there and done it as ‘the guy.’ We’re all sitting back and waiting. We think we have a real good idea of what we have in Trey but everything else is just talk.”
Lynch commended Lance for his hard work and strides this offseason, adding: “He understands ‘The 49er Way.’ I can’t wait for him to show that to most of all his teammates — and I guess to the world.” Lynch also noted that Young recently chatted up Lance on the 49ers’ practice field and offered advice that was “welcomed with open arms.”
As for Garoppolo, the 49ers are waiting for him to show his throwing shoulder is healed from surgery so they can trade him, and Lynch respectfully praised Garoppolo’s efforts and “big shoes” that Lance must fill.
2. T.O. ON DEEBO
Last season, Deebo Samuel became the 49ers’ first All-Pro wide receiver since Terrell Owens, who was in attendance at Wednesday’s event and shared his view on Samuel’s imbroglio with the 49ers.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate for him to be in the situation he’s in right now, with management,” Owens said. “But you see an explosive playmaker. You see a player that makes plays anywhere on the field. Those types of players are hard to come by.
“If you don’t have a Deebo Samuel on this team, they don’t get to where they got to (January’s NFC Championship Game). You talk about players that make an impact and are game changers, he’s one of those guys.”
Owens said Samuel reminds him of himself in wanting to aggressively get to the end zone, although Owens said he didn’t possess the skill or desire to come out of the backfield like Samuel’s done.
Lynch remains confident the 49ers will mend issues to win back wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who has not participated in the offseason program after requesting a trade; a contract extension is expected this summer.
“Some things have transpired. We’ll remain consistent that conversations we had will stay private,” Lynch said. “I think we’ll be fine though and I’m excited to have Deebo a part of us moving forward.”
3. BY’S MUTUAL RESPECT
Wednesday night’s marquee segment commemorated Bryant Young’s Aug. 6 induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Four years ago, Owens skipped his enshrinement in Canton, to signify an intolerance with the voting process as a third-ballot nominee. Wednesday night, he committed to attending this summer’s ceremony.
“When it comes to being there for your brothers and a teammate like B.Y., the way he showed up every day and his professionalism, he’s a gentle giant.
“This is a huge moment,” Owens added. “It’s not about me. This is me celebrating my teammate. Prior to that, I probably had no earthly idea when I would probably step foot back in Canton.”
Young was touched by Owens’ gesture, saying: “It is about the brotherhood. It’s about supporting one another and being there for one another and the sacrifices that we make for one another. We do it for each other but we do it also for the people that really make this game possible, and that’s the fans.”
Look for many more stories about Young as his Hall of Fame enshrinement approaches this summer.
4. HALEY ‘SAW A LION’
Bryant Young, whose entire career was with the 49ers from 1994-2007, learned he made the Hall of Fame when Charles Haley knocked on his door four months ago.
“It was one of the best moments in my life,” Haley said Wednesday night, “just to be able to go a teammate and a friend, knock on the door, give him a hug, and say, ‘Hey man, welcome to the Hall of Fame.’ ”
Haley provided comic relief and got targeted by barbs while sharing Wednesday’s stage with Owens and both Youngs, after Armstead earlier received the Dwight Clark Award from Patrick Willis.
Whereas Bryant Young preached his NFL mission to create mutual respect among teammates and peers, Haley acknowledged his different path to the Hall of Fame, saying: “I didn’t care about the team. I wanted to whoop that guy’s (butt) that I had to play. You want to earn the respect of your teammates? If you earn the respect of the guy you have to play against, your teammates see that. I don’t want a guy that would practice good and play like (crap). I want someone to come with me and ball.”
Haley saw that in Bryant Young, when Haley returned to the 49ers to finish his career there in 1998 and ’99.
Haley’s complement to Young on stage Wednesday night: “You were a baller, man. When I came back my last year and I saw a lion and you roared. I’m proud to have played with you. You taught me a lot. I’d never been around a guy that could be humble and smile and still play with such tenacity. I just wanted you to know you did help me. That’s the only reason why I knocked on the door” with the Hall of Fame welcoming in February.
5. ARMSTEAD’S AWARD
A year after teammate George Kittle received the first Dwight Clark Award, Armstead gave a poignant acceptance speech: “I’m humbled to be here and to be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Dwight Clark. I was fortunate enough to meet him once. Of course, I knew about The Catch and the Super Bowl and all the great things he did as a football player.
“But we’re not all gathered here today to simply honor football achievements. Football teams, they have superstars, they have role players, they have vocal leaders, they have smart guys, but the most successful teams, they have glue guys. That’s the most important things. That’s truly what Mr. Clark was. Glue guys corral and pull the team closer together in the face of adversity. We’re here to honor him. Some of his teammates said he’s the best teammate they ever had, and he continues to support his teammates through the Golden Heart Fund to give back to his teammates and other 49ers.
“I’m inspired by his life and everything he’s done. I hope I can continue to positively impact my teammates and my communities in the future.”
Armstead was the 49ers’ nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award each of the past two seasons. He accepted this year’s hardware from Patrick Willis, who was starring at linebacker for the 49ers a decade ago when Armstead went to his one and only NFL game as a fan.
Willis, by the way, had a funny response when asked why he tends to watch games home alone these days: “It’s hard to watch it with other people, because they’re too busy asking why I’m not out there.” Willis retired because of health concerns after the 2014 season, and his eight-year career led to him becoming a first-time finalist for this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class.