58320

How Steve Young's endorsement led to the biggest book of one Latter-day Saint author's career

by | Sep. 03, 2020

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, had a big decision to make. 

A journalist named Jeff Benedict wanted to write a book about the Patriots’ dynasty—arguably the greatest American sports dynasty in the 21st century—but Kraft had questions. Who was this man? Could he be trusted? So, Kraft called someone who he knew had worked closely with Benedict before: Steve Young.

That day, Young, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback who got his start at Brigham Young University, made a promise to Kraft. 

“One thing about this, Mr. Kraft, is if Jeff says he’s going to do something, he will do it,” Young remembers saying. “You can trust him . . . everyone has an angle. He doesn’t have an angle.” 

The Author: Jeff Benedict

As a young boy growing up in a small beach community in Connecticut, Jeff Benedict remembers racing home from school on Thursdays to get his subscription to Sports Illustrated out of his metal mailbox. He didn’t really like to read it, but he loved the pictures. 

“I still remember seeing Larry Bird on the cover the first time as an Indiana State basketball player standing between cheerleaders and thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’” Benedict recalls. 

In addition to being a sports fan, Benedict was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a place where “Mormons” were anything but popular. But in high school, his peers’ attitudes toward Latter-day Saints shifted when Steve Young, a native of a neighboring Connecticut town, became a Heisman Trophy candidate during his time as a young college quarterback at BYU. 

“That was a source of pride for me as a child,” Benedict says. “By then I was in high school and one of the only things my friends knew about Mormonism was that Steve Young was one. And that gave me some security as a young high school kid in my community.” 

Like many young kids, Benedict grew up with dreams of playing sports on a professional level, not with dreams of writing about sports (or even writing at all). Though he never played sports at the collegiate level, an interest in the game and the adoration we give athletes came into play when Benedict wrote his master’s thesis at Northeastern University. Upon its completion, he expanded on his academic research and, as a first year law student, wrote his first book, Public Heroes, Private Felons: Athletes and Crimes Against Women. The book certainly didn’t make a best-seller list, but the topic caught the attention of the media and the publicity ultimately resulted in a commercial book deal. 

Although he graduated from law school, his career trajectory would never be the same. The lawyer from Connecticut signed his second book deal and became a bona fide journalist, writing more than 10 books over the next 20 years. And while he loves writing about sports, the most important thing he looked for in the books he chose to write was a great story based on real-life events. So whether it was a story of a woman’s fight to protect her Little Pink House from eminent domain or writing a cover story about fellow Latter-day Saint Jabari Parker for Sports Illustrated—the same magazine he used to run to retrieve from the mailbox—Benedict has taken great pride in making stories come to life in people’s minds through the written word. 

“There is no visual element to the written word, and so for me, I try to write with a cinematic eye,” he explains. “I want my audience to see what I’m saying, so I spend an inordinate amount of time asking people very mundane questions about things like what they were wearing, what the weather was like that day, what the interior of a car looked like. These are obsessive details but they’re what allows an audience to feel like they’re in a room because they can see it.” 

It was this obsessive attention to detail that caught Steve Young’s attention as he spent time with Benedict. 

The Quarterback: Steve Young

The project that became QB: My Life Behind the Spiral about Young’s career wasn’t originally supposed to be a published book. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback was simply trying to dispel rumors in his own home. His boys were in elementary school and were coming home with stories, saying things like, “Dad, I heard you punched Joe Montana in the face.” The stories were bizarre and Young needed to put them to rest. But he also knew that if he wanted his children to know the entire true story of his life, he needed some help.

His friend, Elder Robert C. Gay, now a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, mentioned that Benedict had recently written the autobiography of one of his friends, My Name Used to Be Muhammad. Elder Gay encouraged Young to reach out to Benedict. In their first conversation, Young explained to Benedict that he had no intention of ever publishing this book but that he was willing to invest in having a life history for his family. Young was blown away by Benedict’s willingness to go the extra mile with no expectation of publication. 

► You may also like: Steve Young: How an Airplane Conversation with Stephen Covey Changed My Football Career

When Benedict was done, Elder Gay read it and said it needed to be published and read by a larger audience. The result is an account that Young says is in no way embellished but is somehow truer than if he had tried to write it on his own. 

“He does a wonderful job of listening and standing in your shoes,” Young explains. “I’m going to call it empathy, but I don’t want to make it sound soft because it’s a hard thing that he does . . . to listen to someone’s story and then in a really fair, accurate way bring it to life. . . . But it really taught me a lesson around your own truth—that sometimes a witness can be really helpful for your own truth. Not that your truth changes, but I think everyone in the world needs a witness of their life.” 

Young was impressed by the great lengths Benedict went to in order to tell his story through not only Young’s eyes but the eyes of those who knew him best. He calls the lens through which Benedict sees the world “charity.” 

“There is a sense of seeing other humans in their larger form rather than just in the moment. Who are they from a [broader] perspective and who are they from the beginning of their creation to the end?” Young explains. 

So when Young received Kraft’s message? He answered without hesitation. And when Kraft called again months later as things began to get more serious in Benedict’s writing process, Young reassured him—the Patriots were in good hands. 

The Latest Book: The Dynasty

Despite growing up in New England, Benedict did not grow up a Patriots fan. At the time, the Patriots were one of the worst teams in the league and young Benedict only went to the Patriots games to root against them. But it was while writing Young’s book that Benedict’s interest in the Patriots began to germinate. The Patriots had come a long way from the franchise of his youth and Benedict was fascinated by what had led to their dramatic turnaround. While writing QB, he and Young talked a lot about the Patriots’ epic run of Super Bowl victories and specifically what Tom Brady was doing as their quarterback. 

Benedict actually remembers the exact moment he started considering the book. It was the last game of the 2007 season, and the Patriots were on the road facing the New York Giants. If the Patriots won, they would complete a perfect regular season. Benedict watched the game hundreds of miles away in his Virginia farmhouse and when Brady threw a game-winning touchdown to wide receiver Randy Moss, it was like watching a Hollywood movie. 

“I knew them as a perennial losing team. So as a journalist looking at this objectively, I thought ‘What changed? How did they go from worst to best?’ And by 2007 when they had by that point won three Super Bowls in four years, and they were in the midst of an undefeated season and I was at that point living in Virginia, I was watching from afar and thinking, ‘Wow, there’s something really kind of miraculous going on in New England and I’d like to know more about how that happened.’ And that’s usually how book topics start for me,” Benedict says. 

Image taken and provided by Jeff BenedictFast forward over 13 years and Benedict is finally releasing the book he calls a full circle moment in his career. With his family now back living in Connecticut, he wrote The Dynasty in his childhood neighborhood, the same one where he rushed to the mailbox to get Sports Illustrated, the same neighborhood where he used to have a paper route. The reality is that Benedict’s small part of the story feels like a Hollywood movie in and of itself. And while you don’t see Benedict in The Dynasty, you’ll find his unique fingerprints all over the Patriots’ story.  

When writing a book about a sports dynasty that spans over 20 years, there are many different ways to approach the story so it may come as a surprise to the reader that the book opens in a restaurant—the restaurant where the Patriots’ owner met his wife. 

“That’s not how you think you’re going to start a book about a football dynasty, but to me, the Kraft family is so important to the telling of the story, so it’s so imperative to understand how this family came to be and the relationship between the husband and the wife and then the relationship between the husband and the children and the mother and the children, to me is foundational to the Patriots’ story,” Benedict explains. 

As a husband and father himself, Benedict understands the pivotal role one’s family makes in supporting his or her professional endeavors. The support of his wife, Lydia, and their children is the reason Benedict was able to write this book in the first place. 

As someone who was raised in a religious home, Benedict picked up on the importance of religion in his first interview Kraft, who brought up the Jewish faith in which he was raised and the fact that he never wanted to disappoint his parents. "I understood that," Benedict says. Kraft’s Jewish faith would play a role throughout the book and would even impact Benedict’s personal faith as he was able to travel to the Holy Land with Kraft and a group of former Patriot players. 

Yet another Benedict fingerprint on the telling of the Patriots’ story is the inclusion of Latter-day Saints like Lee Johnson, who was a member of the BYU National Championship football team in 1984. A barefoot punter, one of the only of his kind, Johnson was in his third season with the Patriots when he was let go by a newly hired coach named Bill Belichick. It seems unusual that he would get any facetime in a book about a dynasty that was barely beginning when he left Foxborough—that is, until you begin to put a few significant pieces together: 

1. Johnson shared a locker with the Brady, a rookie at the time who would go on to become arguably the best quarterback in the world.

“Lee Johnson is an extremely minor character in The Dynasty,” Benedict explains. “He’s a blip. He pops up on the screen and then disappears. If you think about the epic totality of this story, he’s a mouse. He’s a mouse in a forest but to me, he’s an incredibly important mouse because . . . he’s right there. He’s in the room.”

Speaking about Brady, Johnson says, “I was able to watch him go from this little kid who looked really quirky. . . . I never would’ve thought from a visual [standpoint] . . . could ever do that purely from how he dressed, how he walked around, how he looked, but this is the beauty of athletics. Don’t be fooled by a visual because you’re probably going to be wrong. . . . What makes people great is the drive and what’s inside at any level. Greatness comes from something you can’t see. . . . And that’s what Brady had. So why [am I] even in the book? I don’t even know, but I was able to watch from the outside this kid coming in and see how he performed. It’s magical.” 

2. Johnson was roommates with Young at BYU, meaning Benedict had already interviewed him for Young’s book.

“I know Lee Johnson can tell a story,” Benedict says. “So I would spend an inordinate amount of time with a guy like Lee just to get those couple of scenes of him interacting with Tom Brady and him interacting with Bill Belichick. The scene where he gets fired is incredibly foreshadowing of what’s going to happen to so many other players. And the scenes of him talking with Tom Brady about things like family and marriage and having children and longevity in the league, all of those things are going to become incredibly important issues in the life of Tom Brady down the road, way down the road, but the point is he’s talking to Lee Johnson about those things as a rookie.” 

3. Brady had a couple of football heroes, and Young was one of them. 

In The Dynasty, when Brady hears of Johnson’s friendship with Young, he says, “For real? I love Steve Young. He was my favorite player. Him and Joe (Montana). I loved Steve’s game.”

Years later, Brady would find himself playing in the Pro Bowl where he was able to watch Young participate in a charity event for the Children’s Miracle Network. Brady shot Young a text, “You were my hero as a kid and you still look like you could do it.”  

To Young, having the adoration of players like Brady is something he has never taken lightly. 

“That means a ton to me. That is not small. And as Tom and I have been friends over the years, those are the kind of things that make . . . the fact that he has continued to talk about that as he has become more and more successful, lapping everybody, that still remains something he talks about and that means a lot to me,” Young says.  

Young knew when he was playing in the league that little boys looked up to him. He knew that because he had once been the little boy looking up to someone else. 

“Roger Staubach was my hero and Roger Staubach never let me down even though he never knew me until later in my life,” Young says, later adding, “He never let me down in what he spoke and how he acted and what his reputation was and how he treated people. So for me, it was paying forward what Roger had done for me. . . . What impact can I have on those kids that I’ll never meet?” 

Young recalls years later as he was being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, walking into a luncheon full of Hall of Famers and hearing Staubach’s voice, “Steve, over here!” 

“Roger stood up and said he’d saved two seats for me and my dad, and I’ll never forget that,” Young recalls. “That gives me chills still to this day.” 

Perhaps it is because Staubach never let Young down that Young never let Brady down, and why there is a scene in the book where Brady responds to an invitation to spend a night out on the town in New York City.

“Young, single, and on top of the world, Brady figured: Why not? But at the last minute, he changed his mind. He could make a thousand good decisions, he figured, and if he made one bad decision, that would be the thing that people remember. He ended up spending that night alone in his midtown Manhattan hotel room,” Benedict writes in the book. 

And maybe it was Benedict’s desire to pay it forward to the quarterback who never let him down that led him to put everything he had into writing Young’s book, which ultimately led to his shot at the book he calls his dream book: The Dynasty.

In the end, when Benedict’s work was done, Young saw Robert Kraft and was not surprised when the renowned NFL owner said, “Yeah, he’s done a great job.” 

“I knew he would. I knew he would,” came Young’s reply. 

Content Advisory: The book The Dynasty, which is discussed at length in this article, contains strong adult language. According to Benedict, profanity is ingrained in the culture of football. And so, while the author tries to make sure swear words are not used gratuitously, in an attempt to accurately represent the way the characters authentically speak in tense moments, many direct quotes retain strong profanity. This article does not represent an LDS Living endorsement of the book and readers should use their own discretion to determine if the content is appropriate for their own consumption. 

Editor's note: The author, Morgan Jones, attended Southern Virginia University where she took a writing class from Jeff Benedict in 2007. She went on to work as an intern for Benedict for two semesters in 2008.

All Images in this story were provided by Jeff Benedict. 

Image titleSteve Young produced some of the most memorable moments in NFL history. The Run—his electrifying 49-yard game-winning touchdown against Minnesota. The Catch II—his last-second touchdown strike to Terrell Owens to beat Green Bay in the playoffs. Then there were his record-setting six touchdown passes in Super Bowl XXIX. But Young's most impressive victories were personal ones that were won off the field when no one was watching. QB is a remarkably revealing memoir of an athletically gifted Mormon boy with a 4.0 GPA, a photographic memory, and a severe case of childhood separation anxiety. At the same time, Young was absolutely fearless—and unstoppable—whenever he had a ball in his hands. Young's quest—both in football and in life—was always more about grit than anything else. His "get it done" mentality brought MVP awards and Super Bowl championships to San Francisco. As an author, he gives readers the sense of being inside his helmet while he runs through opponents both on and off the field. Available now at Deseret Book

Morgan jones 08512

Morgan Jones

Morgan Jones comes to LDS Living after writing for the Deseret News since 2014. She published more than 480 stories and served as Senior Web Producer prior to her departure from Deseret News. Jones is a passionate storyteller and loves having the opportunity to share stories that deserve to be told. She is the host of the All In podcast. 

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com