SAN FRANCISCO -- Steve Young didn't get to say goodbye to the San Francisco 49ers the way he wanted, so he hopes Jerry Rice makes the most of the opportunity.
"I never really had that moment where you closed it. It's still kind of open for me," Young said Friday. "I never really walked off and said, 'That's it.' I think it might be helpful if Jerry has a chance to do that."
The 49ers host the Chicago Bears on Sunday in what most expect to be the final home game of Rice's 16-year career in San Francisco. General manager Bill Walsh said this week that the 49ers probably will release Rice in June to create room under the salary cap.
Rice has caught an NFL-record 176 touchdown passes. Young, who retired in June, threw 85 of those passes, making them the most prolific quarterback-receiver combination in NFL history.
Young, a two-time Most Valuable Player for the 49ers, didn't leave the game comfortably. His final appearance came early last season in Arizona, where a hard hit from Aeneas Williams gave him the last of four concussions in three years.
He missed the rest of the season. After agonizing over a possible return to San Francisco or a move to another team, Young retired. His decision ended a 13-year collaboration with Rice, who was just becoming a star when Young joined the team in 1987.
"I just remember thinking how easy it was to throw him the ball," Young said. "You didn't even think about it. You knew where he was headed. I don't know if it was his unique body language, but it just seemed like throwing the ball to Jerry was the easiest thing in the world."
While speaking with reporters on Friday, Young admitted he still hasn't sorted through all of his thoughts about leaving the game. He knows that Rice will be going through a whirlwind of emotions in the upcoming weeks and months.
"I'm sure there's all kinds of strange feelings that go on," Young said. "You never quite put it in perspective until it's there. You can talk about it all you like. It's a very big deal, but it's going to be a very traumatic experience -- and very exciting in the same way."
And though it will be hard for him to watch Rice wear another uniform, Young also understands Rice's decision to play another season away from San Francisco. After all, Young had many of the same thoughts himself last summer.
Young met with Denver coach Mike Shanahan and spoke with Seattle coach Mike Holmgren about joining their teams before finally deciding the risks to his health would be too great. Young said he appreciated Rice's feelings that another season with a different team might be a new challenge.
"In the big picture, he'll always be a 49er, but he might want to play a little bit more of the game," Young said. "He has a desire that nobody else can understand."
Young, who still lives in the Bay Area, and Rice speak on the phone regularly. Young said Rice lately has been more concerned about the 49ers' 5-9 record than his impending departure or his statistics, which are hovering a level below the best years of his career.
"If I were him, the way I think, I'd just think the coach isn't calling my play," Young said with a laugh. "I still think the same way he does. He thinks he can't do quite as much, but under the right scenarios, he can still dominate a game."
Young isn't sure whether he'll be in attendance on Sunday, but he has a good excuse. Last week, he became a first-time father at 38. He spends his time these days "on burping and diaper patrol" and trying to catch up on missed sleep in between trips to Bristol, Conn., for his part-time job with ESPN.
His wife, Barbara, whom Young married in March, gave birth to Braeden Steven Young on Dec. 6.
"I've gone through a lot of change this year, and as someone who's averse to change, I'm think I'm (handling it) pretty well," he said.