"Honestly I feel like I want to play," Young said after the ceremony. "My life is sublime now and great and wonderful in many ways but you can't replace it."
Young was honored at halftime of the San Francisco 49ers game on Sunday against the New England Patriots. He was introduced to the adoring crowd by his close friend and former teammate Brent Jones, who called Young a "brilliant field general" who "could destroy you with his left arm and then could turn around and destroy you as well with his legs."
Young thanked the fans and recalled some of his greatest moments, including his memorable stumbling run to beat Minnesota, the game-ending touchdown pass to Terrell Owens to win a playoff game against Green Bay and his NFC championship triumph over Dallas in 1995.
"There were a lot of emotions about a lot of years of great times, hard times, significant times for me personally, kind of growing up," Young said. "I just feel grateful that the honor came."
Young thanked Bill Walsh, who brought him from Tampa Bay to San Francisco in 1987, and wished his former coach were still alive to be at this event.
"Bill Walsh told me many times that anyone who came to this place was very lucky because they now had a platform to see how good they could be," Young said. "I really appreciated that."
Young is a two-time league MVP who led San Francisco to its fifth NFL title in the 1995 Super Bowl, winning the game's MVP award with a record six touchdown passes. He spent parts of 13 seasons with the 49ers, finishing his NFL career with 33,124 yards passing and 232 TD passes.
After claiming the 49ers' starting job from Joe Montana in 1991, Young was selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls while compiling a 96.8 career passer rating, the highest in NFL history. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Young said it's a little strange watching the current 49ers offense, which no longer runs the West Coast system that Walsh developed and made so successful during his years in San Francisco.
"Whatever the West Coast is, you can say that maybe it was conceived in other places, but it was born here," Young said. "To not see someone run a slant pattern for a few weeks is hard."
Young was the 11th player to have his number retired by the 49ers, joining fellow quarterbacks Montana and John Brodie. Safety Ronnie Lott was the most recent player added to the list in 2003. Walsh also was honored with a "BW" next to the retired numbers list in Candlestick Park after his death last year.
Rice, Young's favorite target and the most prolific receiver in NFL history, is likely to have the next jersey retirement ceremony in San Francisco shortly after he's added to the Hall of Fame.
Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo, York's deposed brother-in-law and the driving force behind San Francisco's five title teams, was invited but did not attend because of medical reasons, Young said.
Young is an analyst on ESPN, a partner in a private equity firm and a busy father with three kids and a fourth on the way. He said he'd like to someday be part of a group that bought an NFL team but acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to break into that exclusive club.