Young's success in N.Y. grounded in Baltimore roots Giants GM low-key in high-profile job

November 01, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

For the past 13 years he has worked in New York, a town that is unforgiving to those who blink at the bright lights of the big city. George Young has yet to blink. He has yet to even acknowledge that he's in the big city.

The day he got the job, a reporter said to him, "Nice to have you in the Big Town."

Young replied, "I thought Baltimore was the Big Town."

At his first news conference in 1979, he was asked, "How do you feel about coming here to New York? It's a little different."

He replied, "Are you asking me whether or not I've driven by Secaucus? I'm very familiar with New York. My father used to buy the New York News and the Daily Mirror all the time when I was a kid in parochial school [St. James]. I've never, ever felt uncomfortable here [New York], but I still have strong feelings about my roots. I'm very sensitive about roots. I know where I came from."

He came from Baltimore.

And those who know him say he hasn't changed. Not since going to the Big Town in 1979 to become general manager of the New York Giants, one of the most glamorous and scrutinized positions in all of sports. Not since being hailed for winning two Super Bowls. Not since being ripped for some of his decisions, including the promotion of Ray Handley to head coach.

"He may have changed less than anybody I've known in my lifetime," said Nick Schloeder, the dean of the faculty at Gilman School who met Young as a freshman at Bucknell. "He was grumpy then, and he's still grumpy. He was always that way. He seemed to be able to cut through things and get to the real meaning of something."

There have been two essential areas in Young's life: sports and education.

Growing up, he played lots of sports, including football and hockey on roller skates. One sport he didn't play was basketball, because there were no backboards in the neighborhood.

He learned the value of education from his maternal grandfather, a native of the Sudetenland who moved here at the turn of the century. His grandfather was a baker, but his grandfather's father had been a college professor in the Sudetenland, so education was stressed.

"I always took school seriously," Young said. "We were graded every week and you got a gold card if you were between 92 and a 100 and a pink card if you were between 92 and 85. I brought home a pink card once, and my mother [who's now 84 and has lived in Timonium since 1958] wanted to know what the heck was going on. She cut off my food supply."

He said his first home was 10 blocks east of the train station on the corner of Preston and Ensor streets above his grandfather's bakery and across the street from his father's stag bar. The family later moved to a $1,800 rowhouse two blocks away.

Young went from Calvert Hall to Bucknell, where he played football well enough to be drafted by the 1952 Dallas Texans, a team that collapsed before the end of the season and was destined to become the Baltimore Colts the next year.

It was in Dallas where he met Art Donovan, who still tells stories about Young's poor eyesight. Young, who was a designated driver before there was such a term ("Artie was King Schlitz," Young said), once turned onto a set of railroad tracks late at night that he thought was a road. "Dallas was the wild west in those days," Young said.

Young was waived by the Texans at the end of his first training camp, on Sept. 22, 1952, his 22nd birthday. There were teams interested in him the next season, but by then he was teaching at City College. A job paying $2,800 in the public school system was more stable than a $5,000 job in the struggling NFL, so he stuck with teaching.

He wound up coaching football at Calvert Hall while still teaching at City and then coached at City for nine years. He won six Maryland Scholastic Association championships and was 60-12 during that time. Along the way, he took so many night courses that he got a master's degree from Loyola College and an advanced degree from Johns Hopkins.

The NFL comes calling

Young said he never pursued a job in the NFL before Don Shula, then the Colts coach, offered him a personnel job in 1968. When Shula left Baltimore for the Miami Dolphins in 1970, Young remained with the Colts, but his relationship with Shula remained strong.

That became important after the 1973 season, when Young was fired by Colts GM Joe Thomas.

"Joe wasn't comfortable with me," said Young, who thought it was because he was part of the old regime before Bob Irsay bought the team in 1972.

After Shula heard about the firing, he offered Young a job with the Dolphins as a scout and administrator.

When Wellington Mara and his nephew, Tim, couldn't decide on a man to run their football operation in 1979, Shula suggested to commissioner Pete Rozelle that the Giants consider Young as a compromise candidate.

Young helped turned a struggling franchise into a Super Bowl winner in seven years.

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