Even in first place, GM Young remains a Giant worrier

December 16, 1993|By Bill Tanton

The National Football League gave the back of its hand to Baltimore, but a Baltimorean sits atop the NFL today.

He's George Young, general manager of the New York Giants -- and if the 63-year-old Young lives to be 100 he'll still consider himself a Baltimorean.

He grew up here, went to Calvert Hall (and Bucknell), holds master's degrees from two local universities, taught history at City College for 10 years and broke into pro football with Don Shula's Baltimore Colts.

And at this late point in the NFL season, guess which team has the best record in the league: Young's. His Giants -- he has been their GM for 15 years -- are 10-3.

What's more, they're the only one of the league's 28 teams to have clinched a playoff spot.

"And guess who's worried," Young was saying from his office in Giants Stadium yesterday. "Me! This is a very tenuous business."

If you know George Young, and many in our town do, you'd expect him to feel that way. He worries even when he's winning a Super Bowl, which he's done twice (in '87 and '91).

One sports announcer in New York told Young recently: "Whenever you come on my show you sound like a guy who's just locked his keys in the car."

Perfect.

So with three regular-season games left against New Orleans, Phoenix and Dallas, Young worries even while everyone else scrambles to qualify for the playoffs.

Maybe Young has been listening to Giants critics, who are more numerous than you'd expect with the team doing this well -- and doing it despite a tough schedule.

"Our schedule this year is the third most difficult in the NFL," Young said, "and last year we finished fourth in our own division." (There are five teams in the division).

Ah, last year. An unpleasant memory, to say the least, for the Giants. The team finished 6-10, and Young fired Ray Handley, the coach he had chosen two years before to succeed Bill Parcells.

"The media in New York," Young said, "wants to guillotine somebody every year at Foley Square [where the courts are]. They assassinated our coach. What they forgot was we lost two quarterbacks."

As for attacks on Young, who, after all, has been the architect of Giants failures as well as successes?

"I've always thought I was a step and a half ahead of the posse," said the three-time NFL Executive of the Year. "Last year I might have lost a half-step."

All this explains why people didn't expect a whole lot this year from the Giants, especially after Young was turned down by two prospective coaches, Boston College's Tom Coughlin and Dave Wannstedt, who went to the Bears.

Dan Reeves had been eased out at Denver and, in an off-season conversation with Frank Gifford, was told he should call George Young.

"You don't have to have control, do you?" Reeves was asked by Gifford, who knew Young would control the draft, trades and player signings.

"No, I just want to coach," Reeves said.

Soon thereafter Dan Reeves became the coach of the Giants. Obviously, he has done an excellent job.

"So far," said Young, the worrier.

Reeves, of course, is a leading contender for Coach of the Year.

Even so, if you listen to New York talk shows you hear people saying the Giants are overrated, that they have a poor offense, that they're the worst 10-3 team ever. And the people saying those things are not always the callers; often they're the hosts.

Young, naturally, was disappointed that his old hometown was rejected in the recent NFL expansion. Though he lives in New Jersey, he has family and his closest friends here. He cares about Baltimore.

Our mayor, Kurt Schmoke, was Young's quarterback 25 years ago at City College. The two men have great respect for each other. Interestingly, when Schmoke graduated from City and went off to Yale, Young predicted Kurt would one day become a U.S. senator.

"I didn't have a vote on expansion," Young said a little sadly. "That was an ownership decision. I just do the football stuff.

"I felt bad for Governor Schaefer. He and his people worked very hard to get Baltimore back in the league. They did everything they could have."

Young was asked what he thinks of Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke's plan to build a stadium in Laurel.

"Laurel!" he roared. "That way we won't have a team in Baltimore or Washington."

For that matter, the NFL doesn't have a team in New York, either.

Both the Giants and Jets play in East Rutherford, N.J. That's almost as far from Times Square as Laurel is from downtown Baltimore.

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