George Young was a Baltimore Hall of Famer off the field before he became a Giant on the field

BALTIMORE – New Yorkers are cheering George Young’s entrance into the pro football Hall of Fame. As general manager, he guided their Giants to some wonderful years. But New Yorkers don’t know the best parts of the big guy’s story.

Before he went to New York, Young was a high school coach and teacher at Baltimore City College. Nominally, he taught history. In actual fact, he taught kids how to meet their biggest opponent – their own potential.

He developed his standards here and then carried them to New York, where he had to deal with the spoiled jocks of the modern age.

“How do you handle a guy like Lawrence Taylor?” I asked him one time. Taylor was the Giants Hall of Fame linebacker with a Hall of Shame off-field history.

“I find out their weaknesses,” Young said.

“Lawrence Taylor had a weakness?” I asked.

“He was terrified,” Young said, “of his wife.”

At Baltimore City College, Young understood the chemistry of his teams: a collection of tough kids from every corner of town, some of them lacking family guidance, all of them bursting with adolescent killer instinct, and all imagining eternal football glory.

George disabused them of the last notion real fast. He made certain he saw all players’  report cards, even before their parents did. He made sure they wore coats and ties on game days. He taught discipline in ways unthinkable today.

He understood that the game on the field was only a tiny sliver of a person’s whole life. Among those who got the lesson were a big lineman named Dutch Ruppersberger, who became a U.S. Congressman, and a quarterback named Kurt Schmoke, who became mayor of Baltimore.

Schmoke was something special, a superior athlete, a marvelous leader, and exceptionally smart. One day Young walked off the practice field with the kid.

“What are you thinking about college?” Young asked. Schmoke mentioned UCLA or USC, one of those football powerhouses. Young shook his head.

“Son,” he said, “you’re not that good.”

Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. But Young saw bigger, more important things, in the kid’s future, and he was right. What people around here eventually learned was the number of kids George helped get into college – many of whom didn’t even go to City.

Young was born into a working-class family off this city’s lower Greenmount Avenue, midway between the state prison and the Little Sisters of the Poor – “between death and poverty,” his friend and former assistant coach Joe Brune remembered Young’s description.

“George knew who you were and who you weren’t,” said another assistant coach, Bob Patzwall. Young had no patience for frauds or show-offs – or bullies. He had a high-pitched voice and a big body approaching sumo proportions.

Among his adolescent pals was George (Puddin’) Barry, who once said, “We hired George just to stand on the corner with us, ‘cause who’s gonna give us trouble then?”

He went to high school at Calvert Hall, college at Bucknell, and later coached at Calvert Hall. Then came the coaching years at City, and a string of championships. Along the way, the Baltimore Colts of Don Shula discovered him. They liked his string of championships, and his studiousness – and his teams’ discipline.

A classic George Young moment: November of 1962, Kirk Field, in the final moments of a tie game between City and Douglass High. City’s driving for a winning touchdown. The afternoon’s raw and rainy, and every player’s covered in mud.

I’m covering the game for City’s weekly newspaper, The Collegian. I edge as close as I can get to Young as he calls across the field to City’s halfback, Tom Duley.

“Duley, Duley,” he calls repeatedly. I imagined he was calling in some secret play to lift City to victory.

“Duley, Duley…”

Duley finally hears him, and turns around.

Young yells, “Your shirt’s not tucked in.”

Sometimes George wasn’t exactly pleased with the stories I wrote about his football team. I’d walk into homeroom on days the school paper appeared, and my homeroom teacher – Joe Brune, Young’s assistant coach – would quietly remark, “Mr. Young would like to see you upstairs.”

He’d let me have it pretty good. A detail here or there, or a skewed point of view. Years later, when I started writing professionally and George was with the Colts, I bumped into him.

“I remember you,” he said. “I used to give you a tough time, didn’t I?”

He was wrong about that. What he gave me – and gave so many kids – was a sense of proportion, and standards, and the idea that our real opponent was our own potential.

Even back then, George Young was Hall of Fame material.


Feature image: YouTube screenshot.

One thought on “George Young was a Baltimore Hall of Famer off the field before he became a Giant on the field

  • February 1, 2020 at 2:41 PM

    Finally… we Agree on something! Enjoyed very much!

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