Former Baltimore Colts and New York Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi says Baltimore native George Young, who was recently elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Hall’s Centennial Class, set a “standard of excellence” during his career in football and throughout his life.
Young died in 2001 at the age of 71. He was the general manager of the Giants from 1979-1997, winning Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990 and appearing in the playoffs eight times.
Young was a Baltimore man through and through. He played at Calvert Hall from 1944-1948. After playing his college ball at Bucknell and trying out for the Dallas Texans in 1952, he began a 16-year stint as a history teacher at City College starting in 1953, according to The Baltimore Sun. He coached at Calvert Hall from 1954-1958, winning a Maryland Scholastic Association title in 1957. He then coached at City from 1959-1967, during which City went 60-11-2 and won five MSA titles.
After that, Young’s NFL career took off. He served in a variety of roles for the Baltimore Colts and was part of the Colts’ Super Bowl victory in 1971. After his tenure with the Colts, he was the director of player personnel with the Miami Dolphins, which led him to his GM job with the Giants. Accorsi, who worked with Young in Baltimore and New York, shared some of his memories of Young on Glenn Clark Radio Jan. 16.
Accorsi recalled meeting Young in April 1970 during his first day with the Colts. The two met by chance at the old Rustler Steak House on York Road in Towson.
“We started talking and hit it off to the point where [Young’s wife], Lovey, asked me would I take George home because she wanted to leave. She had heard enough of our conversation,” Accorsi said. “It was from that night on we became very close and we worked together.
“The one way I can describe George whether he was teaching in junior high school or he was coaching City College or Calvert Hall or with the National Football League, everything with him had a standard of excellence. He wouldn’t do anything if he couldn’t achieve excellence, and it didn’t matter what the job was. He was a meticulously organized person. Everything he did had a total commitment to it.”
Accorsi explained that Young was a terrific defensive lineman at Bucknell despite poor eyesight. Young made first-team “Little All-America” in 1951.
“He was a great player. He was drafted by the New York Yanks, and before he could even go to training camp, they moved to Dallas,” Accorsi said. “So he goes to Dallas training camp. That’s the Baltimore Colts. That’s the [Gino] Marchetti-[Art] Donovan Baltimore Colts that eventually moved to Baltimore, but it was the Dallas Texans and they all said he had a great camp. The coach, Jim Phelan, cut him.
“He went into the coach and he said, ‘I’m having a good camp.’ It was a lousy team. And the coach said, ‘You’re 1A for the draft,’ meaning the military. And George said, ‘I’m blind, Coach, I’m never going to pass the physical.’ George actually recovered a helmet one time during a game because he thought it was the ball. That’s how bad his eyes were. And they didn’t have facemasks. You couldn’t play with glasses. They had no contact lenses. And they cut him.”
After Young was cut by the Texans, he came back to Baltimore to start his teaching career. He had a chance to give his playing career another shot, but he turned it down.
“So he came back and got a job, and I don’t want to misspeak. It was a junior high school in Baltimore, and the Steelers called him and invited him to training camp in 1953. He didn’t go,” Accorsi said. “I said, ‘Why didn’t you go, George?’ He said, ‘I had a good job. I had a teaching job.’ That’s how much reverence he held teaching in.
“Listen, we old-timers, we old-school people will never change. Football is teaching. That’s what it is. It’s not play-drawing. It’s not scheming. You look at these guys with their Denny’s menus on the sidelines. They’re just calling plays. The great coaches were all great teachers, and George was a great teacher.”
Young drafted outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor with the No. 2 overall pick in 1981, quarterback Phil Simms No. 7 overall in 1979 and quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the third round in 1984. Taylor became one of the best players in league history, earning Defensive Player of the Year three times and NFL MVP honors in 1986. Simms was the Giants’ quarterback when they won the Super Bowl in 1986, while Hostetler took over for an injured Simms during their Super Bowl run in 1990. Accorsi said Young “knew how to build the team.”
“His first draft, he gets a quarterback. We all knew that. Anybody who worked for the Baltimore Colts knew one thing. The key to our success over those 17 years — we had a lot of great players — was No. 19,” Accorsi said. “He gave you a chance in every game you played. Now, you have to build around him, but I learned that philosophy from him.
“You get the quarterback — you don’t force it, but when you get a chance to pick the quarterback, you pick the quarterback. And then you make sure you protect him and then pick big people who can rush the passer. And that’s exactly how he built the Giants. That’s called team building. That’s not just picking players.”
Accorsi also worked under Art Modell in Cleveland from 1985-1992 before moving back to the East Coast to be closer to his family. Modell, who died in 2012 at the age of 87, was not part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class. The class had room for three contributors, and those spots went to Young, former NFL Films president Steve Sabol and former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue. It’s unclear whether Modell will ever get into the Hall, but Accorsi believes he belongs.
“He served on every major committee that this league has ever known. He chaired the television committee, which basically revolutionized the game,” Accorsi said. “He and [former commissioner] Pete Rozelle did all those contracts for years with the TV networks. He was on the labor committee. He headed the commissioner’s search committee, the election committee when Rozelle retired. He was on every possible committee you could be on.
“He won two championships. People overlook sometimes the NFL championships before the Super Bowls. They were big. He won the ’64 championship, unfortunately to the Baltimore Colts’ expense, and he won a Super Bowl. He has every qualification that so many of these other owners who got elected to the Hall of Fame, and he pretty much ran his team.”
For more from Accorsi, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Calvert Hall