The late New York Giants general manager who resurrected the franchise in the 1980s will be posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer as part of the NFL’s Centennial Class in the league’s 100th season.
Young, who died in 2001 at age 71, was the Giants’ GM from 1979 to 1997. When he took over, the Giants had missed the playoffs for 15 straight years with only two winning seasons.
By 1991, the Giants had reached the playoffs six times, won three NFC East titles and captured the franchise’s first two Super Bowls.
He once said of his Giants’ tenure: “I’ve had a wonderful job here. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’ve never had a bad day.”
Young was named NFL Executive of the Year five times: 1984, 1986, 1990, 1993 and 1997.
“George is certainly very deserving of being in the Hall of Fame,” co-owner John Mara said in a statement Wednesday after Young’s induction was announced. “My only regret is that he’s not around to enjoy this. He took our organization from being in last place and not having a lot of respect around the league, to being a Super Bowl Champion.
“He made every football department in our organization more professional,” Mara continued. “He changed the reputation and level of respect that our team had for the better. He improved us in so many different ways. He certainly is a very deserving Hall of Famer. Again, I only wish he could be around to enjoy this moment. It’s long overdue. All of us here are very happy that at long last, he will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.”
Young’s first draft pick in 1979 was a young quarterback from Morehead State named Phil Simms. Then he drafted the great Lawrence Taylor in 1981.
In 1982, when coach Ray Perkins left for Alabama, Young promoted defensive coordinator Bill Parcells to head coach.
He also drafted Joe Morris (1982), Leonard Marshall (1983), Carl Banks (1984), Mark Bavaro (1985) and other critical pieces that built the Super Bowl XXI and XXV winning teams.
The story of how Young joined the Giants is as great a part of his legend as any.
The Giants were entering their 15th straight offseason without a playoff berth. And they were coming off their unfathomable last-minute Nov. 19 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on “The Fumble,” Joe Pisarcik’s turnover when a kneel-down would have sealed victory, returned for a touchdown by the Eagles’ Herman Edwards.
Co-owners Wellington Mara and Tim Mara, Wellington’s nephew, brought a bitter behind-the-scenes feud out in public on Feb. 8, 1979, holding a pair of now-infamous dueling press conferences.
The conventional wisdom says NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle recommended Young to Wellington and Tim Mara as a compromise candidate to be the Giants’ new director of operations — since neither Mara would accept each other’s candidates.
But in reality, Wellington had been tipped off about Young, the Miami Dolphins’ director of pro scouting, by former Giants Frank Gifford and Tom Scott and had suggested that Rozelle pitch Young as an objective party.
John Mara confirmed this account to the Daily News in Aug. 2018.
“That’s correct,” Mara told the News. “My father suggested to Pete Rozelle, look, because we had been through a few rounds now where we had suggested some people and they had suggested some people and we couldn’t agree. And I think our feeling at the time was that the suggestion had to come from a third party. Because the communication was so poor at the time.”
Mara in 2018 called the preceding era “no question the low point in the history of the franchise.” But by 1991, Young had restored a landmark franchise to the pinnacle of the sport.
He is now considered one of the most successful and highly-respected executives in NFL history.
Ray Handley, Dan Reeves and Jim Fassel would coach the Giants under Young after Parcells left before the 1991 season. The Giants made the playoffs just once in the six years under Handley (1991-92) and Reeves (1993-96), as a wild card in 1993.
Fassel, in his first season, led the Giants to Young’s fourth and final NFC East title in 1997. And after clinching the title with a victory against Washington, Young uncharacteristically walked onto the field, sat alone on the Giants’ bench and wept.
He then retired to fill the newly-created position of director of football operations for the NFL under commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Commissioner Roger Goodell laughed on Wednesday’s “Good Morning Football” on NFL Network as he told the story of Young joining the league.
He said Young hated visiting the NFL offices when he was working at the club level. He called and said, “I’m coming over to the ivory tower.”
“George was an extraordinary guy, not just a great football guy,” Goodell said. “He changed the face of that franchise. Their success is in large part because of George Young, and I think the game’s (success) itself. He was an ultimate football guy. This would be something that he’d be so proud of.”
When Young passed of a rare neurological disorder on Dec. 8, 2001, Tagliabue called him “one of the finest men our nation has ever produced.”