EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Twenty-two years after leaving the Giants and more than 18 years after his death, George Young has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Young, the Giants' highly-successful general manager from 1979-97 and a five-time NFL Executive of the Year, was announced as a member of the Hall's Class of 2020, a uniquely large 20-member group selected in conjunction with the league's centennial. He was one of three contributors chosen from a list of 10 finalists by a special panel comprised of members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, Hall of Famers, coaches, football executives and several leading football historians.
Young took over a team that had not reached the playoffs in 15 consecutive years. The Giants were postseason participants in his third season and eight times in his 19 seasons as head of the franchise's football operations (three times – in 1982, 88 and 94 – they were eliminated on the final day of the season). They won three NFC East titles and Super Bowls XXI and XXV. Young was a charter inductee into the franchise's Ring of Honor in 2010.
Following the 1997 season, Young left the Giants to take a position as an advisor to commissioner Paul Tagliabue in the NFL office. He died of a rare neurological disorder on Dec. 8, 2001.
"George is certainly very deserving of being in the Hall of Fame," said team president and chief executive officer John Mara. "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. 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."
"George Young transformed our organization," said Giants chairman and executive vice president Steve Tisch. "My father (the late Bob Tisch, who purchased Tim Mara's 50 percent ownership in 1991) always appreciated George's leadership and vision, and George was vital to our family as we transitioned from our traditional business interests into the National Football League. For that, we are grateful, and his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is most deserving and a long time coming."
Ernie Accorsi, who met Young in 1970, came to the Giants as his assistant in 1994 and succeeded him as general manager, has long championed Young's Hall of Fame selection.
"George Young's career is the very definition of a Hall of Famer," Accorsi said. "From assistant coach to scout to general manager to trusted advisor to Commissioner Tagliabue, every step of the way there was excellence. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of George or something I learned from him. The only bittersweet part is that he's not here. But as the great Beano Cook would say, 'If the Gipper knew, George knows.'"
Young becomes the 21st player, coach, owner or executive in the Hall of Fame who spent all or a significant portion of their career with the Giants. That is the fourth-highest total among the 32 NFL franchises, behind only Chicago (27), Green Bay (25) and Pittsburgh (22, including Bill Cowher, whose selection as announced on Saturday).
The Giants' Hall of Fame representatives include Wellington Mara, Mel Hein, Frank Gifford and Lawrence Taylor. Michael Strahan, who was enshrined in 2014, was the most recent member of the Giants to enter the Hall.
Young was a high school football coach for 15 years in his native Baltimore before Don Shula hired him as an assistant in the Colts' personnel department in 1968. Two years later, he was named offensive line coach on a Baltimore team that beat Dallas in Super Bowl V. Young was later director of player personnel and then offensive coordinator before rejoining Shula in Miami in 1974 as the Dolphins' director of personnel and pro scouting.
While Young was climbing the NFL ladder, the Giants were floundering. After playing in their third consecutive NFL Championship Game in 1963, they were a combined 60 games under .500 from 1964-78 – despite five seasons in which they finished .500 or better. The Giants hit bottom on Nov. 19, 1978, when an ill-advised handoff in the final seconds resulted in a fumble that Philadelphia's Herm Edwards scooped up and returned 26 yards for the touchdown that gave the Eagles a shocking 19-17 victory.
To complicate matters, Giants owners Wellington Mara and his nephew Tim had long feuded. But they recognized that a regime change was needed and on Valentine's Day, 1979, Young was hired as the team's general manager after NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle offered him to the team's ownership as a compromise candidate.
Young quickly began rebuilding the besieged franchise. His first draft choice was a little-known quarterback from Morehead State, Phil Simms, who was the franchise's greatest player at the game's most important position before Eli Manning came along. Two years later, Young chose linebacker Lawrence Taylor with the second overall selection in the NFL Draft. When his coach, Ray Perkins, left the Giants after the 1982 season to become the coach at his alma mater, the University of Alabama, Young promoted defensive coordinator Bill Parcells to the top job.
From 1981-90, Parcells, Simms and Taylor led the Giants to six playoff berths, three NFC East titles and two Super Bowl victories. Taylor and Parcells are in the Hall of Fame. So is Harry Carson, who arrived three years before Young but became a team captain and played in seven of his nine Pro Bowls during Young's tenure.
Young drafted the top three rushers in Giants history (Tiki Barber, Rodney Hampton and Joe Morris), the most productive receiver (Amani Toomer) and the players ranked one through three in career sacks (Strahan, Taylor and Leonard Marshall). Three other members of the Ring of Honor were drafted by Young (tight end Mark Bavaro and linebackers Carl Banks and Jessie Armstead).
Parcells left the Giants after the 1990 season and the team made the playoffs just once in the next six years, as a wild card in 1993 in Dan Reeves' first season as coach. In 1997, Young replaced Reeves with Jim Fassel and the team won the NFC East championship. After clinching the title with a victory against Washington, Young uncharacteristically walked onto the field, sat alone on the Giants' bench and wept.
He later 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). The person who receives that honor from The Sporting News is presented annually with the George Young NFL Executive of the Year Award.
Young retired from the Giants in January 1998 to fill the newly-created position of director of football operations for the NFL under Tagliabue. Less than four years later, he passed away at age 71. At a memorial service 10 days after his death, Tagliabue called Young "one of the finest men our nation has ever produced."
The full 15-person Centennial Slate for the Class of 2020 was revealed this morning. In addition to Young, two contributors were selected: Tagliabue, the NFL Commissioner from 1989-2006, and Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films from 1964 until his death in 2012. The class includes two coaches: former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, who received the news over the weekend when Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker surprised them on their respective studio shows during the divisional playoff games.
Ten players who last played more than 25 years ago join the contributors and coaches in the select class: wide receiver Harold Carmichael; tackles Winston Hill, Jim Covert and Duke Slater; safeties Cliff Harris, Donnie Shell and Bobby Dillon; defensive tackle Alex Karras; end Mac Speedie; and defensive end/linebacker/end Ed Sprinkle.
Aside from Young, Tagliabue and Sabol, the contributors under consideration were Bud Adams, Ralph Hay, Frank "Bucko" Kilroy, Art McNally, Art Modell, Clint Murchison, Steve Sabol and Seymour Siwoff.
The remainder of the 20-person class will include five modern-era players who will be elected from a group of 15 finalists announced yesterday. The entire class will be revealed on Feb. 1, the eve of Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
Young's election to the Hall of Fame is particularly meaningful to Accorsi. On the night they met as Colts employees in 1970, they shared a long dinner at a Baltimore steak house – and became instantly inseparable.
"He was my best friend in the National Football League for 31 years," said Accorsi, who was the general manager of the Colts from 1982-83 and the Cleveland Browns from 1985-92. "There were not too many days, certainly when we were together every day, but there weren't too many days, even when I was in Cleveland, that we didn't talk.
"It was so great being able to come back to work for him (on the Giants). I was working for the Orioles. I don't know if I would have ever gotten back into the National Football League if it wasn't for George."
Young spent his entire career deflecting both attention and credit. Accorsi remembers Young telling him, "Only players should be in the Hall of Fame." But Mara and Accorsi agree joining the other pro football immortals would have meant the world to him.
"I think this would have meant a lot to George because he always had a great appreciation for the history of the game and he had so much respect for people who were enshrined in the Hall," Mara said "I think this would have meant the world to him, even though he may not have admitted to that. I think this would have had a huge impact on him. Again, I'm really sorry he's not around to enjoy it."
"He would make light of it to a point," Accorsi said. "But he would be very, very happy and fulfilled by this. This would have been something he cherished, because the game meant so much to him."
And George Young meant so much to the Giants and everyone who knew him.
View photos of Hall of Famer George Young's notable draft picks during his tenure as the GM of the Giants