For the past 13 years he has worked in New York, a town that is unforgiving to those who blink at the bright lights of the big city. George Young has yet to blink. He has yet to even acknowledge that he's in the big city.
The day he got the job, a reporter said to him, "Nice to have you in the Big Town."
Young replied, "I thought Baltimore was the Big Town."
At his first news conference in 1979, he was asked, "How do you feel about coming here to New York? It's a little different."
He replied, "Are you asking me whether or not I've driven by Secaucus? I'm very familiar with New York. My father used to buy the New York News and the Daily Mirror all the time when I was a kid in parochial school [St. James]. I've never, ever felt uncomfortable here [New York], but I still have strong feelings about my roots. I'm very sensitive about roots. I know where I came from."
He came from Baltimore.
And those who know him say he hasn't changed. Not since going to the Big Town in 1979 to become general manager of the New York Giants, one of the most glamorous and scrutinized positions in all of sports. Not since being hailed for winning two Super Bowls. Not since being ripped for some of his decisions, including the promotion of Ray Handley to head coach.
"He may have changed less than anybody I've known in my lifetime," said Nick Schloeder, the dean of the faculty at Gilman School who met Young as a freshman at Bucknell. "He was grumpy then, and he's still grumpy. He was always that way. He seemed to be able to cut through things and get to the real meaning of something."
There have been two essential areas in Young's life: sports and education.
Growing up, he played lots of sports, including football and hockey on roller skates. One sport he didn't play was basketball, because there were no backboards in the neighborhood.
He learned the value of education from his maternal grandfather, a native of the Sudetenland who moved here at the turn of the century. His grandfather was a baker, but his grandfather's father had been a college professor in the Sudetenland, so education was stressed.
"I always took school seriously," Young said. "We were graded every week and you got a gold card if you were between 92 and a 100 and a pink card if you were between 92 and 85. I brought home a pink card once, and my mother [who's now 84 and has lived in Timonium since 1958] wanted to know what the heck was going on. She cut off my food supply."
He said his first home was 10 blocks east of the train station on the corner of Preston and Ensor streets above his grandfather's bakery and across the street from his father's stag bar. The family later moved to a $1,800 rowhouse two blocks away.
Young went from Calvert Hall to Bucknell, where he played football well enough to be drafted by the 1952 Dallas Texans, a team that collapsed before the end of the season and was destined to become the Baltimore Colts the next year.
It was in Dallas where he met Art Donovan, who still tells stories about Young's poor eyesight. Young, who was a designated driver before there was such a term ("Artie was King Schlitz," Young said), once turned onto a set of railroad tracks late at night that he thought was a road. "Dallas was the wild west in those days," Young said.
Young was waived by the Texans at the end of his first training camp, on Sept. 22, 1952, his 22nd birthday. There were teams interested in him the next season, but by then he was teaching at City College. A job paying $2,800 in the public school system was more stable than a $5,000 job in the struggling NFL, so he stuck with teaching.
He wound up coaching football at Calvert Hall while still teaching at City and then coached at City for nine years. He won six Maryland Scholastic Association championships and was 60-12 during that time. Along the way, he took so many night courses that he got a master's degree from Loyola College and an advanced degree from Johns Hopkins.
The NFL comes calling
Young said he never pursued a job in the NFL before Don Shula, then the Colts coach, offered him a personnel job in 1968. When Shula left Baltimore for the Miami Dolphins in 1970, Young remained with the Colts, but his relationship with Shula remained strong.
That became important after the 1973 season, when Young was fired by Colts GM Joe Thomas.
"Joe wasn't comfortable with me," said Young, who thought it was because he was part of the old regime before Bob Irsay bought the team in 1972.
After Shula heard about the firing, he offered Young a job with the Dolphins as a scout and administrator.
When Wellington Mara and his nephew, Tim, couldn't decide on a man to run their football operation in 1979, Shula suggested to commissioner Pete Rozelle that the Giants consider Young as a compromise candidate.
Young helped turned a struggling franchise into a Super Bowl winner in seven years.
"When he went there, that thing was a total disaster," said Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, who was then a scout. "It was a horrible situation. He did a great job."
Money doesn't talk
When Young started with the Colts in 1968, he was paid $14,000,
just $1,000 more than he was making as a teacher and a coach.
Young, who has often said all pro football people are overpaid, including himself, said money never has been a factor in his decisions.
He was making $36,000 in Miami when the Giants offered him $75,000 to become general manager. When he started getting his paychecks, he found out he was making $80,000. He assumes they expected him to negotiate and planned to go up to that figure. He's now being paid $1 million, a figure he never dreamed of making.
"I just wanted the opportunity," he said.
When Young left City, he said he didn't expect his next 15 years to be as happy as his previous 15. He stands by that statement today, even though it took him just 11 years to get one of the most coveted jobs in the league -- GM of the Giants.
"I'm not the most ambitious person in the world," he said. "I really didn't seek a job in the NFL."
His Baltimore friends agree.
"I didn't envision him in the NFL," said Joe Brune, who has coached and taught at Loyola for 26 years and met Young at Bucknell. "He seemed to get such enjoyment out of what he was doing."
Baltimore in his future?
At 62, Young is in the second year of a five-year contract, a fact he was forced to reveal in the recent antitrust trial in Minneapolis that the owners lost.
"I didn't care about the money, but I didn't want to get into the length of contract," he said. "I don't want to become an issue."
After the court ruled in favor of the players in their pursuit of free agency, the NFL pushed back the possibility of fielding two expansion teams until at least 1995. Before the delay, Young's friends were speculating on whether he would have jumped at the chance to run a team in Baltimore.
Many think he and his wife, Mary Love, who's known as Lovey and whose family's roots are also in Baltimore, would have welcomed that challenge.
"I've said this before and I've never said it to be misleading," he said. "I never dreamed the dream of coming here [New York], and I don't dream, really. I take things as they come and try to deal with them as best I can.
"The Mara family gave me an opportunity, and I'm very appreciative of that. That's [Baltimore] too far in the future. I've never been a dreamer. I never dreamed I'd be sitting in this chair in this job. I thought I'd be a schoolteacher and a coach and a student at night, and I never complained about that life."
And he's not complaining now, even though the Giants are 3-4 going into tonight's game against the Redskins and the fans and media are calling for Handley's dismissal.
"Wellington always said if the job was easy, I wouldn't be here," Young said. "Once in a while when I get frustrated, he reminds me of that. I wouldn't have gotten the job if there weren't problems."
George Young with the Giants
Year .. .. Coach .. .. Record .. .. Finish ... .. Playoffs
1979 .. .. .. Ray Perkins .. 6-10 .. .. .. 4th
1980 .. .. .. Ray Perkins .. 4-12 .. .. .. 5th
1981 .. .. .. Ray Perkins .. 9-7 .. .. .. .. 3rd .. . Wild card,
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... lost to 49ers
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .... in 2nd game
1982 .. .. .. Ray Perkins .. 4-5* .. .. .. 4th
1983 .. ... Bill Parcells .. 3-12-1 .. ... 5th
1984 .. .. .Bill Parcells .. 9-7 .. .. .. . 2nd .. .. . Wild card,
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . lost to 49ers
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. in 2nd game
1985 .. ... Bill Parcells .. 10-6 .. .. .. 2nd .. .. . Wild card,
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . lost to Bears
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. in 2nd game
1986 .. .. Bill Parcells ... 14-2 .. .. .. 1st .. ... Beat Broncos
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . in Super Bowl
1987 .. .. Bill Parcells ... 6-9* .. .. .. 5th
1988 .. .. Bill Parcells ... 10-6 .. .. .. 2nd
1989 .. .. Bill Parcells ... 12-4 .. .. .. 1st .. .. ..Lost to Rams
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . in 1st game
1990 .. .. Bill Parcells ... 13-3 .. .. .. 1st .. ... Beat Bills in
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. .. .. .. . Super Bowl
1991 .. .. Ray Handley .. .. 8-8 .. .. ... 4th
*--Strike shortened seasons
For perspective, before Young took over as general manager, the Giants' last playoff appearance had been in the 1963 NFL championship game, when Frank Gifford scored New York's lone touchdown in a 14-10 loss to the Chicago Bears.