The Myth of George Young

January 3, 2022

We’ve had several correspondents write over the past few days something along the lines that ‘what the Giants need right now more than anything is an intervention similar to 1978 when then-commissioner Pete Rozelle ‘saved’ the Giants by stepping in and forcing the Maras to hire George Young as the G.M. and take over the team’s football operations.’

And it’s an interesting theory except for the fact that Pete Rozelle never did anything of the kind. The Giants WERE at the time already looking for a new G.M. Former Giants’ DE Andy Robustelli had been doing the job, but only on a part-time basis (it was a different!). The Giants’ wanted somebody full-time and Robustelli was unwilling at the time to give up his car dealership.

The problem, as has been well documented, was that the Giants ownership was split 50-50 between two wings of the Mara family that didn’t get along at all. In this particular case, they were at an impasse because any candidate suggested by Wellington was rejected out of hand by nephew Tim, while at the same time Tim was only putting forward candidates that he knew would be totally unacceptable to Wellington.

The impasse was finally broken when Rozelle suggested George Young as a compromise candidate, although there have always been rumors that it was actually Wellington who secretly had the commissioner recommend Young to get around Tim’s obstinance.

And of course, however, he came to be a Giant, Young is generally considered to be the architect who turned the floundering franchise around. And while Young certainly put in place the management structure that for all intents and purposes, remains in place today, although it clearly has evolved over time, my own sense, though, is that in fact, the actual turnaround can be traced directly to two very specific personal developments. One, the Giants selected Lawrence Taylor, the best player in team history and one of the league’s all-time greats, with the second pick overall at the 1981 draft. He turned what at the time was a good defense into one of the most dominant unit’s in league history.

Then in 1984, Phil Simms, in what was in fact his 6th season, was finally able to establish himself as a solid NFL QB. And while the offense was never great with Simms, it was good enough to compliment the great defense. Obviously, there were other players involved in the whole process, but the Giants don’t win any Super Bowls in the 1980s without those two guys.

And, again for all intents and purposes, the Giants got both courtesy of just plain old dumb luck. The QB they wanted in 1979 was actually Jack Thompson of Washington State, but Cincinnati took him with the 3rd pick overall. So with the 7th pick the Giants chose the little-known Simms from little-known D1A Morehead State. In contrast, Taylor was a no-brainer as the best player in the draft, but the Giants only get him if New Orleans passes on the BPA to fill a need which is what they did with RB George Rogers and the 1st pick overall.

What’s also fascinating about the whole story is that around about the same time as both Simms and Taylor retired, Young apparently ‘lost his touch’ as a G.M. resulting in the Giants going thru the tough years in the 1990s.

There’s one other thought that I have been kind of tossing around in my brain the past week or so. We all know the Giants were awful in the 1970s, at least from 1973 thru 1980, but the underlying storyline for the Giants in those years was trying to find a QB to replace Fran Tarkenton who was traded back to Minnesota at the end of the 1971 campaign. They went thru, in no particular order, Craig Morton, Norm Snead, Randy Johnson, Randy Dean, Jerry Golsteyn, and Joe Piscarcik. And what was the underlying story of the 1990s. It was trying to find a replacement for Simms and Jeff Hostetler as the Giants cycled thru Dave Brown, Danny Kanell, Jesse Palmer, Kent Graham, Kerry Collins, and Kurt Warner before landing on Eli Manning.

Of course, it’s also interesting to note that the Giants did still have Eli Manning around for the better part of this decade so it wasn’t the quarterbacking per se. The fans and the media have generally tended to blame the offensive line as the main culprit for the decline in the 2010s, although my own sense – which I have supported in the past with stats – is that the real problem was the defense which just hasn’t been very Giants-like at all for most of the decade.

So what’s to be learned from all this. To be honest, I am not sure. But it does tend to reinforce in my own mind, that positions don’t win games or championships, players do or at least impact players do. And the issue with the Giants these days isn’t so much that they have ‘too many holes to fill’, they just don’t have very many impact players. Of course, with two likely top ten picks at the 2022 draft, the Giants will certainly have a chance to try and add a couple of potential impact players this spring. Indeed, it will be interesting to see which direction the new G.M. leads the team.

More to come – obviously!!