Thirty-five years ago, George Young turned Giants' fortunes around

Retiring Giants general manager George Young, right, laughs

Retiring Giants general manager George Young, right, laughs as his former assistant Ernie Accorsi tells a story from their early days in football during a news conference at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Thursday, Jan. 8, 1998. (Credit: AP / Mike Derer)

Bob Glauber

Newsday columnist Bob Glauber Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He

bio | email | twitter

It was 35 years ago that Giants fans welcomed general manager George Young's first major decision with a chorus of boos. Immediately after NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle announced the Giants were taking Morehead State quarterback Phil Simms with the seventh overall pick, the cadre of fans gathered for the draft screamed their disapproval.

This was not what Giants fans wanted to see at the time, especially after watching the franchise hit rock bottom only a few months earlier when Joe Pisarcik's botched handoff to Larry Csonka resulted in a fumble that was recovered and returned for a touchdown by the Eagles' Herman Edwards.

But Young's draft-day work, starting with that controversial selection of Simms, proved to be a turning point in the organization and signaled the start of one of the franchise's greatest eras and one of pro football's most successful runs.

Since the 1986 season, when the Giants won their first Super Bowl title, they have won more championships (four) than any other team. They are the only team to win a Super Bowl in each decade since the 1980s. Only the Patriots have matched the five Super Bowl appearances the Giants have made since then.

And although Young retired as the GM after the 1997 season, his impact continues to this day, a legacy that includes remarkable front-office stability, all traced directly to Young.

"I don't know if there's a day that goes by when somebody in our office doesn't quote George Young or refer to him in some way," Giants president John Mara said about the outspoken GM, who died of a rare brain disease in 2001 at age 71. "Some of them are repeatable. Some of them are not."

Young came to the Giants on Rozelle's recommendation as a compromise candidate to appease bickering ownership factions between Wellington and Tim Mara, and John Mara (Wellington's son) said the effect that Young has had on the franchise is incalculable.

"I'll always revere him for what he did, because he took us from being the laughingstock of the NFL to the top of the mountain," Mara said. "The effect he had on us made us a better organization for years to come after he left. I'll always appreciate that."

The Giants are far and away the most stable front-office operation in professional sports, with only three GMs in a 35-year span. And Young is responsible for bringing both of his successors to the Giants. He hired Ernie Accorsi as assistant GM before the 1994 season. Later that year, Young made his final hire with the Giants: Jerry Reese, who was brought in as a regional scout.

"It changed my whole life, being hired by George," Reese said as he prepared for this week's NFL draft, set for Thursday-Saturday. "It's kind of surreal to think back when he hired me and what has transpired through the years. Learning from George and learning from Ernie has been priceless."

The two most important things Reese learned from Young, lessons he continues to heed as he retools his roster: Don't tell people around you what you're thinking, and don't worry about "being sexy."

"George said to keep everything close to the vest," said Reese, who rarely is forthcoming about his personnel moves, as shown by his annual predraft meetings with the media that shed little light on what he's thinking.

And the other roster-building lesson: "You don't have to hit home runs in personnel decisions, but if you get a guy that can hit some doubles, some singles, a triple every now and then, you can win with those things. Make solid decisions.

"You don't have to be sexy. A lot of people like to jump up [in the draft]. It's a persona, to jump up and make a big, sexy move. We're not afraid to do that, but that's not what it's all cracked up to be. Just do what's best for your football team and don't let anybody else derail you from doing that."

Accorsi, who first met Young in Baltimore when Accorsi was the Colts' public-relations director and Young worked in the personnel office, credited his mentor with helping his career as a GM with the Browns and Giants.

"I started listening to his philosophy on personnel from my first day with the Colts in the 1970s," Accorsi said. "We hit it off right away, and talked for hours. He was a great mentor to have and a great, organized builder of an organization. He influenced a lot of people along the way, including me."

Accorsi's big takeaway from Young: "He used to always say that what we sell is credibility. You can never lose your credibility. No matter who lies to you, you can never lie back because once you lose credibility, that's it. George always had good judgment. He knew the right people to hire."

Young wasn't always right with his decisions, but he was right enough to build a championship team with players such as Simms, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Morris, Carl Banks and Leonard Marshall, and with coach Bill Parcells. And with Accorsi and eventually with Reese, he knew whom to surround himself with to succeed in the near term and leave the organization better off in the long term.

"He's one of the best GMs in the history of the league," Accorsi said. "We don't put GMs in the Hall of Fame like they do in baseball, but we should."

Said Mara: "He deserves to be in Canton. Not a lot of people could have done what he did, taken us from where we were.

"When he came to us, we were in shambles. We had been through so much chaos. He transformed the entire operation here and made us champions."