George Young said of his 19-year tenure as general manager of the Giants: “We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’ve never had a bad day.”
Young died in 2001, but Wednesday was a very good day for those who remember him as the most significant off-the-field hire by the organization and the man who transformed them from a dysfunctional, outdated operation into Super Bowl champions.
Young was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor to the sport and will be enshrined as part of the Centennial Class of 2020. He will be the 22nd Giant in the Hall of Fame (along with 13 others who spent some portion of their career with the team).
It has been nearly a quarter century since Young ran the team, but his impact echoes on the franchise he almost single-handedly turned around. Many of his associates have been fighting for years to have him recognized in Canton.
“I think about George every day,” Ernie Accorsi, one of Young’s closest friends and his successor as the team’s general manager, told the Giants’ team website. “I remember one time he said to me, ‘Only players should be in the Hall of Fame.’ He wouldn’t have made a big deal about it and he wouldn’t have admitted it, but it would have meant the world to him.”
The Giants played in the 1963 NFL Championship Game but had just two winning seasons and did not make the postseason for the next 15 years. After the 1978 season the team’s ownership, split between Wellington Mara and his nephew Tim, was fractured and the franchise was so disoriented that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had to step in and suggest that the team hire Young as general manager. Young had been the director of player personnel for the Dolphins.
Young quickly assembled the core of what would become a two-time Super Bowl-winning nucleus for the Giants. Young’s first draft choice was Phil Simms, a little-known quarterback from Morehead State. Two years later, Young chose linebacker Lawrence Taylor with the second overall selection in the NFL Draft. And when Ray Perkins left the Giants after the 1982 season to become the coach at the University of Alabama, Young promoted defensive coordinator Bill Parcells to the top job.
From 1981-90, Simms, Taylor and Parcells led the Giants to six playoff berths, three NFC East titles, and victories in Super Bowls XXI and XXV. Taylor and Parcells are in the Hall of Fame.
Young was one of the most successful and highly respected executives in NFL history. Five times, he was named NFL executive of the year (1984, 1986, 1990, 1993 and 1997). While the Giants did not win any Super Bowls after 1990 under his watch, he did draft the players who went on to become the all-time franchise leaders in rushing yards (Tiki Barber), receiving yards (Amani Toomer) and sacks (Michael Strahan). He retired after the 1997 season to fill the newly created position of director of football operations for the NFL under commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whose election to the Hall of Fame was also announced on Wednesday.
Besides the 15 new Hall of Famers selected by a panel last week and announced since, five other modern-era players will be elected and announced on the Saturday before Super Bowl LIV as part of the 20-member Class of 2020.
“I know how much this would mean to him,” Accorsi said. “I’ll quote Beano Cook, who left me this voicemail about my father the night we won the [2000 NFC] championship game. I’ll steal the line for George, that, ‘If the Gipper knew, your father will know.’ I hope whatever we all have to look forward to after this life that George will know about this somehow. I’m just sorry he isn’t here to enjoy it. But hopefully, he can look down and see it. He’s certainly deserving of enshrinement, that’s for sure.”