In the fall of
the year 1958, when most of the men who now make their living running with,
assisting those who run with, or defending against those who run with a
football had yet to encounter even the running exploits of Dick and Jane and
good old Spot, the football coach at Brownwood High in the heart of Texas had
himself a problem. Yes he did. The problem stood a little over six feet,
weighed upwards of 200 pounds and was so overwhelming in line play that it was
almost impossible to hold practice.
of the boys wanted to line up against old Robert, and him only a junior,"
recalls Slim Warren, then the football coach at Brownwood and now the
principal. "Some junior. Big as he was, he could still outrun every boy we
had but one, and he was twice as strong, literally, as anybody on the team. He
could really bang you. He had the kind of pop you got to be born with. The boys
he faced his junior year in practice stayed skint up all fall. Thank God for
that appendicitis his senior year 'cause otherwise he'd have had to play our
schedule all by himself."
The Robert of
Coach Warren's recollections wasn't a boy who, because of a slow mind or a
gridiron-crazed father, was older than his classmates. On the contrary, he was
only 16 when his junior year began. Twenty-two years later, Robert, a/k/a
(though not in Brownwood) Bob Young, still puts on his pads of an autumn
afternoon and still jars the jaw teeth of all who play against him, the only
difference being that now the jaw teeth belong not to the dry mouths of high
school boys but to the likes of Randy White, Louie Kelcher, Alan Page and Bill
Bergey. "Of all the things I have experienced in football," says
Bergey, Philadelphia's All-Pro linebacker, "by far the worst is to look up
in the middle of a play and find Bob Young coming at me for a one-on-one block.
I get this sinking feeling. I've never tried to block a 300-pound bowling ball,
but I'd imagine it would be a lot like trying to get around big Bob."
to produce such comments has made him a kind of underground celebrity among his
peers, who the past two years voted almost unanimously to include him in the
Pro Bowl. Why, then, is Young still so little known outside the flickering
lights of the film rooms? Why did he never make the All-Pro team until 1978, at
age 36 and in the 13th year of his NFL career? And why, oh why did St. Louis
release him this fall, a move that led to his signing with Houston, for whom he
has continued to play outstanding football at left guard?
It was on Sept.
3, 1942, seven weeks before his scheduled arrival, that Robert Allen Young made
his first appearance. He weighed seven pounds, 11 ounces and measured 25½
inches long. "Lord have mercy, but I was glad he came along early," his
mother, Laverne, remembers. "One look at that boy and I knew he wasn't a
minute too soon."
And he grew. His
father, Richard, was a 6'4", 230-pound railroad man; Laverne, a tall,
handsome woman who excelled in every sport she ever tried. "Robert Allen
was always bigger than the other boys his age," she recalls,
"especially around. But broad and thick as he was, he was always catfooted.
And strong? He and his young brother, Doug, were wrestling one day when it
turned into a fight and before I could get there Robert Allen had snatched Doug
up and run him slam through the bedroom wall. Right through the gyprock. Doug
was tough, though, bless his heart, and Robert Allen never really hurt him.
eat?" She laughs. "I couldn't fill him. I'll never forget Doug
complaining one day that Robert Allen got more to eat. 'But, honey,' I told
him, 'Robert Allen is bigger than you.' And Doug answered, 'Yeah, and at this
rate he always will be.' "
folks remember the teen-age trencherman. Gus Snodgrass, Robert's high school
track coach, tells about a meet in Killeen. "Robert and an old boy from
Weatherford named Ray Schoenke, who later played for SMU and the Washington
Redskins, were big buddies," he says. "They both of them threw the
shot, and since they didn't have to qualify, they had the morning off. We
brought 15 or 16 boys from Brownwood on our bus and everybody had packed a
lunch. Well, Robert got to feeling sociable and he invited Schoenke back to the
bus for a snack, and when our boys showed up at lunch there wasn't anything
left but sacks and wax paper.
better than that," Coach Snodgrass continues, laughing now, "was the
day the big-time recruiter from the University of Texas came out to Brownwood
to talk to Robert about a scholarship. I knew it was a fine chance for Robert,
and I wanted him to make a good impression, so when the recruiter arrived I
told him about how strong and quick Robert was. I even stretched things a
little and said Robert was a real hard worker and all. It was track season and
I suggested that we ought to go down and watch Robert get off some of those
record throws of his. [That spring Young produced a Triple A division state
record of 62'3" in the shot, a mark which still stands.] What I didn't know
was that Robert's girl friend had made him a chocolate cake that afternoon in
home ec. And sure enough, when me and the recruiter got down to the shot
circle, I see a half-eaten cake there on the bench by old Robert and him just
grinning, taking a throw and eating a piece of cake, taking a throw and eating
another piece, 'til the whole damn thing was gone."
than perturbed, the Texas recruiter offered young Robert a full ride in both
football and track, a ride that in time was accepted.