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For the first time in his life Robert had worked really hard at something on his own. So it was no surprise to anyone who knew him that he made the starting lineup in Denver. Even at 300 pounds he outran most of the linemen and many of the backs in the 40, being clocked regularly in 5.0 seconds, and the Denver coaches knew they had a live one. But as the effects of those eight weeks Young had spent with the weights wore off, his extra size and strength and will drained away and he settled into an undistinguished five-year stint with the Broncos, playing well enough to start most games but not nearly playing up to his you know what.
Blessed with all the talent in the world, Robert seemed satisfied to drift along in those days and remain just an average lineman, doing no training from one season to the next. He was traded to Houston in 1971, played there one year and then had a contract dispute. St. Louis picked him up on waivers, and it was there that his renaissance began.
After the 1973 season Robert went home to Brownwood and began taking daily doses of the iron down at his brother Doug's gym. Like bluebonnets in a wet Texas spring, he quickly blossomed, adding probably 50 pounds of muscle and removing 30 pounds or so of fat, ending up 20 pounds heavier, 30% stronger and brimful of confidence.
In the summer of '74 Robert went to camp, in the words of bullfight aficionados, buscando guerra—looking for war—and his career as an underground star of the game flicks was born. Bill Curry, the former All-Pro center and line coach for Green Bay and now head coach at Georgia Tech, recollects watching some films a few years ago and noticing one of the guards dining out on a certain All-Pro defensive tackle. "Someone in the room said, 'Who in the hell is No. 64?' " Curry recalls, "and someone else spoke up, 'Why, that's Bob Young, the old guy who used to play for Denver.' And then a quiet voice was heard as Young rolled his man up the field again, 'Aged well, hasn't he?' "
In any case, once Robert set his mind to really play and began to train, quality performance became the rule rather than the exception. All Young needed then to become a big star almost overnight was a new name. Not only did he suffer from a reputation for mediocrity 10 years in the making, but he was also victimized by the double whammy of being an offensive lineman with a name like Bob Young. Who in the world believes "Too Tall" Jones could have been hyped by the media, and so subsequently enriched, had he been known simply as Ed Jones? Bob (Too Round) Young, or Bob (Boarhog) Young, or even, if only for lovers of wordplay, Carl Young. Something. Outstanding linemen like Dan Dierdorf or Joe DeLamielleure or Bob Lilly have names that are memorable, but a man known as "Bob Young," an average lineman for 10 years, stands in need.
Even his personality has been a problem. Neither voluble nor glib, Young played for several years at St. Louis in the shadow of All-Pros Tom Banks and Dierdorf and particularly in that of Conrad Dobler, the other guard. Those close to the Cardinals who watched Young and Dobler week after week for six years before Dobler was traded to New Orleans in 1978 just shake their heads and explain that, although Dobler was a good offensive guard, Young was a great one. Robert, of course, is aware of the effect of this obscurity on his pocketbook, but a couple of years ago he said, "Well, I'm what I am. I guess I'll play unknown."
But the truth, as it's supposed to, will out, and finally, after at least two seasons in which many people felt he deserved Pro Bowl recognition, Young was named to the '79 game. No one else in NFL history had gone to the Pro Bowl for the first time so late in a career. And no one had made All-Pro, as Young did in 1978, for the first time in the 13th year of a career.
Last summer, before the football camps began, Young was looking forward to another good year with the Cardinals. A back injury he suffered in the '80 Pro Bowl had seemingly mended with rest and light weight training, and the St. Louis team physician felt that Young's physical should be no problem.
Buoyed by the news, Bob and his second wife, Myra, whom he had married in 1979, put a deposit on a lovely old home in St. Charles, Mo. and began to make plans to redecorate. But then in July Young took the team physical and management decided to release him...because of the back injury.
Young's first reaction was disbelief, which changed quickly to outrage laced with bitterness, emotions that drove him to find another place to play, even though it meant starting over with a new team at an age almost twice that of the average rookie. Teams began to call and Robert visited several, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Denver, before finally settling on Houston.