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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.
"Shoot, none 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."
Young's capacity 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.
"And 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.' "
Other Brownwood 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.
"But even 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."
More impressed than perturbed, the Texas recruiter offered young Robert a full ride in both football and track, a ride that in time was accepted.