Buddy Young

Buddy Young
Buddy Young

Young at the University of Illinois
Date of birth: January 5, 1926
Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Date of death: September 1983 (age 57)
Place of death: Terrell, Texas, United States
Career information
Position(s): Running Back
College: Illinois
 As player:
New York Yankees (AAFC)
New York Yanks
Dallas Texans
Baltimore Colts
Career highlights and awards
Honors: Pro Bowl (1954)
Retired #s: Indianapolis Colts #22
Playing stats at DatabaseFootball.com
College Football Hall of Fame

Claude "Buddy" Young (January 5, 1926 – September, 1983) was an American football player. A native of Chicago, the 5'4" Claude "Buddy" Young, also known as the "Bronze Bullet," had exceptional quickness and acceleration. He is one of the shortest men ever to play NFL football. As a track star at the University of Illinois, he won the National Collegiate Championships in the 100 and 220-yard dash, tied the world record for the 45 and 60-yard dashes, and was the Amateur Athletic Union's 100-meter champion. Buddy was Illinois state champ in the 100-yard dash, and at the University of Illinois, he was the NCAA champion in the 100 and tied the world record (6.1) in the 60-yard dash.

Young was as impressive on the gridiron as on the track. He received scholarship offers from several schools, including the University of Michigan, Drake University, Marquette University and the University of Illinois. He chose Illinois and established himself as a star immediately. In his first game for the Illini, he scampered 64 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. On his second carry, he ran for a 30-yard touchdown. In all, in his debut he gained 139 yards on 7 carries, an average of 19.7 yards. Before the season concluded, he scored 10 touchdowns equaling the Big Ten Conference record established by the immortal Red Grange in 1924.

These unusual early successes brought the freshman running back national attention. "Not since the days when Red Grange was ripping up the sod...for Bob Zuppke and the Illini has there been so much pigskin excitement on the University of Illinois Campus." Sportscaster Bill Stern called him "The fastest thing in cleats and the runner of the year." Ray Eliot, Young's coach, referred to him as "The best running back I have ever seen." Only a freshman, Young was named to several All-America teams.

Football, like other aspects of American life, had to endure wartime hardships. Manpower difficulties forced NFL teams to reduce their rosters from 33 to 25. Some colleges ended football programs for the duration. And most college players had their education and playing days interrupted by wartime commitments. Young was no different. In late January 1945, Young was drafted by the Navy. Initially he reported to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, but was eventually transferred to the naval base at Fleet City, California. Like many star athletes, Young played football for a service team; he didn't let the draft stop him from playing the game he loved. Coast service teams, one writer claimed, "unquestionably played the toughest football extant during the war. The personnel of the league were 30 percent All-American, 30 percent professional and 40 percent better than the average college squad."

In mid-December, the top two coast service teams met for the championship. In an earlier contest the Bluejackets, Buddy's team, had prevailed 7-0. The championship game was played in Los Angeles at Memorial Stadium before 65,000 fans. It was one of Buddy Young's greatest games. After a scoreless first quarter, Young returned a kickoff for a 94 yard touchdown, he ran back another kickoff for an 88 yard touchdown, and took a hand-off from O'Rourke and scampered 30 yards for a third. The Bluejackets won the game 45-28 to complete an unbeaten season. They challenged the unbeaten West Point team, but the cadets refused the invitation.

Young's performance won accolades from players, coaches, writers, and fans. Charlie O'Rourke still talks excitedly about the game and Young's ability. An opponent stated that he had "never seen his equal" and Aldo Forte remarked: "I've seen the greatest in pro football. None can compare with Young." El Toro coach Dick Hanley, who had coached Northwestern, called Young "the greatest college back I've ever seen." Bluejackets Coach Bill Reinhart declared that he had "never seen anything like Buddy Young." Sports columnist Slip Madigan also considered Young superior to Blanchard and Davis. And comedian Bob Hope observed: "I'd heard of black magic...now I've seen it!"

Rumors circulated that once Young fulfilled his service obligation he would be drafted by the NFL or lured to UCLA to play for the Bruins. Neither proved true. Young returned to the University of Illinois and helped the Illini in the 1947 Rose Bowl, where he was named Co-Player of the Game, after Illinois hammered UCLA, 45-14.

World War II proved a major boom to sports integration. Not only did the war promote the ideals of democracy and fair play, it also gave blacks a chance to showcase their talents on college, semi-professional and service teams. In football, three of the most talented minority athletes during the war years were Bill Willis, Marion Motley and Young. Buddy was one of the first black men to play pro football; he played on teams where he was typically one of two or three black players, and undoubtedly he had his rough spots, but his warm, bubbling personality carried him through, and made him immensely popular.

Young played ten years in pro football. In 1947, he signed with the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference. In 1950, Young, along with many of the other Yankee players, joined the New York Yanks of the National Football League. The Yanks folded after the 1951 NFL season and Young was assigned to the Dallas Texans. The Texans also folded after the 1952 season and Young again was assigned to another team, this time the Baltimore Colts. Young retired from football after the 1955 season.

Young was a threat at several positions: five times in his professional career, he eclipsed 1,000 all purpose yards, and in 1954, he was selected to the NFL Pro Bowl team. Over his ten year professional career, NFL and AAFL, Young averaged 4.6 yards per carry as a running back, over 15 yards per reception as a receiver, and almost 28 yards per kickoff return, peaking at a remarkable 34.4 yards per return for the Colts in 1953. In a 1953 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Young returned the opening kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown; at the time, this was the second longest kickoff return in NFL history.

Young was the first Colt to have his number retired and, in 1966, the first African-American executive hired by the NFL. At his death in 1983 in a car crash, he was Director of Player Relations for the NFL.

Through NFL record books list Young at 5-4, 175 pounds, those who played alongside him said he probably was 10 pounds lighter and an inch shorter. But Young was a stocky cannonball of a running back with great speed and ability to change direction; he was elusive and hard to hit. This made him a real crowd pleaser, and he attributed the length of his career to the fact that few people ever got a clear shot at him.

Gino Marchetti, a Hall of Fame defensive end who played on the same Dallas and Baltimore Colts team as Young from 1952 to 1955 said, "Young, though well-built from the hips down, was so quick and fast he never really got hit that hard. That's what made him successful. He'd see something coming and avoid it, or go with the flow. He had great ability to juke a guy." "He was like a toy football player," said Marchetti, "But he could do it all. He wasn't afraid to take on a defensive end blocking, wasn't afraid to lead a play. Young looked even smaller because of the gear he refused to wear. The most amazing thing about Buddy is he had no hip pads at that time, no thigh pads and played with a pair of shoulder pads you wouldn't let your son wear, and like so many players in that era, Young refused to wear a face mask." Like former Broncos fan favorite Ed McCaffrey, who thought extra padding slowed him, Young took that notion to extremes.

As the fastest player in his era--he could run the 100 in 9.4 seconds--no one could catch him. Not even a horse, which was demonstrated graphically in the 100 yard race between Young and the Colts mascot staged before a scrimmage at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. "Buddy didn't want to do it. He thought he'd be a freak show. But he ended up putting on a little show for them," Marchetti said. "He was so quick, so fast, by the time the horse got going Buddy had him by 10 yards."

Buddy Young is a member of The Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C. National Intercollegiate All-American Football Players Honor Roll.

External links

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