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Sacco Sez: Playing to stats, not size


When I joined the Denver Broncos in 1978, the Director of Player Relations for the National Football League was Buddy Young.

One would see him occasionally at an NFL function, and he always had a smile on his face to match his upbeat personality.

I have been thinking about Buddy Young quite a bit lately, especially since the Broncos signed running back Phillip Lindsay of the University of Colorado as a college free agent.

A lot of teams were interested in signing Lindsay, but none of them did, and the likely reason is his height, not his productivity.

In his four years at Colorado, Lindsay ran for 3,775 yards and a 4.9 average, caught 117 passes for 1,084 more yards, and had 5,936 total yards to go with 39 touchdowns.

But Lindsay is "only" 5'8", and that scared some teams away.

But it shouldn't have.

Buddy Young was only 5'4", the shortest Pro Bowl player in NFL history.

Sometimes players play to their stats, not to their size.

Besides being one of the most positive and genial men one could ever meet, Young was a great player.

He was an All-American running back at Illinois, where he also tied the world record for the 45- and 60-yard dashes as a member of the Illini track team.

During World War II, he served his country in the Army and like a lot of football players, spent some of his time playing for a service team.

The war years opened many doors for a lot of people due to an emphasis on values such as democracy, fair play, and equality.

To digress for a moment, service football was comprised of about 30 percent NFL players and 30 percent college All-Americans, so you get the idea very quickly that those were powerful teams.

Young was on the best team on the West Coast, and when the two top teams played for the Service West Coast championship in 1945, the game was played before 65,000 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Buddy Young returned kickoffs 94 and 88 yards for touchdowns and scored a third on a 30-yard run. He would sometimes point out that his team actually challenged the unbeaten West Point team to a game, a challenge which was politely declined.

He played 10 years of pro football as a 5-foot-4- running back and kick returner, and had over 1,000 all-purpose yards in five different seasons.

Young made the Pro Bowl in 1954 — the same year in which he had a 104-yard kickoff return touchdown against Philadelphia — and his 10-year kickoff return average was over 27 yards per return.

At Illinois, Young was given the nickname the "Bronze Bullet," and he became the first Baltimore Colt player to have his uniform number retired. He wore No. 22, which in retrospect seemed to fit his speed and style.

Young became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and will forever be notable as one of the game's great pioneers.

In 1966 he became the first African-American executive ever within the NFL headquarters and worked for the NFL until his death in 1983.

He had one of the great quotes I have ever heard, and I repeat it many times. Quite often in a social greeting to begin a new day, he would say, "This is another great day in which to excel."

Buddy Young was 5'4" and new Bronco Phillip Lindsay is 5'8".

But Lindsay was a role model at CU and has a chance to be the same in pro football.

Buddy Young played to his stats, not to his size, and Phillip Lindsay will be given a chance to do the very same for the Denver Broncos.

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