Buddy Young wore a size 6 football cleat, and he was truly 5'4". At times, he might have weighed 175 pounds, but he said his ideal playing weight was 165. Among the many things he did in his nine-year pro football career (1947-55) was to help black players gain acceptance in the sport. But Young's legacy should be that he convinced football traditionalists that great small people belong in the game.
The late Art Rooney, founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said, "I have watched pro football for 70 years, and he was the most exciting man I ever saw running with the ball."
Young, who died at the age of 57 in a 1983 auto accident, played a hybrid running back-flanker position at the University of Illinois, earning Rose Bowl and College All-Star Game MVP honors before joining the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference in 1947. The AAFC and NFL merged in '50. In 1952 he played for the Dallas Texans, who became the Baltimore Colts when the franchise moved in 1953.
He was the fastest pro football player of his era; he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds in '47. But at the same time, he was a blood-and-guts back.
"He wore no pads except shoulder pads," says former roommate Zollie Toth. "No knee pads, no thigh pads, no hip pads—just a little piece of leather on each hip. He always thought pads slowed him down." And no face mask on the helmet, even when they were coming into vogue. "You don't taste your own blood, you ain't a player," Young once said.
In his nine AAFC-NFL seasons, Young rushed for 4.6 yards a carry and averaged 15.1 yards per reception. His best season was his first one with the Yankees, when he rushed for 712 yards, gained another 303 on pass receptions and scored seven touchdowns, including two on kick returns. With the Colts in '54, Young rushed for 311 yards on 70 carries and gained 272 yards on 15 pass receptions.
His best play, Toth says, was on the pitchout, when he would be isolated against linemen and linebackers. He would shift and juke and make things happen. "Buddy proved you don't have to be a big, bruising guy to play the game," Toth says. Forty years later, Young's legacy lives.