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Paul 'Tank' Younger Helped Put Grambling on Map

Feb 12, 2010 – 9:00 AM
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Dave Goldberg

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Paul YoungerBlack History Month has been celebrated in some form since 1924. For sports fans, it is a chance to reacquaint themselves with those who broke down barriers in all areas of competition and all segments of society. Many are now household names and American icons: Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, Muhammad Ali, up to Tiger Woods, Tony Dungy and Venus and Serena Williams today.

Throughout February, FanHouse will shed light on the other figures in the history of sports whose breakthroughs were as significant as those mentioned above, but who aren't as instantly recognizable as pioneers. During Black History Month 2010, FanHouse aims to give them their due.


Tank Younger

In the world of black colleges, Grambling is Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Penn State and Alabama rolled into one. It has turned out dozens of NFL players, including four Hall of Famers and Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl. It's long-time coach, Eddie Robinson, is revered in football circles.

But until Paul "Tank'' Younger came along, it was barely a blip on anyone's consciousness outside northern Louisiana.

Younger, who was primarily a fullback in 10 NFL seasons, was a trailblazer, the first player from a historically black college to play in the NFL, starting in 1949, when pro sports were 98 percent white. He also was one of the first blacks to work in an NFL front office -- as assistant general manager of the San Diego Chargers from 1975-87 and later as a scout and administrator for the Rams, with whom he spent most of his playing career.

After scoring 60 touchdowns at Grambling, he joined the Rams in 1949 as a linebacker but was switched to running back and became part of what was dubbed the "Bull Elephant'' backfield with "Deacon Dan" Towler and Dick Hoerner, supplemented by the outside running of Glenn Davis, a former Heisman winner at Army, and Vitamin T. Smith. It was the opposite of more recent racial stereotypes -- Younger and Towler, each at 225 pounds, were black power backs; Davis and Smith were white speed backs. It was a team with so many outstanding skill players that even the quarterbacks -- Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin -- alternated, and Tom Fears and Elroy "Crazylegs'' Hirsch starred at receiver.

Younger played for the Rams from 1949-1957 and finished his career with Pittsburgh.

He made the Pro Bowl four times -- the first black to play in one -- and was a member of a Rams team that was runner-up to Cleveland for the NFL title in 1950, then won the championship the following year, reversing a 30-28 loss to the Browns the first year with a 24-17 win the next.

In his 10-year career with the Rams and Steelers, Younger made the Pro Bowl four times, rushed for 3,640 yards on 770 carries, caught 100 passes for 1,167 yards, scored 35 touchdowns (34 rushing and one receiving) in an era when the schedule was just 12 games. He also intercepted three passes playing defense and threw an interception on his only pass attempt.

His best years were 1954 and 1955, when he played only eight of the Rams' 12 games each season because of injury.

In the first, he rushed for 610 yards and eight touchdowns, with an average of 6.7 yards per carry. The next season, it was 644 yards and five TDs and a 4.7 average.

Towler was also racking up the yards, leading the league in rushing in 1952 with 894 yards at 5.7 per carry. He also had 854 and a 6.8 average in 1951 and 879 in 1953. Towler retired after the 1955 season because of injuries and to pursue a vocation in the ministry.

Younger, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000, endured as a trailblazer, including in the front office.

He died in 2001 at the age of 73.
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