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Obituaries

Paul 'Tank' Younger; Legendary Running Back for Rams Was 73

September 16, 2001|SAM FARMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paul "Tank" Younger, a former Los Angeles Rams running back and the first player to enter the National Football League from a predominantly black college, died Saturday in Inglewood after a lengthy illness. He was 73.

Younger, known for his punishing running style, played for the Rams from 1949 to 1957 and finished his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1958. He later worked as a scout and executive with the Rams, then as assistant general manager of the San Diego Chargers.

"He was a pugnacious and feisty negotiator," said Rick Smith, director of public relations for the St. Louis Rams and a longtime friend of Younger. "He was a guy who came from nothing and attained a great deal, so those agents could never put anything over on Tank."

On the football field, Younger was famous for plowing over would-be tacklers. He, "Deacon" Dan Towler and Dick Hoerner formed the Rams' "Bull Elephant" offensive backfield: three 225-pound-plus runners who were as large as most opposing defensive linemen.

Younger, a former Grambling State University star in Louisiana and three-time All-NFL back, rushed for 3,640 yards with 34 touchdowns during his career. He ranks sixth among Rams in rushing yardage.

In 1950, the Rams took the Cleveland Browns into the last minute of the NFL title game before the Browns won on a field goal. The following season, the Rams won their only championship in Los Angeles with a 24-17 victory over the Browns at the Coliseum.

In 1950, the Rams had five of the league's 14 black players on their roster. Three of those pioneering Los Angeles players--Woodley Lewis, Towler and Younger--have died in the last nine months.

"Tank was really a pioneer in the Jackie Robinson mold," said Jack Teele, a former executive with the Rams and Chargers. "He was perfectly suited to play such a role. To Tank, racial differences really didn't exist much; you were either a good guy or a bad guy."

Born in Grambling, La., Younger grew up in Los Angeles, then returned to Louisiana for college. He played linebacker and running back, and earned his nickname when Collie Nicholson, the longtime Grambling sports information director, said he "ran like a Sherman tank."

Today, each NFL team carries 53 players. When Younger was playing, the rosters were closer to 30, with most players having responsibilities on offense and defense.

As a rookie in his first training camp, Younger had one pair of cleats, battered holdovers from his college days. The shoes began to fall apart during the final exhibition game of the summer, in Omaha.

But Younger was so concerned about making the team that he refused to come out of the game to have them repaired.

"By halftime, his feet were bloody and torn up," Smith said, repeating a story that became legend. "His shoes were flopping around and people were stomping on his feet. He just wouldn't come out."

Younger had a soft side, too. He was known for his sense of humor and love of children. During his years as an executive, he drove a golf cart around training camp and spent a lot of his time shuttling the children of coaches, players and fans.

"Tank was a gregarious, loving person that everyone liked," Teele said. "He had great friends: senators to bartenders. My kids just adored him."

Younger is survived by his wife, Lucille; a son, Howard; and daughters Harriette and Lucy.

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