With last Saturday being the two-year anniversary of ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive and considering he released a brand new book the very same day, former Florida Gators defensive lineman Jack Youngblood sat down with us recently for an exclusive and extensive hour-long interview about his life and career.
The first University of Florida student-athlete to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Youngblood is also a member of Florida’s Ring of Honor, the College Football Hall of Fame and the UF Athletic Hall of Fame. He has as accomplished of a career as any player who has put on the orange and blue of the Gators after being named first-team All-SEC and All-America in 1970 and also being selected as the No. 20 overall pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft.
Youngblood went on to be named to seven Pro Bowls and be selected as a first-team All-Pro five times while also winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (1975-76) and the Los Angeles Rams’ Most Value Player award three times (1975-76, 1979). He played in five NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl and had his No. 85 retired by St. Louis prior to being inducted into the team’s Ring of Fame in 2001.
Since retiring for the game of football, Youngblood has done some acting work, served as an analyst with numerous media outlets, and co-hosted Wal-Mart’s Great Outdoors program, which used to air on ESPN on Saturday mornings. He also wrote a biography, has held a number of football administration jobs and continues to work to this day.
OGGOA’s three-part interview with Youngblood covers his college days and professional career while also highlighting some interesting stories and moments in his life. This is part two of that interview. Part three will be published next week.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You succeeded very quickly when you started in the NFL, just like you did in college. In back-to-back seasons you won the NFC Defensive Player of the Year award, but a pair of Pittsburgh Steelers – Mel Blount and Jack Lambert – took the overall NFL award. I was always curious if you felt a little slighted not getting that honor?
JACK YOUNGBLOOD: “I never looked at those awards as if they were something that you should covet. It’s wonderful to be acknowledged, but that’s not why you played. You played to win ballgames during the regular season and then in the postseason. You’re paid to be the best, was my perspective. My job was to be the best defensive end in the National Football League. That’s what I was paid to do, and that’s what I expected myself to do. All of the trophies, all of the plaques, all of the dinners, all of the acknowledgements were just icing on the cake. Defensive linemen don’t get Players of the Year. Linebackers and defensive backs do because they’re intercepting balls, going back for touchdowns, having 400 tackles in a year, that type of stuff. That’s linebacker stuff. That’s not the working man. [Laughing]”
AS: Let’s talk about your time with the L.A. Rams when, let’s face it, the team had a crazy amount of success. From 1973-79 you won seven-straight NFC West titles, five NFC Championship games and played in a Super Bowl. What was it like to be part of such a dominant organization for such a long period of time?
JY: “There’s no question that it was rewarding to be an integral part of the nucleus of a good franchise. It was a really good football team. It was rewarding and at the same time, because we had got our nose busted on us four times with the door slamming in our face in the championship game. That was humiliating. It was a great experience. I loved my players. We truly had – and this wasn’t just rhetoric – we had a family. We had 12 or 15 guys that, if not once or twice a week we would get 12-15 of the guys together and we’d eat someplace, bring the wives and bring the kids. We had that kind of a close relationship. To be good, to be really good, I believe you have to have trust in your fellow players. That was a big thing that I think we grew to and that became one of the factors integral to how we played as well as we did in the 1970s, especially on defense.”
Read the rest of part one of our interview with Jack Youngblood…after the break!
AS: The final year of that run was also the year you had your career-high in sacks (18), went to your final Pro Bowl and earned your last first-team All-Pro nomination. Those accolades may not mean much to you, but that is still a great year of individual accomplishments to go along with a Super Bowl appearance. Did you feel that season was the pinnacle of your career or did that happen earlier?
JY: “The pinnacle was probably not that last year, not 1979, though we accomplished the goal and got there but didn’t get it done. We accomplished the goal of getting to the Super Bowl. We were probably a better football team in 1976-77. The one issue we had was the quarterback. Not to take anything away from the guys that we had along the way, but we changed quarterbacks like we changed dress shirts. If we had a guy there, for whatever reason, they moved him along. We had Pat Haden. We had Ron Jaworski. We had John Hadl. We had Joe Namath for a year! We went through them like nobody’s business.”
AS: I’m sure in every single interview you do you are asked about the topic I am about to bring up but hopefully I’m approaching it a bit differently. You played the 1979 playoffs and Super Bowl with the fractured fibula/broken leg, I’m not necessarily curious about your decision to do that but more so how it is even possible. How did you physically play with that level of constant pain?
AS: “Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself the same question. You look back at it and you remember. We all have a different level of sanity and pain threshold. [Laughing] Certainly from a logical perspective, running out on the football field with a snapped fibula, 4-5 inches above your ankle, that didn’t seem to be the smartest decision. On the other hand, what else am I going to do? I’m a player. That’s my modicum. It’s the line I used for the title of the book, ‘Because it was Sunday.’ That’s what I was supposed to do. That’s what I was made to do. I was supposed to be a player. If I could go play, if I could go and contribute to that football team, that was my mission. That was my passion. And I was going to go through hell if I had to in order to get there.
“It was excruciating. You can’t deaden it. You can’t shoot it. You can’t take enough painkillers. You take too many of those and you’ll fall asleep on the sideline like we were seeing guys do. I was blessed with a high threshold of pain. I was fortunate and blessed at the same time to be in that position. If there is a regret of 14 years in the National Football League, that’s regrettable that I had that situation at that moment. The driving force had been there all those years and it had to happen then when you finally get that opportunity that you worked so hard to obtain.”
AS: You also played in the 1980 Pro Bowl with an injured leg…
JY: “That’s a different deal.”
AS: Of course, but my question is more about your motivation to do so. These days players get elected to the Pro Bowl. It’s a trip to Hawaii and the whole thing. A lot of them just don’t feel like going. You went ahead and played with an injury, even if it wasn’t as bad as the one you had in 1979. You still went and played. Does it bother you now the way players are so cavalier about being honored and not playing simply because they don’t want to?
JY: “I believe it reflects on how they respect the game to a degree. Today’s football player, especially at that level, is economically set for a lifetime, several lifetimes. That’s one factor that works into really his perspective, his way of thinking about life and playing the game. Second of all, all my boys were going so I was going, too. I think we had seven or eight that year, and I was not about to miss that party. It’s a great trip and we stayed over afterwards and relaxed a little bit, played a little golf and just kicked back and kind of recharged the batteries again. You look forward to it, and I looked forward to it. There were some relationships that had been built over the years with the Dierdorfs and the Jimmy Harts and guys that I had grown up with and played competing against all the time that we had these relationships. Those were always fun to regenerate.”
AS: Let’s talk about your streak a little bit because playing 201 games in a row over 14 seasons is pretty ridiculous. I recently interviewed Kevin Carter, and he never missed a game in the same amount of time. When I asked him about it, he kind of brushed it off, but he did not go through all of the road blocks that you did. How traumatic was the health scare you had with the blood clot, and how are you holding up now health-wise considering how much of a beating you took?
JY: “That blood clot, from the information that I was receiving from my doctors, probably was much more serious than I took it on to be. I think I ignored a lot of the safeguards that they tried to give me and I looked at is as if it was just another issue that we will overcome. Thank goodness it happened early in the offseason so I had time to recover from it.
“In fact, a couple of the doctors I spoke with out of the Mayo Clinic, they were predicting that I wasn’t going to play again. I was ignoring that to be honest with you. I went, ‘Nah, what does he know? Yeah, he knows about a blood clot but he doesn’t know about football and he doesn’t know about me. He doesn’t know how crazy I am.’ That issue was probably more dramatic than the broken leg thing. I was blessed – not many people can go through the National Football League and not have a symptom or something – not have a scar. I was fortunate that, to this day, the only operation that I did have was that vascular operation in 1981. That could have taken the game out of the picture, but it didn’t.”
AS: Can you pick up change off a counter?
JY: “[My fingers] are not pretty. They scare children all of the time. But yeah, they’re still operating. It’s a good question. That’s a really good question.”
AS: There are only a few players who actually get to spend their entire career with one team. Can you talk a little bit about the Los Angeles Rams as a franchise? The organization, the fans, and the support you received throughout your career?
JY: “That franchise changed hands early on in 1973 and what a wonderful move that was. We had a great owner. Unfortunately he drowned in 1978 and the organization changed a little bit there. It didn’t have the same guiding light. For me to have the opportunity to stay with one organization for 14 years, it was rewarding to think I played that many years at that high level and they still respected me for that. On the other hand, it was there or nowhere because the economics of the game didn’t give the players the opportunities to move around like they do today. A lot of players moved just for the sake of moving.
“They [now] move because of the salary structure, and that’s understandable to a certain degree. However, I think that they miss something by not having those kinds of relationships that are sustained over long periods of time. When you work someplace for 3-3.5 years and you move on, you meet more people that way. But at the same time, you don’t create the lasting relationships that I think we did.”
AS: Did you then or do you now have an opinion about the team moving to St. Louis? Did it hurt you from a nostalgic standpoint?
JY: “I had some issues with that. Being as close and knowing Carol Rosenbloom [L.A. owner] as much as I did in the eight years that I got to know him, he was the boss man. I had some issues with…I don’t know if he would have done it that way. He had plans to establish a totally new stadium there, have all kinds of new facilities built and all of that kind of got washed away when the opportunity came to move the franchise to St. Louis. It was all a money issue. It’s what it’s all about. It’s about cash. I just didn’t like that. We were the Los Angeles Rams, and we had established some sort of a legacy. I thought that kind of tarnishes that.”