With two weeks ago 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 and his take on today’s game. This is part three of that interview..
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s talk a little bit about the new book. It obviously covers all of the people who have inspired you in your life. Outside of your family and coaches, who would you say is the one person who really lit a fire under you and helped you realize how good of a football player you were or how dominant you could be?
JACK YOUNGBLOOD: “From a football perspective, I would have to say the number one influence had to be Merlin [Olsen]. The life-changing moment for a young kid coming out of the University of Florida, a defensive linemen drafted into what was left of the Fearsome Foursome – one of the dominant forces in the 60s in the National Football League. When I got there in 1971, two of them had moved on and I was trying to find a way to figure out how I could fit into the picture. I knew that I definitely wasn’t going to play inside, but how do I fit in next to Merlin Olsen? I thought it was going to be a short trip. Merlin certainly was a tremendous influence on helping me understand how you played at that level.”
AS: Some will say that the best story in the book is about one of the scariest moments of your life, when you had a gun in your eye. The trigger was pulled but luckily for you the chamber was empty. Everyone will be reading about that in detail in the book, but how did you get in that situation in the first place and what happened when you heard the click and nothing happened?
JY: “It was really an innocent situation. We were at a club in Logan, Utah one evening just having a quiet beer. I had a buddy with his girlfriend with him and we had work the next morning so we called it early around 9:30 or 10:00 and went to our cars parked out behind the establishment there. I walked out along with one of my old wrestling buddies from Idaho. These two guys were hassling one of our friends and the girl. I saw it and walked up and said, ‘What’s the problem here?’ These two little loudmouths kind of turned around and tried to get in my face a little bit. I said, ‘No, no, no. Just go on. Leave these kids alone.” I broke it up. Nothing physical, just stepped in between and said we should go our separate ways. This one guy, he takes off and it’s kind of dark in the place without a whole lot of light but enough. I didn’t think anything of it. The other guy was standing there and I said he should go on and get about his business.
“My buddy had gone ahead of me and he was at the car. He hollered at me, ‘Look out, Jack! He’s got a gun!’ [The gunman] had slipped between two cars and I didn’t see him. He came up behind me, and by the time I was hollered at, he was sticking the gun in the back of my head and when I spun around, it was in my eye. That’s when I heard the snap. At that moment the pain was excruciating. My first thought was that he just put my eye out. The next thing I remember – because you go into a state of shock to a certain degree – was [my friend] Darrell going ‘Don’t kill him Jack! Don’t kill him!’
“I got him by the throat on the hood of a car, and I’ve got the gun. I took the gun away from him and pinned him and do not remember any of that. And then I looked down as I’m over him, I notice that there’s blood gushing on him. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that’s nasty. That’s my blood.’ I was bleeding all over everything. Fortunately, there again, divine intervention. You don’t catch an empty chamber by chance.”
Read the rest of our interview with Jack Youngblood…after the break!
AS: Back to a lighter subject, when doing research for this interview I noticed your first name isn’t actually ‘Jack.’ Who is the last person that called you by your legal first name?
JY: “My mother. [Laughing] You paid attention when she would holler at you, ‘Jackie. Jackie.’ When you heard, ‘Herbert Jackson,’ you came to an attention.”
AS: Looking at how the NFL is these days with so much extra effort to protect the quarterback, so many fines for legal hits and different rules, how much do you think the game has changed now from a defensive standpoint? Do you think you could have succeeded playing your style today?
JY: “I certainly believe I could play in today’s game, of course if I was a few years younger. It is heavily legislated and regulated today. At times it seems to be overly regulated. I question, at times, those who are making the decisions on the severity [of hits] because some of those who are making the calls on some of these hits have never played the game. They don’t understand what’s really going on in your mind, in your mindset. You can see maliciousness and you can see natural causes for the situation. You can hit somebody else’s helmet and it’s got to be just perfectly legitimate because that’s the two angles of the players at that moment of impact. How do you penalize for that? That shouldn’t be a penalty, but they’re calling it a penalty. That bothers me sometimes. I firmly believe that these kids are not being taught the proper techniques and the fundamentals of playing the game, of tackling with your legs and not your head or arms, not knocking them down or trying to cut them down with your body. They don’t teach tackling anymore. To a certain degree, it’s hurting the game from a fundamental standpoint. “
AS: Is there anyone in today’s game who you watch and think, ‘He does it the right way’ or perhaps reminds you of yourself from back in the day?
JY: “I really like to watch Jared Allen these days. Jared plays it big-time. He’s always in; he doesn’t take plays off. He’s playing his hardest on every play. He got fined last year in the second half and I had to drop him a note and say, ‘Hey, I’m glad you can afford it.’ Just to let him know that there’s those of us out there who see he was doing and knew he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. That can be done – if you’ve got that type of an attitude in the game – you can hurt people, there’s no question. There’s no place on the football field for that type of mentality.”
AS: I know it is difficult to compare honors and awards. Earlier in this interview you said that while you appreciate them, that type of recognition was not why you played the game. Nevertheless, with Florida’s Ring of Honor being such an exclusive group and the requirements being so tough just to qualify, how did it feel when you learned you were going to be honored in that way from your school?
JY: “That’s very, very, very special. No question. There were only four of us in the inaugural ceremony. To be recognized out of all the kids who had come through there and played and had been really good players, that’s special. That’s a special honor. That’s your family – your initial family reaching out to you. It meant a lot. It meant a lot.”
AS: You are one of a select group of players who has been enshrined in the College and Pro Football hall of Fames. Did it have any special meaning to you that you were the first Florida player to accomplish that on a professional level? Are you able to appreciate the recognitions you are honored with even if you did not play for that particular reason?
JY: “At first that didn’t sink in. Afterwards – after going to the ceremony in New York – I realized that was a big deal. That was a pretty big deal. [Getting choked up] You really appreciate that you’re being recognized, especially from those closest to you. I have always been proud of the fact that I was capable and talented enough to play at that level and to be successful. Being acknowledged like that means that they’ll recognize the old boy for quite a while even after he’s gone.”
AS: Since you left the Gators, the team has had some really solid defenses. Over the last 20 years, Florida has seen an offensive resurgence with head coaches Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. Do you have any initial thoughts on new head coach Will Muschamp and the fact that he’s bringing a hard-nosed mentality back to the team with a concentration on defense?
JY: “That’s a nice change; if you have to change, that’s an appropriate angle to come from. We’ve been through the Spurrier era and the Meyer era. Now let’s see if this young man can come in there and establish the program from a defensive perspective. You’re not going to take away, just because he’s a defensive coach, you’re not going to take away from the importance of putting points on the board. You never know that day when it’s going to be 42-35. You better be able to put that extra seven up when you need to. It’s going to be interesting. When you talk about the Gator Nation, you better be ready for it because they’re going to hold your feet to the fire from day one.”
AS: It’s any given Saturday and the Gators are playing. Where are you and how are you keeping up with the game?
JY: “If I’m not going to watch them – if I’ve got something else to do at the farm or they’re playing really early – I’ll have a headset on and I’ll be listening wherever I am. On Saturdays I’m going to be around someplace where I can try to stay up with it play-by-play, each and every game.”