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Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood starred for 14 seasons with Rams

A few days prior to Super Bowl XIV, Los Angeles Rams General Manager Don Klosterman was asked to comment on defensive end Jack Youngblood, who despite having a fractured left fibula played every defensive down in the NFC title game a few days earlier.  Klosterman replied that Jack was “a throwback,” meaning that he was much like the legendary players of old who thought nothing of playing in pain.

Youngblood, when told of the remark, jokingly snapped back, “He called me that?  You know what a ‘throwback’ is down home?  It ain’t a keeper.”

Obviously, that wasn’t Klosterman’s meaning, and equally obvious was that Youngblood was aware of the team GM’s intent.  It was simply Jack’s folksy way of diverting praise.

High praise was something Youngblood received on numerous occasions during his 14-year career with the Rams.  Consider that the 6-4, 247-pound defensive end was a first- or second-team all-pro selection eight times, a first- or second-team All-NFC pick nine times, selected to play in seven consecutive Pro Bowls, was named the league’s defensive Most Valuable Player in 1975, and the Rams’ MVP three times. 

On January 27, 2001, the day after his 51st birthday, Youngblood was bestowed the highest form of praise a pro football player can hope to achieve, election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  It was an honor of which he dreamed since his retirement in 1984, and one he accepted in typical fashion, with dignity and humility. 

Herbert Jackson Youngblood, III was born on January 26, 1950 in Jacksonville, Florida.  When he was six, his family moved to Monticello, a small rural town along the Georgia border.  Four years later, Jack’s father, Herbert II, passed away, leaving his mother, Kay, to raise Jack and his two sisters.

“Everyone in the county knew him,” Jack remembered of his father.  “Everybody was his friend.  He owned a service station, and I used to go there and piddle around – pump some gas, get in the way.”  His death left an obvious void in Jack’s life.  Fortunately, the void was in some ways filled by other males in his life. 

“I had a good relationship with my high school coach, and then the man who was like my father all through college, Wes Whiddon…and of course my grandfather.  He raised me from like 10 to 15.  The old man was a sheriff for 28 years and he had a certain masculine, dominating ways about himself that I guess I picked up.”  

Despite, or perhaps because of his humble beginnings, Youngblood developed great pride in himself as well as a keen sense of humor.  “I think it’s part of it,” he once commented during an interview.  “You learn to kid around and joke and not take things too seriously because somehow it’s all gonna work out for the best – or you’re gonna make it work out.”   

Although Jack played center, guard, and linebacker at Jefferson County High School, his quickness on defense drew the most attention.  As a result, he became the team’s starting middle linebacker.  His senior year, Jefferson went 10-1-1 and won the Florida State Class B Championship.

His plans for a football future at that time extended no farther than perhaps playing for a nearby junior college.  “One day, though, I was asked if I’d like to go to the University of Florida and become a Gator,” Youngblood recalled.  “Sure enough, it wasn’t long until I got a call, telling me I had a scholarship there.  It was the only scholarship offer I had and, believe me, I jumped at it.”

From a 6-4, 190-pound linebacker, Jack grew heavier, and his play became more polished under defensive line coach Jack Thompson, who moved Youngblood to the defensive end position.  Each year at Florida was better than the preceding one.  In 1970, his senior year, Jack earned first-team All-America honors from The Sporting News and the Football Writers Association and played in the Senior Bowl and College All-Star games.  That same season he was also named the Most Valuable Defensive Lineman in the Southeast Conference.

“I really went all out in college,” Youngblood said.  “By that time I was thinking a little about pro ball and hopeful that someone would draft me . . . Boy, I’ll tell you, when the Rams drafted me No. 1, it surprised me.  I was walking on air for days.”    

Youngblood wasn’t expected to be a starter right away with the Rams since the team already had two capable ends in Coy Bacon and future Hall of Famer Deacon Jones.  However, a foot injury to Jones kept him out of three games in 1971, and opened the door for the raw rookie.  The Rams won all three games in which Jack started defeating the San Francisco 49ers, 20-13; the Atlanta Falcons, 24-16; and the Detroit Lions, 21-13. 

The rookie’s more-than capable play enabled the Rams to trade the veteran Jones to the San Diego Chargers the following season. 

“Deacon Jones has been the most inspirational person in my football career,” Youngblood said in a 1972 interview.  “He took me under his wing when I first came to the Rams and taught me everything – his technique in the pass rush, how to play off blockers, and how to make the big play.”

Replacing a legend left Youngblood with mixed emotions.  “I remember when I started in place of Deacon in last year’s first game in San Francisco,” he told a reporter.  “I felt like I was taking a part of him away.”

In his second season, Youngblood shared the left defensive end spot with Fred Dryer.  Then in 1973, Dryer moved the right side and Youngblood took sole possession of the left side.

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