Jack Youngblood Enshrinement speech
Jack Youngblood Enshrinement Speech 2001
Presenter: Merlin Olsen
Thank you. And thank you Canton for your incredible hospitality. For helping all of us up here today celebrate our football experience, which is such a magical part of our lives. Congratulations to this marvelous class of inductees and Jack I want you know how proud I am to have been asked to introduce you today.
When Jack Youngblood arrived in Los Angeles in 1971, first-round draft pick, All-America out of Florida, you had to love this kid. Handsome, personable, tremendous speed, great strength, and a huge grin on his face. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who enjoyed playing football more than Jack Youngblood. There were some good things for Jack in Los Angeles as he arrived in that year. Certainly, one of them was that we helped to add to his strong work ethic, something that would help him the rest of his career. He became part of the tradition of dominant line play of the “Fearsome Foursome.” But, maybe most importantly, he had the opportunity to learn from and work with maybe the best football pass rusher you’d ever see - Deacon Jones. But 1971 was not an easy year for Jack Youngblood. The transition to professional football was not as quick as Jack wanted it to be. He was struggling, quite frankly. He was learning lessons, some of them quite painful. Like the day he was playing against a 320-pound tackle, Bob Brown who played with the Oakland Raiders. And Bob would put two huge pads on his forearm. Deacon Jones claimed they were old refrigerators. And he’d beat on Jack’s chest until after the game, Jack looked like he had been run over by a truck. Jack, you got to stay away from those refrigerators. But maybe the low point that year came after a loss when in front of the entire team, our head coach Tommy Prothro looked down at Jack and said, ‘Youngblood, you may be the worst football player I’ve ever seen.’
Jack Youngblood’s football story could have ended right there. One of the reasons it didn’t was because Jack believed in himself. While most of us were worried about Jack staying on the roster, Jack was telling his roommate, who happened to be my brother Phil, ‘Phil, how am I going to make the All-Pro team if I don’t get more playing time.’
In 1973, under a new head coach Chuck Knox and a new line coach Ray Malavasi, Jack’s career took off. He quickly established himself as one of the dominant defensive players in the league. A great all-around player, his strength was the pass rush. He just had this insatiable desire to wrap his arms around that quarterback’s neck and he did again, and again, and again.
Becoming a giant pain in the neck to the offensive tackles that tried to play against him, and a genuine health hazard to the quarterbacks of the league. At the time of his retirement from football in 1984, available statistics placed Jack second all-time on the sack list. The only name ahead of his, his first teacher in Los Angeles - Deacon Jones.
Greatness is certainly measured more than just in statistics and in honors, although Jack had piles and piles of those. It’s measured in the impact a player has on those around him. When Jack was on the field, he raised the level of the performance of his teammates. He was a leader, in the locker room as well as on the field in his performance. His leadership was unquestioned. And certainly, there is no question that Jack was one of those unique players who could come up with the big play when it was needed. Jack’s enthusiasm, his determination were contagious. And I know for a fact that those are part of what brings him here today. Jack’s toughness – and you just saw a tribute to that – is legend. And Jack didn’t think it was a big deal to go out and play with his leg wrapped up. He wanted to be a part of what was happening on that field and the pain was something he could deal with.
Well, I think Jack Youngblood’s dreams have come full cycle. From a schoolyard playground in Monticello, Florida to a skinny 190-pound middle linebacker at Jefferson County High School who only had one scholarship offer to an undersized defensive lineman at the University of Florida who built himself into an All-American. To Los Angeles, where he survived two very difficult years to become one of the finest defensive ends ever to play in the NFL.
And interestingly, at each step along the way, there were those who were telling Jack Youngblood ‘you’re not big enough’ or ‘you’re not strong enough’ or ‘you’re not good enough.’ Well Jack, you’re here today to have your name inscribed with the elite of pro football. The best of the best.
And, Youngblood - you may be the best damn football player I ever saw.
Ladies and gentlemen, NFL Hall of Famer – Jack Youngblood!
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Merlin.
Merlin remembers those stories better than I do sometimes.
Ladies and gentlemen, inductees, my fellow classmates in 2001, Hall of Famers who are here present with us today. I stand before you, stand before you all with a very truly humbled man.
I don’t know that I really have the words to describe what it means to receive the greatest accolade that a football player can have to be inducted into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame. But two, I think, are appropriate and come to mind immediately, that’s ‘thank you.’
And I want to begin with thanking our Lord for graciously blessing me in ways far beyond I could have ever of imagined. I’ve been blessed in life, in health, and especially in friendship. And for all of those who came to join me in this celebration – all my friends, thank you, thank you so much. In these few minutes, I want my family and my extended family - by what I call them – who come here to this wonderful weekend, I want you all to realize, to please realize that each and every one of you have a very special piece of this, of this piece of bronze right there. That is, you all are a part of that, and very important to me.
To my wife, Barbara, and Bob, I love you guys from the bottom of my heart. And this is for you more than anybody else. We’re missing three of my biggest fans here today. My father, my grandfather, and my mother. They loved their football and they absolutely loved the fact that I was playing the game of football. They’re not here but I guarantee you they’re smiling, the biggest smile anybody in heaven can possibly be smiling right now. They loved their son playing football. And, I forgot to add, mother, no they didn't hurt me. It just looked that way. I tried to hurt them most of the time. And to my grandmother Ma Al, you know, you had to love me to make all those trips to Atlanta when we had the most people in the stands. And our ball game’s in Georgia.
Paula and Lynn, my two sisters, my built-in cheering squad. You guys sacrificed many weekends to follow me around the NFL. Thank you. My parents instilled in me a work ethic, a determination, values and morals to be the very, very best I could possibly be. These lessons are probably more important than any individual honor that I was able to achieve to be honored with over the course of my football career – in high school, in college, and in the NFL. They come and go; recognitions come and go. But those lessons that you learn of respect last much longer than any piece of hardware can ever.
The interpersonal aspect of relationships through this game is what makes today so very special for me. I am so glad that Brent Hall, my high school football coach is here in Canton with me today. I don’t know where Brent is, but. There he is. Coach, could you’ve ever believed this, huh? This is incredible. Thank you, Brent.
There was a baseball coach at the University of Florida many years ago. He was scouting our territory and he saw a young man playing football in 1966. And he saw something in a young man playing the game that nobody else noticed. Coach Dave Fuller, he’s smiling right now, he’s not with us anymore either. But I want to thank coach Graves, coach Ray Graves, who was my football coach at the University of Florida, for believing in a wise man - coach Dave Fuller. He saw a potential in a football player, and they made me a Gator. Not just for four years but they made me a Gator for life.
Now as Merlin has already described, the supernatural part comes about. I’m drafted number one. Harley Sewell and Johnny Sanders, I don’t know what in the world they were thinking about when they drafted me number one with the 20th pick. I had no possible clue that this was going to happen. When I finally realize where I’m drafted, I’m thinking to myself ‘okay, it’s Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones - that was the “Fearsome Foursome.” This is going to be a short trip. We’re going to be back in Florida very shortly. This is not going to last.’ Thank goodness that thought and that feeling passed.
Merlin, I want to say personally right now, it was a true honor and a pleasure to have you as my mentor, my teammate, coached me sometimes, and a friendship that has lasted and will last all of our lives. Thank you very much.
I can say that because he made my life a lot easier in those early years when we were playing together. He would grab two and then I would have to deal with but one so I could go and do my thing and go rush the passer. He made a young man’s life a lot easier in those early days.
And to Deacon Jones, let me say thank you to you. Where’s Deac? Deacon, thank you brother. Thanks for sharing your passion, your passion for playing the game. He shared a little of the style too. He let me use the head slap, he didn’t keep all of that to himself. To my benefit, Deacon left the Rams before his time. But before he had left, he had already set the standard for defensive ends in the National Football League. He’s been my advocate for years and I want to say thank you, sir.
I have to thank Chuck Knox. Because in 1973, Carroll Rosenbloom, who was the best owner any football player could have ever played for, he made Chuck Knox the head coach. Chuck called me into his little, dingy, little office over the golf course in Long Beach. He set me down, and in his Pennsylvania tough man style, he said, ‘Son,’ he said, ‘Jack, the responsibility of left end is yours now. You’ve got big shoes to fill. There’s a legacy that played that position and I expect you to be my leader, to be the leader of my football team.’ I want to thank Chuck for beginning that process of allowing us the opportunity to play the game on some awfully good football teams over those years. We didn’t win all the championships we wanted to. The Minnesota Vikings and the Cowboys in those years were just a little bit luckier (laughter). But I tell you it you never, never whatsoever diminished my thoughts and my feelings for the football teams that we had, that we played on. And for the man who led us. He was a great coach, Chuck Knox.
Chuck left us unfortunately, and Carroll Rosenbloom made Ray Malavasi, our defensive coordinator the head coach. Ray was not only my defensive coordinator, he was my personal coach - defensive line coach, and he was also a dear friend. Ray took an overachieving football team in 1979 all the way to Super Bowl XIV.
And I make the quip today but there’s a little truth to it. If we would’ve stopped the game with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, we would have beat those dad-gum Steelers. And John Stallworth, bless your heart, he went and caught a football that day that nobody else in the National Football League could have caught except for the guy he’s presenting. You guys already had three rings you could of let us had one, you could have shared a little bit. I mean good gracious.
I finished a career with a coach who was the probably the most inspirational coach that I played for in those 14 years. John Robinson, you came to an organization that needed, that desperately needed, some inspiration. You may be the best at putting your finger on the heartbeat of your football team as any coach that I’ve ever seen. Thank you for two good years. I would have stayed around longer now if you would have stayed in the 4-3. You know, I’d still be there maybe, I don’t know. I was trying to match Jackie’s record there at 20. Thank you for your inspiration, coach.
And now let me mention our, let me say thank you to our organization. Georgia, we will forever miss Carroll. He loved his football teams like we were his own sons. He had a genuine affection that made us feel as though we were his family. We’ll always remember him coming to practice and he used to bring his lunch and sit on the sidelines and he was genuinely interested in what his football team was doing. Georgia, you have carried forward the vision and the passion that Carroll had for his football team. You won a championship with a great group of players in 1999. I want to thank you for continuing to be the owner, the boss, the number one fan, and friend of your football team. And for allowing me to hang around for all those years. We appreciate that and thank you.
John Shaw. You came into our family. I think we made you a football fan. It took several seasons and I think that friendship grew out of the struggles that we went through each season and each game that we played. Thank you, sir.
In closing, allow me to share with you just a few thoughts. As great as this game is and as thrilling as it is for me to play, it’s the people who make impressions on your life – who leave a mark, a footprint on your playing field.
I’ve been truly blessed with special people all of my life, especially in this career. A few of those I need to mention and say thank you to. Marvin Demoff. You helped shape a young man’s life and a young man’s career. And I thank you for that. My teammate, Rich Saul. Richie, you’re one tough dude, man. You’re the kind of a guy, you’re the kind of a player that coaches want on their football teams. I just don’t know how in the world we roomed together all that time. It’s unbelievable. Phil Olsen. When I came into your life, you had to add me to your brother list. You had several already there. We’ve traveled some roads together. And I appreciate our friendship, thank you. Larry Brooks can’t be here with us. He’s in camp – Brooksie you’re going to miss all the fun. We’re going to have a celebration this evening. It’s going to be a wonderful time.
Freddie, we had some great football teams, didn’t we? We had some wonderful players. Freddie Dryer, my compatriot on the other side. We had a pretty good thing going there – crisscrossing up there. Dennis Harrah, you can always play on my football team. You’re one heck of a football player and you’re one funny dude, you know that?
And Johnny Oswald, I don’t know where you are, where you’re sitting, but you’re the best. That’s all I can say, you’re the best.
I’ll wrap this up by expressing to you just a few thoughts about playing this game. I played this game with a passion. It was more like a love affair. A lucid love affair - that it alternately intrigued me, it frustrated me, and it rewarded me. But it always kept me returning, giving me a momentary taste of satisfaction but never enough. We didn’t accomplish all that we set out to do. I didn’t sack the quarterback every time I rushed the passer. I didn’t make every tackle for a loss. I guess no one could. But it wasn’t because I didn’t have the passion to, the desire to. I hope that that showed when I played the game.
It is an honor for me to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, into this elite group of football players. I am truly honored to be on this team, and I have one final thank you. Again, thank you Lord for these blessings. Thank you.