Jack Youngblood...My Hero
I know this is a long article. I know it was printed before #85 was inducted into the HOF. However, It's a great article about the man, and the team he played for.
Will Hall of Fame vote be another narrow miss for Youngblood?
By John Turney
Monday, Jan. 22, 2001
(photo by Evan Freed)
Few people attain legendary status in any endeavor, much less in a sport like football where players can get lost in anonymity of face masks and uniform numbers. Jack Youngblood was one of those few who do attain legendary status, although the Hall of Fame has yet to call his name.
Former Rams teammate and Hall of Fame DE Deacon Jones once said, "I respect Jack Youngblood on one basis. That basis (is) that he was a man. A man, understand? He wanted to learn this business, he put forth the effort needed and I will respect that until the day I die. And if I had anything to do with it, I would put Jack Youngblood in the Hall of Fame — he earned it". Leave it to Deacon to make a point. That point being that most, if not all, of those who played with him, against him or coached him felt the same way.
Youngblood was a man who was respected by opponents, coaches, teammates and fans. They respected him not for what he said, but what he did on the football field. What most people probably remember about Youngblood is his playing in the Super Bowl with a fractured fibula. He was chop-blocked by two Cowboys offensive linemen in the NFC divisional playoffs that season (1979), and his fibula snapped "like a pencil." Youngblood had the trainers tape him up, and he went out and got a fourth-quarter sack on Cowboys QB Roger Staubach. "Got me a sack on a cracked leg," laughs Jack. "There may not be too many guys who can say that!"
For the NFC championship game and Super Bowl XIV, Youngblood wore a fitted leg brace that allowed him to play. He even played a week after the Super Bowl in the Pro Bowl with that brace. Above and beyond the call of duty, most would say. Above and beyond the call of sanity, said others.
Joe Bugel, now the Chargers OL coach, said, "When I think of Jack Youngblood, I think of ultimate toughness. Undersized, ultimate tough, plays with broken leg, what you always thought about the old NFL."
Those things he did on the football field were amazing by any standard, and the awards, honors and accolades were numerous. Youngblood was a five-time consensus All-Pro, played in seven Pro Bowls, was Pro Football Weekly's Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1975 as well as UPI’s Defensive Player of the Year. He also won the NFC Defensive Player of the Year award from Kansas City's respected Committee of 101 in both 1975 and ’76.
Youngblood was the Rams' MVP three times, tied with Eric Dickerson for the most such awards in club history. He led the Rams in sacks nine times, most in club history. Youngblood played in 201 consecutive games, another club record.
Jack Youngblood made his mark early as a ferocious pass rusher. His unofficial sack total of 151.5 is among the highest totals in NFL history, although the league has yet to recognize sacks prior to 1982. That season they became official, and "no other should count." Over his career Youngblood averaged 2.17 sacks per 100 dropbacks. (A dropback is an opponent's total passes plus times sacked.) The only defensive ends with higher "sack rates" are Deacon Jones and Reggie White. Youngblood's sacks are more remarkable considering he played most of his career during the 1970s, a decade that was dominated by the run.
Consider this: From 1970 through 1979, the Rams’ defense allowed the fewest rushing yards, allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns, allowed the fewest total yards and allowed the fewest points while amassing the most sacks. That is not for just one year but for the entire decade, and Jack Youngblood was the cornerstone of that Ray Malavasi-coached odd-man-approach defense. Those feats are even more impressive when you consider that during that decade, defensive units with names like Steel Curtain, Doomsday Defense, No-Name Defense, Purple People Eaters, Orange Crush and Sack Pack were roaming the NFL.
The most profound and hidden sack in history may be the nine-yard sack Youngblood applied to Jim Zorn in Seattle in 1979. Before that play, the Seahawks had just moved into positive yardage for the day. Plus-2, to be exact. They called a pass play, and Youngblood beat the blocker to sack Zorn. Those nine yards put Seattle at minus-7 total yards for the game. To this day, that is the record for fewest yards allowed in a game by any defense in the history of the NFL.
Although the All-Pro honors and the statistics are impressive, it is the respect that Youngblood’s peers have for him that is most impressive, especially since all of them think he deserves to be enshrined in Canton.
For a quarter century Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf has consistently maintained that "Jack Youngblood is by far the best player I ever faced. I can say he is the toughest assignment I ever had in my career." Fellow Hall of Fame OT Art Shell added, "Jack Youngblood was a terror. He played hard, he played tough and he was as quick as a hiccup. He was a hellacious player who definitely should he in the Hall of Fame."
Perennial All-Pro OT Ron Yary says that, "Jack Youngblood was the toughest I ever faced. It was his speed, quickness and intelligence that set him apart. He could take an inside move even when he had outside responsibility because he was quick enough to adjust. I never saw Jack blocked in a big game. Never."
Want more? Roger Staubach said Youngblood was the toughest defensive lineman that he ever faced. Fran Tarkenton said the same. John Brodie said that Youngblood was the best defensive end in the history of the game for a long period of time. "Jack played top-quality football for 13 years," Brodie said.
Sonny Jurgensen was most impressed with his motor. "Some guys know when to play and when they can take a play off. Jack Youngblood played every play," Jurgensen said.
Many opposing coaches have chimed in with their praise. Bill Walsh said, "Jack Youngblood posed massive problems for our offenses. He was a mob. He was an excellent pass rusher and could pursue plays from behind on plays that went away from him because of his speed. He was just an awesome football player who certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame"
Tom Landry, in an interview a few years ago, said, "He was an excellent player. You had to pay special attention to him in blocking schemes because he was able to get in there in a hurry. I am sure he is worthy of the Hall of Fame; there is no question about it."
Perhaps Jack's biggest fan was John Madden. It was Jack Youngblood who was the inspiration behind the All-Madden teams. Madden would show films of Youngblood to his defensive ends so that they could try to copy his techniques. Madden was fascinated with how Youngblood would use leverage and how he could get under a tackle's shoulder pads and take away that tackle's size advantage.
Perhaps what is least known about Youngblood are the adaptations he had to make during his career. He began as a straight 4-3 defensive end and a Deacon Jones disciple, using the head slap as an initial move. When that was outlawed a few years later, Jack would use the rip move more often than not, countering with an inside club.
When Chuck Knox became head coach of the Rams in 1973, he brought in Ray Malavasi to install a multiple defense that included odd-man lines on running downs. The scheme was installed to stop the run first, then get the passer. The old style was out, when a player could take off after the quarterback and play the run along the way.
Youngblood had to use a technique oddly known as the butt-and-jerk. Floyd Peters, a pass-rushing guru who coached many of the great defensive lines in the past 30 years, related that Jack was "a smaller/fast/quick guy who had tremendous upper-body strength. So when he attacked his man, he could jerk a tackle back with his powerful arms and get him off balance, and Jack was free to go to the passer."
In 1978, when the offensive linemen were allowed more leeway in blocking, Youngblood had to contend with larger men who could now grab him. The butt-and-jerk became a counter move, not one he used right away. Jack had to use more quick moves, rips, clubs, swims and a host of others. He had to innovate, add moves that would allow him to get to the passer.
Paul Wiggin, now in the Vikings’ organization, said that Youngblood was "a great player who should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame. He was an arc rusher who had great leverage, speed and a great take-off time. He'd get a tackle on his heels and rip by him or do a change-up move. He'd get a lots of sacks like that."
Jim Hanifan, who is now the Rams’ OL coach, was the line coach for the St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-1970s when Youngblood and Dierdorf would square off. Hanifan summarized Youngblood's play this way, "He personified professionalism. He exploded off that ball and gave tremendous effort every damn time. The thing I remember is that he had a tremendous upfield rush and terrific balance. What he was setting a tackle up for was his next move. He would start it up outside and then bring his inside arm and club the living heck out of you and brought his rush inside with an underarm move. Boy, was it an effective move," Hanifan says with a sense of awe in his voice. "Really effective."
However, the biggest change Youngblood faced was in 1983, when new Rams head coach John Robinson and defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur installed a 3-4 two-gap system. Not only did Jack have to move to a "5" technique, which is head-up on the tackle, he had to push that man back and play the gap on either side of that tackle, depending on which way the play flowed.
Hall of Fame DT Merlin Olsen, who played with Youngblood during the first half of the 1970s, said, "That is a horrible position to have to play, especially for a man who spent most of his career outside."
The new scheme was successful in 1983-84, as the Rams’ defense allowed opponents only 3.6 yards per carry for those two years combined, which tied with the Steelers as the best in the NFL. Over that same two-year period the Rams were fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. Youngblood was a big reason for that success, keeping himself in top condition and doing more weight-room work as he got older, according to Garrett Giemont, the Rams’ former strength coach.
"Jack's incline press went from 250 to 315, he could bench-press 225 pounds well over 30 times and he never did lose a step — his time was 1.65 in the 10-yard dash," Giemont said. "We timed that until the end of his career. He never dropped off a lick. The reason is he worked his rear end off."
Although he continued to play within the confines of the scheme by stopping the run first, whenever the opponent passed, Youngblood was off like a Labrador chasing its prey. Jack had 20 sacks in his final two seasons and led the Rams in sacks each year. "In a ‘30’ defense, how do you do that!" roars Youngblood, who to this day thinks it was the 3-4 defense that ruined his back and ended his career. "I hated it, but it was my responsibility to do what John Robinson wanted."
The late Fritz Shurmur appreciated Youngblood for how he handled the switch. "Jack made a tremendous sacrifice when we switched to the 3-4 defense," Shurmur said. "He made an unbelievable adjustment to the new scheme and played great in those two years." So good, in fact, that Jack narrowly missed making his eighth Pro Bowl after the 1984 season. He was the NFC's first alternate.
Narrowly missed. Not only that Pro Bowl, but the Super Bowl win (losing 31-19 to Pittsburgh), and now narrowly missing the Hall of Fame thus far. The only thing he didn't narrowly miss was quarterbacks. Those he hit often. He also didn't miss earning the respect of his peers and gaining a legendary status. Jack Youngblood hit those targets squarely.
At the end of 1983's "The Right Stuff," the film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's best-seller of the same name, there is a poignant scene where Chuck Yeager had just crashed his NF-104 Starfighter jet after spinning and falling 104,000 feet, just short of the world altitude record. Yeager was injured ejecting from the craft. The crash explosion was seen by the Edwards Air Force Base rescue squad, which quickly responded in the hope of finding a live pilot.
While driving through the smoke and rubble, a young airman spied a figure on the desert floor. He says to Jack Ridley, Yeager's flight coordinator and longtime friend, "Sir, over there. Is that a man? Ridley, recognizing Yeager instantly, told the airman, "Yeah … you damn right it is!"
Had Deacon Jones been there, he might have added, "A man, understand?" By showing courage and a remarkable passion for the game, Jack Youngblood most certainly has the right stuff to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. On Super Bowl Saturday we’ll find out if this is again a narrow miss.