To play in the NFL you have to be tough and resilient.
Due to the nature of the sport, players need to be able to play with pain and, within reason, certain injuries.
Jack Youngblood proved that.
He played through the 1979 playoffs, including Super Bowl XIV, with a fractured fibula in his left leg.
Always the competitor, Youngblood couldn’t imagine abandoning his team when they needed him most.
As a quarterback, you expected Jack Youngblood would try to kill you each play. But the way he laughed about it between downs was a little bit insulting. pic.twitter.com/pqOFbSojcw
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) May 27, 2019
In 14 seasons, Youngblood used his determination and smarts to become a two-time NFL sack leader while missing only one game.
This is the story of Jack Youngblood.
Herbert Jackson Youngblood III was born on January 26, 1950, in Jacksonville, Florida.
When he reached Monticello-Jefferson County High School in Monticello, Florida, Youngblood was rapidly growing into the dominant defender he would become.
While playing for the Tigers, Youngblood spent time as an offensive lineman and linebacker.
During his senior year, Youngblood was the team captain as Monticello-Jefferson advanced to the state title.
The Tigers’ defensive unit posted seven shutouts and only allowed 10 touchdowns total in 12 games, which included the playoffs.
After racking up 70 tackles that year, Youngblood was named All-State, All-Big Bend, All-Conference, Big Bend Linemen of the Year, and the Outstanding Lineman for the Tigers.
In addition to being a four-year letterman in football, Youngblood also played basketball for the Tigers and participated in 4-H, Key Club International, and Student Council.
Decades after graduating from Monticello-Jefferson, Youngblood would be named to Florida’s All-Time High School football team by Sports Illustrated in 1989.
He would also be voted as a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association’s All-Century High School football team in 2007.
Youngblood had numerous athletic scholarship opportunities as high school graduation approached.
He chose to stay in state and would sign his letter of intent with the University of Florida.
Gatorade Guinea Pig and Switch to the Defensive Line
For the past several decades, Gatorade has been present on the sidelines of numerous sporting events.
It has also become a tradition that coaches receive a Gatorade bath after big victories.
However, when Youngblood arrived on the Florida campus as a freshman in 1967, the inventors of the drink were just beginning to experiment on the Gators’ football team.
In order to help the players combat the intense Florida heat during practices, Doctors Robert Cade and Dana Shires conducted research on campus to find a drink solution to help the players rehydrate quicker.
The first guinea pigs to try the experimental liquid were Youngblood and his freshman teammates.
Needless to say, the first round of trials weren’t well received.
“Dr. Cade began experimenting with Gatorade my freshman year. He tried to kill us all! That first stuff was lethal! It was thick, like syrup, and had an aftertaste. Then, it started to look like milk,” said Youngblood in 2007.
Dr. Shires was also less than enthusiastic during initial trials, “…it sort of tasted like toilet bowl cleaner.”
Eventually, the creators got the taste to resemble something palatable and the drink became a nationwide hit.
Meanwhile, Youngblood was moved to the defensive line and had to gain weight as a freshman.
— TampaBaySRH (@TampaBaySRH) January 27, 2016
He started as a 195-pound end and added about 10 pounds by the end of his first season.
In 1968, Youngblood received some playing time and strung together 24 tackles and four sacks.
He was also asked to do some kicking for the Gators and ended up making a career-best 42-yard field goal to win his first collegiate game over Air Force.
Youngblood becomes an All-American
During Youngblood’s junior year, Florida had one of the best seasons in program history as they finished 9-1-1.
In an early October contest against rival Florida State, Youngblood put himself on the map by tallying five sacks in a 21-6 victory.
Then, the final game for head coach Ray Graves came in the Gator Bowl against the Tennessee Volunteers.
Youngblood was a constant headache for the Vols as he collected nine tackles and forced a fumble.
Down 10-7 at halftime, the Gators would pull out the victory 14-13.
That year, Youngblood led Florida’s defensive linemen with 66 tackles and set a program record with 14 sacks.
The 1970 Florida Gators team wasn’t as successful as their 1969 counterparts when they finished 7-4.
Florida was able to dispatch the Georgia Bulldogs, however, on November 7 when Youngblood turned the tide of the game almost single-handedly.
With the Gators trailing by a touchdown, Youngblood stuffed a Bulldog running back at the goal line and caused him to fumble.
He then had the presence of mind to recover the ball, turning the momentum back to Florida.
The Gators would turn that momentum into a 24-17 win.
Youngblood continued his assault on the school record book in 1970 when he made 58 tackles and led the Gators with 10 sacks.
Jack Youngblood as a Gator pic.twitter.com/xTWn8K30kp
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) March 25, 2022
He would become a first-team All-American and a finalist for the Outland Trophy.
Youngblood also received SEC All-Conference honors, was voted the SEC Lineman of the Year, and given the team’s Fergie Ferguson Award as the senior who displays outstanding leadership, character, and courage.
As the 1971 NFL Draft approached, local and national media regarded Youngblood as one of the best defensive linemen in Gators’ history.
“Deceptively fast for his size, he reads screens and swing passes so adroitly that he intimidates quarterbacks by his mere presence,” remarked Time magazine when choosing Youngblood for their ‘70 All-American Team.
“He (Youngblood) is difficult to move when you run at him, has the speed and agility to pursue down the line of scrimmage, and the strength and quickness to rush the passer,” said Florida’s coach, Doug Dickey.
In 2006, Youngblood was ranked as the number five all-time greatest player for the Gators.
He has also been a member of numerous SEC all-time lists.
First Round Pick
All the accolades and film evidence made believers out of NFL personnel.
The Los Angeles Rams took special notice of Youngblood and grabbed him with the 20th overall selection in the ‘71 draft.
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) January 10, 2022
The selection surprised him as Youngblood was told he may not get drafted until much later.
“…they hand me the phone and they say, “It’s the coach from the Los Angeles Rams.” My first thought – honest to God, I am not exaggerating – I put my hand over the receiver and I said, “Who’s the coach?” I thought there were only like 4 or 5 teams in the league because on television that’s all I saw! I am holding the phone and I answer, “Hello Coach” and he says, “Youngblood, Tommy Prothro here. We’re gonna draft you!” said Youngblood in 2017.
By then, Youngblood had grown from a 195-pound college freshman to a 6’4”, 245-pound wrecking ball.
He would spend his rookie year backing up future Hall of Famer Deacon Jones and start four games, collecting three sacks.
(The NFL did not keep track of tackles or sacks at the time, although the Rams did keep their own internal records. Youngblood’s sack numbers have been added retroactively).
Youngblood played well enough to be named to Football Digest’s All-Rookie Team.
Before the 1972 season, Jones was traded to the San Diego Chargers and Youngblood took his place.
He would make the most of his ascension by starting nine games and making six sacks along with a fumble recovery.
Forest fires immediately went down 90% out of pure fear when Smokey told the public they made Jack Youngblood very angry. pic.twitter.com/npa0sRrZlw
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) August 1, 2019
Youngblood would also lead the Rams’ defensive linemen with 70 tackles.
LA becomes a Contender
As the calendar turned to 1973, LA fired Prothro and hired Chuck Knox.
In his first season, Knox brought the Rams back to the playoffs after a three-year absence.
The team went 12-2 and lost to Dallas in the Divisional round.
Youngblood put on a hitting display that year as he took down opposing quarterbacks 16.5 times.
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) August 2, 2020
Additionally, he helped LA’s newest version of the “Fearsome Foursome” defense lead the NFL in fewest yards allowed and fewest rushing yards.
After the season, Youngblood was named second-team All-Pro and was voted to the first of seven consecutive Pro Bowls.
1973 was also the first season where LA added linebacker Jim Youngblood to their roster.
Though unrelated, the duo were unique in that they had their entire first and last names on the backs of their jerseys.
More Rams memories: When Jim + Jack Youngblood had to wear their full names — stacked! — on their jerseys. pic.twitter.com/C2sTeg2et9
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 13, 2016
In 1974, Jack Youngblood led the NFL in sacks with 15 and the Rams continued to lead the league in rushing defense.
Along with his second Pro Bowl, Youngblood was voted as a consensus first-team All-Pro.
After dispatching Washington in the Divisional round, the Rams lost to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game.
More Honors, but LA comes up short
Youngblood’s fifth year as a pro was a dandy.
He once again had 15 sacks as well as a safety and two fumble recoveries.
His sack total led the team for the third year in a row.
When the 1975 season concluded, Youngblood was named as the NFC Defensive Player of the Year by United Press International and the NFL’s defensive lineman of the year by Pro Football Weekly.
After losing only two games that season, the Rams faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the Divisional round.
During the contest, Youngblood tipped a pass by the Cardinals’ Jim Hart and returned the deflection for a touchdown.
He would continue harassing St. Louis throughout the game when he added a sack, forced a fumble, and blocked a Cardinals’ extra-point try.
With the 35-23 victory behind them, LA lost to the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game.
In 1976, Youngblood was once again named the NFC Defensive Player of the Year after co-leading the Rams in sacks with 14.5.
Meanwhile, LA slipped past Dallas in the ‘76 playoffs before falling in the NFC Championship Game for the third year in a row.
Youngblood would lead the Rams in sacks in 1977 with 9.5 before the team lost in the Divisional round to Minnesota.
Jack Youngblood of the Los Angeles Rams talks to head coach Chuck Knox as they walk off the field after a game against the Cleveland Browns circa 1977 #NFL @theblood85 #RamsHouse pic.twitter.com/MxVNidoWDV
— Let’s Talk NFL 🏈 (@TalkFootball34) May 14, 2022
Then, in 1978, the Rams led the NFL in total defense and took a 12-4 record into the playoffs.
After beating the Vikings in the Divisional round, the Cowboys once again spoiled their season by blanking LA 28-0 in the NFC title game.
Youngblood would tally seven sacks for the year.
Sackmaster, a Broken Fibula, and the 1979 Super Bowl
Although it didn’t look like it initially, 1979 would finally be LA’s year.
The franchise suffered a three-game losing streak during the middle of the season on the way to a 9-7 record.
Youngblood played like a man possessed that year as he tore through opposing linemen to record a career-high 18 sacks.
The total led the NFL and also led to his fifth first-team All-Pro selection and seventh Pro Bowl.
During the playoffs, Youngblood fractured his left fibula in the last few minutes of their Divisional round victory over Dallas, which would normally mean the end of one’s season.
However, he played through the pain as LA got past the Cowboys and shut out the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game, 9-0.
“I was the captain,” Youngblood said matter-of-factly. “I was the leader of the football team, and I was going to do everything I possibly could within my power and ability to go on that field and to lead my guys and to try and win a football game.”
After finally getting past the NFC title game, the Rams faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.
Today in 1980, the Steelers win Super Bowl XIV, but the Rams' Jack Youngblood forever raises the bar for gridiron badassery by playing the game on a broken leg. pic.twitter.com/QMjSA62IGT
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) January 20, 2018
At halftime, the Rams had a slim 13-10 lead and still led after three quarters, 19-17.
However, the Steelers proved too much in the final quarter, much to the dismay of Youngblood.
“I can remember being within a step of Terry Bradshaw as he threw the ball to John Stallworth down the left sideline. I mean I literally hollered at Terry and he stepped up just a heartbeat before and then I hit him just as he released the ball. Both of us turned and looked and John went and caught that ball and went on to beat us,” recalled Youngblood years later.
Pittsburgh would score 14 unanswered points in the final quarter to beat LA 31-19.
Although Youngblood came up just short of a championship, his play on a broken leg during the playoffs has been called one of the gutsiest performances of all-time by Sports Illustrated and the NFL Network.
Even more incredible, Youngblood continued playing the following week in the Pro Bowl.
Toughest guy in #NFLHistory?
Happy birthday, Jack! pic.twitter.com/CrP1k7ghNL
— NFL Throwback (@nflthrowback) January 26, 2018
Because LA lost the Super Bowl, Youngblood used the extra game to take a trip to Hawaii.
“I wasn’t going to miss the party,” said Youngblood, laughing. “No. No. No. I’d come through 14 ballgames, three playoff games and we lose. I’m mad, and I’m going, ‘I’m going to Hawaii. We’re going (to go) and have a Mai Tai.’ “
Undersized yet Effective
Youngblood’s leg healed in time for him to return for Week 1 of the 1980 season.
That year, he collected 11.5 sacks and a second-team All-Pro nod as the Rams went 11-5 and lost to Dallas in the Wild Card round.
The following year Youngblood had 11.5 sacks again while LA went 6-10.
Old school football for the win pic.twitter.com/2xFsM8Ci2P
— OldTimeHardball (@OleTimeHardball) July 30, 2021
After 11 years in the NFL, Youngblood was still regarded as one of the finest defensive ends in the game.
He was light for a defensive lineman but effective nonetheless.
“I’d love to watch Jack Youngblood play,” said former NFL player and future NFL analyst Sean Salisbury. “His tan arms hanging out of his sleeveless jersey, he’d put those pipes on the ground, and even at 240 pounds, he would show great moves and natural strength for an undersized player. He was extremely quick, had underrated strength, and he got great leverage against the tackles.”
During the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Rams bottomed out at 2-7 while Youngblood had four sacks.
A year later, coach John Robinson was hired to replace Ray Malavasi and LA drafted SMU running back Eric Dickerson.
As the team rebounded to finish 9-7 and advance to the Divisional round before losing to Washington, Youngblood rebounded as well with 10.5 sacks.
The Rams had switched to a 3-4 defense that season and Youngblood thrived.
In the final game of the ‘83 season against New Orleans, Youngblood had 10 tackles, two sacks, and a safety.
During the 1984 season, Youngblood racked up 9.5 sacks as LA went 10-6 and lost in the Wild Card round to the New York Giants.
NFL's best all-time 20th overall pick? Maybe HOFer Jack Youngblood by Rams in 1971 pic.twitter.com/XfKwxdpZJj
— Mark Dalton (@CardsMarkD) May 1, 2014
In Week 15, Youngblood broke his consecutive games played streak when he missed the contest due to a ruptured disc.
It would be the first football game he would sit out since his final year as a Florida Gator in 1970.
He returned to play in the final game of the year as well as the team’s playoff game.
When the season ended Youngblood retired.
He would receive the Rams’ Ed Block Courage Award for, “representing everything that is positive about professional football and serving as an inspiration in their locker rooms being a positive role model in his communities.”
When Youngblood officially retired the following August, he asked that his career be remembered for “dignity, integrity, respect and pride.”
In 14 seasons, Youngblood would have a total of 151.5 sacks, though his numbers before 1982 (the year the NFL began keeping track of sacks) are unofficial.
Youngblood appeared in one Super Bowl, was a five-time first-team All-Pro, three-time second-team All-Pro, two-time NFL sack leader and seven-time Pro Bowler.
He would be named to the league’s 1970s All-Decade Team as well as the Rams’ Ring of Fame.
LA would also retire Youngblood’s number 85.
After leaving the NFL, Youngblood continued to stay active in sports.
He was a co-host for ESPN’s NFL Game Day show in 1985 and 1986 alongside Chris Berman before being replaced by Tom Jackson.
Youngblood appeared in numerous sports and outdoor shows for the next several years before moving to radio work with the Rams, Sacramento Surge of the World League of American Football and the Sacramento Gold Miners of the Canadian Football League (the first American team to play in the CFL).
Youngblood also did some acting, appearing in C.A.T Squad and C.A.T Squad: Python Wolf, two TV movies in 1986 and 1988 respectively.
In 1975, Youngblood was voted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.
Then, in 1987, Youngblood was inducted into the Orange County (CA) Sports Hall of Fame.
He was also selected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992 then the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
— Let’s Talk NFL 🏈 (@TalkFootball34) January 27, 2021
In addition to his commentary work, Youngblood worked in the front office for the Surge and the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League.
Youngblood wrote his autobiography, Blood, with Joel Engel in 1988.
He has also been active in the business world including being a division president of Dave Liles Ethanol Fuels.
Youngblood has been active in charity work which have included organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Muscular Dystrophy Foundation, and United Way.
Although he has been retired for nearly three decades, Youngblood is remembered for his contributions to the gridiron.
“Jack Youngblood was a terror. He had a lot of heart; he played hard, he played tough, and he was as quick as a hiccup. He was on the small side but he had great pass rush moves, just a hellacious player,” said former All-Pro and Hall of Fame tackle Art Shell.