By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider
If professional football had its own John Wayne, he’d likely look a lot like Jack Youngblood.
Chosen in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft out of Florida, the defensive end proved to be even tougher than the “Duke” was portrayed in his films. Youngblood did, after all, play in two 1979 NFC playoff games as well as Super Bowl XIV with a broken leg.
A five-time All-Pro, Youngblood will represent the Rams at this week’s NFL Draft in Philadelphia by being the team’s presenter for the second-round selection on Friday. On stage in front of thousands in person and millions on television is far different from when he was drafted 46 years ago.
“It’s totally night and day. There was no media around the Draft in 1971,” Youngblood said. “In fact, I didn’t get very much information from my coaches and didn’t recognize that anybody was even looking. In today’s world, I mean, good gracious alive, if you’re on the draft list, you’re a celebrity. It really has come that far.”
Youngblood didn’t travel very far from his dorm when the league held the first day of its Draft on January 28, 1971.
“(The Florida sports information director) asked me to go down to the Gainesville Sun and watch the names come over the teletype. There was no television. There was no radio. Just the teletype was there. And after watching [Jim] Plunkett and [Dan] Pastorini and a couple more (be chosen), I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is going to be a long day and not much fun,’” Youngblood said with a laugh.
“Around when No. 18 was coming up, the phone rings in the room. They answer it and hand it to me and said, ‘Jack, this is the coach of the Los Angeles Rams.’ And I had no idea who the Los Angeles Rams were much less who the coach is. You’ve got to remember, there wasn’t but two television stations going on in 1971in Gainesville, Florida.
“It was Tommy Prothro, and he said, ‘Youngblood, we going to draft you.’ I didn’t know how to respond. ‘OK. Thanks, coach.’ I hang up the phone and about that time over the teletype comes – No. 20: Jack Youngblood, University of Florida, defensive end, to the Los Angeles Rams.
“And actually, a few moments before that came across the teletype; I’m thinking this was some of the boys back at the dorm messing with me. Then I saw it and I was going, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m not prepared for this one, I don’t think.”
Having never traveled west of the Mississippi River, Youngblood’s concerns were understandable. He sensed that the trip from Gainesville to Los Angeles was farther than the actual 2,404 miles. And when he got there and went to training camp and discovered who the veteran defensive linemen he was standing beside were. Well…
“I did a little homework and figured out they were the Fearsome Foursome – Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy. And I’m thinking, hmm, chances are few and far between I’m going to make that team,” laughed Youngblood.
“We had eight weeks of training camp and somewhere along the way, both Merlin and Deacon came up to me and put their arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Kid, you can play. We just have to teach you how to play.’ And from that moment on, I told them both, ‘Trust me. I’m all eyes and ears. I am teachable.’
Teachable and then some. Youngblood could have earned a gridiron doctorate. Beginning in 1973, he was selected to play in seven consecutive Pro Bowls. In 2001, he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What makes him most proud of his 14-year, all with the Rams, career?
“I think the fact that it was like growing up and you learned that you had this talent,” Youngblood said. “And I went out and used that talent. I never used it all because I’d still be playing if I could. But I used as much as I could on those Sundays. I played at a high level for a long period of time.”
Whomever the Rams select in the second round, Youngblood will announce his name and offer the same advice that he received as a rookie. “Keep your eyes and ears open and be as good as you can possibly be every day.”