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Leaving Youngblood Out Makes It a Hall of Shame

THE INSIDE TRACK | SECOND THOUGHTS

January 16, 2001|CHRIS DUFRESNE

If Jack Youngblood is not a hall of famer, why did Chuck Knox once say, "He'll go down as one of the top defensive ends in the history of football"?

How come former Ram equipment man Don Hewitt vowed never again to issue jersey No. 85?

Why did men cry at Youngblood's retirement news conference on Aug. 27, 1985?

If Youngblood is not up to Canton snuff, how did he make the Pro Bowl seven times, twice win NFC defensive-player-of-the-year honors, play in 201 consecutive games, two-plus on a broken leg?

How come former Ram guard Dennis Harrah calls Youngblood's exclusion not a shame, or unfortunate, but "an atrocity"?

If greatness occurred before ESPN, on film instead of tape, before the screech of "Boo-Ya" and the enlightened moment an NFL wonk recognized the sack as an official statistic, does your career not count?

Was it not real?

"Tape it up, give me two more aspirin and let's go play," Youngblood said to the medical staff after his left fibula--the smaller of two bones in the lower leg--cracked during the Rams' 1979 playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Youngblood then sucked it up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship game and heroically limped it out against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, taking no pain-killing injections.

Jack was nimble, Jack was quick. He gave 14 seasons to the Los Angeles Rams.

But now he is getting sacked.

The good news: Youngblood is again one of 15 finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The class of 2001 will be announced Jan. 27.

The joke is that this is still a story.

This is the 12th year Youngblood has been eligible, meaning his bust should have been cast, his presenter chosen, his speech written, during the first Bush administration.

If you love a mystery, put down Agatha Christie and pick up Jack Youngblood.

He never took a down off, was a bona fide superstar, got along with teammates and the media and never has appeared as a guest on "Court TV."

Memo to Kobe and Shaq: You don't know Jack about taking one for the team.

In 1983, first-year Ram coach John Robinson switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, pushing Youngblood from left end to a glorified tackle.

Youngblood didn't demand a trade. In 1984, his last season, he led the Rams with 9 1/2 sacks.

Yet, he can't get over?

Last year, Youngblood made the list of six final candidates. It came down to a straight yes-no vote for the 38 selectors. Jack needed 80% approval to get in, yet at least eight selectors voted thumbs down.

"You have no control," Youngblood said of his fate when reached by phone at his home in Florida. "It's tough to say anything about it."

Youngblood used to compare himself to Emmy-less Susan Lucci, the perennially passed-over daytime soap opera star.

"Even she finally won," Youngblood said. "Maybe I can get over the hump."

There are theories as to why Youngblood has not been Canton-ized.

Bob Oates, The Times' longtime former NFL writer and charter Hall of Fame voter, blames an inherent East Coast bias.

"The only thing offending about him was being with the Los Angeles Rams," Oates said.

There is the "generation gap" theory.

"Maybe half the committee now never saw him play," Oates said.

Of the defensive ends Oates chronicled--and he has seen them all--he said only Deacon Jones was better than Youngblood.

Yet, Buck Buchanon, Lee Roy Selmon and Howie Long get inducted before Youngblood?

Another problem: We are a stats-obsessed society and the NFL did not recognize quarterback sacks until 1983, Youngblood's penultimate season.

That doesn't mean sacks were not charted.

"They paid us for sacks," Youngblood said. "It was always built in the contract."

Youngblood finished with 145 "unofficial" sacks.

I saw him through two prisms, personal and professional, and neither disappointed.

I was a Southland teenager and clinically-diagnosed Ram fan during Youngblood's prime in the 1970s and didn't need Chris Berman to tell me Youngblood was great the way Mean Joe Greene was great. Twice a year, when the Saints came marching in, I saw the look on Archie Manning's face when Youngblood smelled blood.

I also covered Youngblood, first hand, as a scrub Ram reporter in the early 1980s.

I ask Hall of Fame selectors to pop in a cassette of Youngblood's last stand.

I was there.

It was Sunday, Nov. 5, 1984, Busch Stadium, Rams at St. Louis.

Yeah, St. Louis.

Youngblood, 34, plagued with the back injury that would force his retirement, sacked quarterback Neil Lomax three times and forced a fumble. He drew three holding calls on Cardinal offensive tackle Tootie Robbins.

With the Cardinals down by three points, kicker Neil O'Donoghue had a chance to tie the score with a last-second field goal.

Jack Youngblood blocked the kick.

Afterward, he sat on his stool, dripping sweat and blood on the locker room floor.

Frankly, I have to question the backbone of a football Hall of Fame that would exclude Jack Youngblood as a member.

Imagine the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame making Chuck Berry wait 12 years,

"The longer you're out, the chances are greater that they do forget," Youngblood said.

How unfortunate. What a shame.

No, what an atrocity.

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