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Q&A: Rams great Jack Youngblood says some in NFL aren't tough enough

Defensive lineman from 1970s and early '80s who was willing to endure much pain says it 'frustrates' him to see players not use all of their talent. He works to help NFL retirees get more medical aid.

October 09, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Covered in mud, Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood trudges the sidelines during a 1977 playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Covered in mud, Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood trudges the sidelines… (Los Angeles Times )

Our interview with Jack Youngblood is the latest in a series of Q&As with prominent sports figures.

Jack Youngblood is 61 and still Ram tough.

The Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman from the 1970s and early '80s has just released a biography, "Because It Was Sunday," a reference to Youngblood's willingness to endure whatever pain necessary to play in the NFL.

The Hall of Famer famously broke a leg in the second quarter of a playoff upset of the Dallas Cowboys. Youngblood completed that game, helped the Rams shut out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9-0, to put the Rams in their first Super Bowl in 1980, then suited up in a near-upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. He then played in the Pro Bowl the next week.

Now back living where he was raised in Florida, Youngblood has a book promotional tour of the Southland scheduled to start Oct. 17.

Enduring the playoffs on a broken leg made you a near mythical figure. Was the injury really that painful, or even worse than reported?

"Over the course of years, many have misconstrued it as a slightly cracked bone or a hairline fracture. That was a totally fractured fibula — about four inches above my left ankle —- snapped like a pencil. I knew it wasn't going to heal, so my only issue was, 'Could I play with the pain?' The doctors said I was crazy, but in the Dallas game, I said, 'Let's go see if I can deal with it,' and helped get us to Tampa."

What did you do for the pain?

"Not much. I couldn't take downers because that would've affected the way I'd play. I took two Darvocet and my normal two pots of coffee and some Gatorade. And about three to four miles of tape, with a plastic patch over the break, just in case I got kicked there. I wrapped that bad boy up and went from there. Look, we had the [Super Bowl] door slammed in our face four times before the Tampa game. I wanted that win. My concern was not to be a detriment to the team. I would've pulled myself out if I wasn't at 75-80%."

In the book, Joe Namath praises you as "100% guy." What's the source of that toughness?

"Natural. DNA. My grandfather, father, mother were tough, gritty people who did their jobs to the best of their ability, and then I learned so much stuff from my teammates Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Freddy Dryer, Larry Brooks. My dad died when I was 10 [from congenital heart disease], but from looking, watching, hearing my grandfather — he was sheriff of Nassau County. A man's man. His word was his bond. He never took on a situation or issue that he didn't finish. Those were great life lessons to me."

The NFL's legacy was built on the effort you describe, yet you've said you receive no money from the NFL for medical expenses. You're on panels with ex-players trying to change that. Where does that stand?

"We've come miles in at least acknowledging we need to find some solutions to brain and other traumas that were due to nothing else but the physics of the game. We know there are imbalances in brain waves caused by football. Getting the therapy into the locker room has been significant. A lot of us are in class-action [lawsuits] because the medical aspect of dealing with this can bankrupt almost anyone. The league needs to find the remedy, and the [players'] union needs to help sell it. We know we won't ever be in the same boat [of extended post-career health benefits] as the current players, but, please, bring it to a livable perspective."

I wonder how a guy like you views the players of today. Do you sit back and think toughness is lacking?

"Yes, it frustrates me. To see people who are talented and not using that talent to its utmost — that's our responsibility. A lot of people can run and jump and scream. To have the mental capacity to do something, and then not do it. It's almost sinful."

You know what an NFL crowd is like in Los Angeles. What has this generation missed by not having a team?

"It's one thing to have a world-champion basketball team, and win in baseball. It's a completely different world having a Super Bowl team. L.A. has proved it will love its winning football team. When we were here, we felt like rock stars. It would be nice to have our [Rams] franchise back where it rightfully belongs. I'm not sure that's on [owner Stan] Kroenke's radar. But the L.A. Vikings? The L.A. Chargers? Does that work for you? In all reality, if you can't get the Rams, I think the commissioner would most like an expansion franchise in that new stadium."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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