SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 1983, SPORTS
Copyright 1983/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
A Name Is Only a Name
In the National Football League as in the American West, there have always been names to strike fear in the hearts of men. What names like Cochise or Cody or Crazy Horse meant to the early settlers, Butkus of Bubba (as in “Kill, Bubba, kill!”), Karras or Marchetti meant to football players.
Youngblood is such a name. It denotes the left end of the Rams, a guy who paws the ground before he charges like a corrida bull or a wounded moose, a guy who shakes quarterbacks upside-down till they cough up the football. It’s a name that would turn the wagon trains around on the plains or send a chill over a frontier saloon or empty a main street at high noon.
Youngblood was a name to keep young quarterbacks awake the night before the big game or make offensive tackles wish they had gone into sales.
You would think its owner would be this big, scowling, antisocial hulk, a churlish cretin who was a cross between a guy who collects bad debts for the Mafia and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Youngblood would really mean Badblood.
But the real Jack Youngblood would be a big disappointment to the Dalton Gang or the warriors of Cochise. He doesn’t seem mean enough to be Jack Youngblood. He smiles a lot. He has these dimples. He hardly ever gets mad. He looks like a collar ad, a cross between Robert Redford and John Wayne. He always looks as if he’s enjoying himself, as if it was fun peeling all these blocking backs off and throwing them over the sidelines. He laughs when he swallows up the quarterback. You’d think it was ballroom dancing instead of modified murder. Most defensive ends look as if their feet hurt or their pants were too tight. Jack Youngblood looks as if he just heard a good joke or is learning the tango.
He’s the Rams’ Good Humor Man. He goes through life as if he is passing out popsicles. His mayhem has a kind of impersonal quality to it, like a surgeon who is not hurting you on purpose.
He’s as durable as a diamond, as indestructible as an ingot. He has the center of gravity of a kewpie. You might knock him off the line of scrimmage but never off his feet. He has played in 171 consecutive games, two of them on a broken leg.
He is the last of the Super Rams, the last link with the gaudy era of the Fearsome Foursome, the Secretary of Defense, the annual best team-in-the-league — on paper — Rams. When they were the Rams, not the Goats.
“When I first came up, they had players like Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Diron Talbert, Coy Bacon, Fred Dryer, Hacksaw Reynolds, Larry Brooks and Jack Pardee. You were lucky to get a suit,” Youngblood was recalling the other day.
The signature of the Rams was always the pass rush. It was the best west of Pittsburgh and south of Lombardi’s Green Bay. And Youngblood kept that tradition alive through four head coaches and almost twice as many line coaches. “(Head Coach) Tommy Prothro was aloof, cerebral. He almost never had personal contact with us, Chuck Knox was macho. He wanted a show of hands of guys ready to play. He thought defense won games and offense just tried to keep from losing them. Ray Malavasi was an astute tactician who trusted people to give 100%. Naturally, they took advantage of him.”
As to changes in the game, Youngblood remembers principally that they took the left hook and the right cross out of it. It wasn’t football, it was pugilism. The all-purpose head slap. “You practiced it in the gym on the heavy bag and the light one. You came through the line of scrimmage like Rocky Marciano. You hit everything that got in your way right in the helmet. The advantage of the head slap was, it made the guy either turn his head or close his eyes or both.”
Youngblood recalls that when Deacon Jones got through an afternoon of knocks to the head, his opponent had a permanent ringing in his ears, as if he had spent the day in the Liberty Bell.
When they outlawed that, the line of scrimmage resembled less Dempsey-Tunney than Veloz-Yolanda. Now the Rams are going to the three-man front or the volleyball defense. Will it neutralize the vaunted Rams pass rush, will the coaches opt for a newer, more stylish attacker? Will Jack Youngblood stop laughing?
Jack Youngblood smiles. “I can play for them (the Rams), all right. The question is can I play for me?”
In other words, Jack Youngblood has to meet Jack Youngblood’s standards, not the league’s.
It’s not likely the syllables will come to mean Jack Oldblood, then. It’s likely they will still have the same effect on the league as smoke signals to a wagon train. A man who can play a Super Bowl on one leg can probably play a three-man front on crutches and the consonants in the name Y-o-u-n-g-b-l-o-o-d will still cause offensive tackles to blink their eyes or young quarterbacks to run for their lives event if he’s only got two other renegades instead of three.
Reprinted with the permission of the Los Angeles Times
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THE LOS ANGELES RAMS: HOME AGAIN
A History of LA’s Team from the Voice of the City
Los Angeles Times Sports Columnist Jim Murray columns 1961-1995
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