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Youngblood Can’t Beat Clock, Retires After 14 Ram Seasons

Times Staff Writer

Jack Youngblood, called the heart and soul of the Los Angeles Rams by team owner Georgia Frontiere, has walked away from the game he loves too much to play poorly.

“Football has been my life for the last 14 years,” Youngblood, 35, said during a press conference Tuesday in the steamy cafeteria at Rams Park. “Dignity, integrity, respect and pride is how I want to be remembered.”

Youngblood, a consensus all-pro defensive end six times and a seven-time player in the Pro Bowl since he joined the team 14 years ago as a first-round draft choice from the University of Florida, left the game with the style that marked his career. Nobody had to tell him it was time to go.

“The clock ran down on me this year,” Youngblood said. “It was time to make a decision. The only right thing to do for the team and for (Coach) John (Robinson) and Georgia was to come to a decision whether you were gonna go try and you were gonna play or you were not gonna play. To try (and then not play) was not acceptable to me. It was either play or don’t play.”

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Youngblood said he still thought as late as last Saturday night that he had a chance to rebound from the back injury that forced him to the bench late last season. But as the time approached for him to join the squad Monday after a summer of isolated workouts, he wavered and finally decided against it.

Robinson said that Youngblood “set a standard that I can point to for as long as I coach and say, ‘Hey, this is how you’re supposed to do it.’ ”

But the man who played in the Rams’ only Super Bowl with a broken bone in one leg determined that he could no longer live up to that standard himself, even after a rigorous off-season conditioning program that seemed to restore everything but his youth.

“It’s been a long and very grueling decision,” he said. “I turned over every stone that I could to be the Jack Youngblood that you remember from last year. God wasn’t willing for it to happen, so therefore I have to retire.

“I was not willing to go out on that field and give John, Georgia and the fans--and myself--anything less than the 100% you remember.”

Youngblood’s wife, Diane, dabbed at tears as Youngblood spoke.

“I didn’t want him to play anymore,” she said. “I was afraid he’d get hurt. He’s accomplished everything already.

“I had to let him make the decision, but I twisted his arm a little: ‘I won’t go to the games if you play anymore.’

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“I’ll miss seeing him rush that passer. And he’ll probably be out here working out every afternoon because he won’t know what else to do with himself.”

Unlike some athletes facing retirement, Youngblood was in position for a comfortable exit. Not only has he been among the highest-paid Rams for several years but he also will receive his ’85 salary, about $400,000, for working with the club in a loosely defined role.

“Georgia and I are still trying to work out the details of exactly what level I’ll be involved (at) here,” he said. “I’m certainly going to be involved . . . to give input and to manage situations and to create situations that can help this football team become the dynasty we should be.

“Then there are other things outside of football that I have to pursue, and now I’ll have time to do them.”

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He smiled.

“Fishing. I’ll get to go to the opening day of dove season for the first time in 15 years--things like that.”

He also hopes to try sports broadcasting.

Youngblood said that the herniated disk he suffered in the 13th game of the season at Tampa last season, ultimately ending his club record of appearing in 201 consecutive games, had been only one factor in his decision.

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“The possibility of it happening again is remote, but I could pick up a 50-pound bag of dog food off the back of the truck, do it in the wrong way and blow it out again.”

He said he is free of pain.

“Absolutely. I was doing everything that needs to be done to be in condition and to be strong enough to play.”

He doubted that the surgery recommended by Ram doctors would have allowed him to play longer.

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“If I’d have had surgery I’d be in Florida right now, on the beach someplace,” Youngblood said. “I know what this body can do, and to go through that traumatic experience of the operation . . . I couldn’t have done that.”

If it is Youngblood’s time to step aside, however, it seems to be Doug Reed’s time to play. The heir apparent, Reed was a fourth-round draft choice from San Diego State in ’83. He said that Youngblood’s retirement surprised him.

“It really did,” Reed said. “I thought he’d play at least another five years. I thought I was gonna be 30 before I got a shot.”

His two years as an understudy were hardly wasted, though, Reed said. “I learned how to compete, every down. I learned how to play football all over again. I had some things going for me, but I could look at him and get a clear understanding of what my job was.

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“The San Francisco game (when Youngblood was unable to play), I don’t think I could have made it through without him. He was right there to coach me along--'Doug, take this angle.’ It was a pressure game for me--all of a sudden, ‘You’re in!’ He calmed me down and helped me out.

“I learned pass-rushing techniques from him, and Jack was a good two-gapper, too.”

The term refers to ends playing in a three-man line, which Youngblood had to do the last two years after Robinson changed the Ram defense--probably the only time Youngblood ever complained about his job. This year it would have been a lighter load.

“What the coaching staff talked about was that I would be the starter, but Jack would come in as a designated pass rusher,” Reed said. “It was designed to take a little slack off him as far as the two-gapping part of it.”

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Youngblood had indicated a specialist’s role would have been OK with him, as long as the specialty was rushing the passer.

The plan now is for Reed to play most of the time, in any defense.

Reed said: “I was ready from Day 1, ever since he didn’t show up to camp, to take that responsibility and say, ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for me.’

“But it’s not mine. That’s the way I’m pitching. They can go out and get somebody else, so I’m not taking anything as a gift. Doug Reed still has to go out and work every down.”

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Reed has been credited with two sacks in the three exhibition games, but he is taking credit only for the one that was a safety against St. Louis.

“I really don’t count ‘em because it doesn’t mean anything now,” he said.

Defensive line coach Marv Goux said: “Doug Reed will do an excellent job for us. He’s a very strong young man and has great quickness. Now that he has a position, he’ll become a much better football player and will be much more dedicated.

“He’s been around for three years and all of a sudden he’s a starter in the NFL. I think he can handle it.”

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Youngblood will be watching.

“I’ll always be a Los Angeles Ram,” he said.


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