Long before the Rams moved there, Youngblood settled in Orange County, which has a reputation for conservatism. His home is in Orange Park Acres, an area that sits on the side of a hill. It's horse country, and Jack's house looks something like a big red barn. A speedboat sits in the driveway, and inside the kitchen door there's a plaque that says: THE OLDER THE BERRY, THE SWEETER THE JUICE.
The house is decorated as if it were a rural country home, with mounted fish and stuffed ducks and other wildlife throughout. Except for the living room. That is California contemporary and looks virtually unlived-in. "That's her room," Youngblood will say, referring to his wife, Diane.
She also has three cats. Jack doesn't like cats. "They don't do anything," he says. When he first meets someone, that is what he wants to know. Do they do anything? Or are they worthless, like a cat.
Big, strong and handsome, that's Youngblood, and that once defined the ideal of the American male. Now football players hold hands in the huddle, and they do aerobic dancing. If he watched soap operas, Youngblood would not see his type playing the good guy these days. It's as if someone has called an audible on the emotional line of scrimmage, and Youngblood has been caught in the wrong stance.
Jack and Diane were college sweethearts at the University of Florida. She is from Lake City, Fla., a town that closes up early. But unlike Jack, she has changed. She has her own business: a stationery store in Costa Mesa. She also does interior decorating. She takes French lessons, jogs, plays racquetball, does aerobics, works out on Nautilus machines and dabbles at painting.
She and Jack were split up, on and off, for most of '83 but have been together for the last month. He was in the house by himself, eating off paper plates.
The problems with his marriage pained Youngblood greatly. "It was losing, and I don't like that," he says. "I'm not used to it. Everything I ever touched always turned to gold. But the pressures of the game can affect a relationship. The whole attitude about winning and losing changes your perspective. Success breeds success. Confidence begets confidence. And the results can change the way you look at yourself. The last two years, when the team was losing, literally made me question my ability, question my intellect."
Good or bad, there aren't many male bastions left. One of them is the weight room of a pro football team. The Rams' weight room has mirrors on all four walls, and most players working out there keep their shirts off, the better to gauge the "pump"—that surge of blood through the veins during a routine. This is where Youngblood can find solace. During the season he almost never misses a day of weightlifting. Often he is the only Ram there. He likes nothing better than to put some Willie Nelson on the stereo, pop some chewing tobacco in his mouth and pump some iron.
Youngblood looks older than his years. His face is craggy. The average career of a pro player is only 4½ years. So Jack is three generations removed from the rookies, the "young 'uns" he calls them. Lately he has taken to reminiscing. When he was younger, he ran with a group of teammates. They got into a lot of "attitude readjustment," which is Youngblood's term for serious drinking. Says Jack, "The crazy thing is that we could be off the wall and still have the physical ability to go out and perform above and beyond anybody else." On one of his outings while preparing for a Pro Bowl in Hawaii, Youngblood ended up on stage, cavorting with a dancer who was part of Don Ho's act. She thought it would be funny to pull his pants down. What she, and everyone else in the bar, discovered was that Youngblood wasn't wearing underwear.
He remembers breaking into pro football, thrilled with a $21,000 salary. Deacon Jones, his idol, had hurt his foot, and Youngblood, a rookie and a rube, filled the void. One thing sticks out in his mind: Baltimore's Johnny Unitas handing off to Tom Matte down near the goal line, and Unitas yelling, no, commanding, "Hit that hole!" The old guys had a basic tenet: Don't let anyone down.