It always comes as a surprise to those who see Youngblood as the old-fashioned image of masculinity to discover what a dominant force women have been in his life. His mother, Kay, was widowed when he was 10, so he and his two younger sisters were raised without a father. The owner of his football team is a woman: Georgia Frontiere. And he and his wife were seeing a female marriage counselor about their marital problems. "Women," Youngblood occasionally blurts out in the weight room, "I'm givin' 'em up."
Fifteen years ago, when his conservative values conflicted with the hippie tenets of his generation, Youngblood, then a sophomore at Florida, reacted by climbing into a police car in Gainesville, Fla. and going out to battle some demonstrators who were marching in the town. Now he is out of step with his surroundings once more. To him the West Coast crowd, with its emphasis on the material, does not have old or new values so much as no values at all.
"These people are sick," Youngblood says. "They really are. Everybody lives in the fast lane out here. They have to work so hard just to make ends meet. It's a vicious circle. They make more money so they buy a bigger house and a bigger car. Then they got to make more money to pay the bills. It never ends."
Every year, within days of the season's last game, Youngblood is back in Monticello, fishing and hunting. He has a 260-acre ranch there and raises cattle and soybeans, but what he likes most is the camaraderie. The only complaint from the local folks is that he borrows their Red Man and never repays them. He's still the same ingenuous kid who painted his name on the town water tower and then wondered the next day how the sheriff figured out he was the culprit.
These days it's tough to find a spot where Youngblood can feel as comfortable as he does back home. Dad gum, even pro football has sold out, changing its rules so the offense can run up the score. Says Diane Youngblood, "What he still loves are the basic things he grew up with."
Diane has put Florida behind her. But then, she didn't have a pro football locker room to go to every day. Football is her husband's life. "If Jack puts his mind to something, if he makes a commitment, he puts his whole heart into it," says Diane. "Sometimes, the other things around him suffer—like me."
Merlin Olsen, who played 208 games with the Rams before he retired in 1976, says of Youngblood, "Jack's still a little boy in a lot of ways. But professional football is the kind of place where there's all kinds of encouragement not to grow up. For an athlete to make the kind of commitment Jack has made, it alters his life. It's difficult for a wife to understand how he can pour out all that emotion on the field, and then be insensitive to her needs. But if you're really going to be good, or, like Jack, great, you have to do it that way. You can't cheat on the emotional side."
After the debacle in Miami, the Rams prepared to play Chicago the following week. Publicly, the Ram coaches were saying Youngblood's job was secure. Privately, they were making plans to use Jeter more against the Bears. Before Coach John Robinson arrived this year with his three-man line, Youngblood simply took off after the quarterback, but now he must stand off his man, occupy him, allowing the linebackers to make the tackles. It's as if he has become a security guard without a gun. He has the uniform but no real power.
"Jack used to be able to get 16 sacks a year," says his best friend, former L.A. Defensive Tackle Larry Brooks, now a Ram defensive line coach. "This season he'll be lucky if he gets 10. [He had 7½ through last Sunday's 13-9 loss to Philadelphia.] He's learning to play football all over again. The way he played before is not acceptable. But he's survivin'. Pretty good, too."
At odds with his environment, at a crossroads of his career as well as his marriage, Youngblood reacted the way he knew best. At practice he worked until he poured sweat. By Saturday he was still at it. The locker room was long deserted, save for Youngblood. By his locker were a couple of film canisters. He had been studying the Bears.