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Jack Youngblood--nuts of steel


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This is classic:

 

On cnnsi.com

 

Peter King

 

 

Jack Youngblood was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

 

"I'm sorry this phone keeps beeping,'' Jack Youngblood was saying over the weekend on the phone from his home outside Orlando. His call-waiting was more of a click than a beep, but he was right. It happened a lot. "I guess this is a story that interests some people.''

 

You might say that. Youngblood snapped his left leg in the second quarter of a 1979 playoff game at Dallas, then played the next two-and-a-half games with the leg tightly wrapped. Now, six weeks after surgery to repair a broken leg and damaged ankle ligaments, Philadelphia wideout Terrell Owens will attempt to play Sunday in Super Bowl XXXIX.

 

I will get to the specifics of Youngblood's tale in a moment. It's a great story, and because it happened 25 years ago, there are probably an awful lot of you out there who don't know it very well, or at all. But I thought the most interesting thing I noticed in conversing with the Hall of Fame defensive end was the edge I caught in his voice when I asked him what sort of advice he'd have for Owens right now, seeing as though there's only been one guy in history to play in a Super Bowl with an honest-to-goodness broken leg, and he was the guy.

 

"To be honest,'' Youngblood said, "it's hard to compare my injury to [Owens']. He's been out of the game for what, five weeks? He's been convalescing. After four weeks, an amputation should be healed. Shouldn't it?''

 

Touché.

 

 

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That had the ring of a guy who thinks, deep down, it's absurd that the public is talking about what an incredible story it would be if Owens played a football game six weeks and four days after the surgery. And it underscored the difference in generations. "If he's the football player I think he is, and I hope he is,'' said Youngblood, "regardless of his antics, he'll play. I know this: Nothing would hold me out of this game.''

 

Now let's let Youngblood tell his story.

 

"It was the first game of the 1979 playoffs. We had barely made it to the playoffs after having one of the dominant teams in the league for a few years and never getting over the hump. Really, it was a little bit of a surprise we made it. So we're playing the Cowboys in Dallas in the divisional playoffs. Late in the second quarter, the guard bumps me over, foot gets caught in the turf, and it gets pinned up against a body and I feel it snap maybe an inch or two above the ankle. I rolled around like a turtle in pain. They take me directly to the locker room. Clarence Shields, one of our doctors, takes an X-ray, and I'm just dying, from pain and anger that I'm out of the game.

 

"I start yelling, 'Somebody come in here and tape this *** thing up and bring me some aspirin!' Clarence comes in and says, 'I can't do that! You're fibula's snapped like a pencil.'

 

"I said I didn't care, and he sticks the X-ray in that light board they had and says, 'Look! You got a broken bone!'

 

I told the trainers, 'Tape me up!' And so they came in, strapped my leg as tight as they could. The pain was excruciating. I can't even describe it. But they couldn't shoot the bone with a painkiller; that stuff doesn't work on bones. And I got up. It was near the end of halftime now, and I moved cautiously, just putting a little weight on it at first. The coaches were standing around, looking at me, and wondering, 'What is this madman going to do?' But I was playing. I told [coach] Ray Malavasi I wouldn't play if it hurt the team, but I knew I could do it. But my leg was ... again, just really bad. It took me all of halftime and then a couple of minutes into the third quarter to know I could go back out there and play.''

 

 

I interrupted to ask: "The doctors and trainers let you go back out?''

 

"First of all,'' he said, "this was in the days before malpractice. And I had total confidence in our trainers and medical staff. They kept me on the field for 201 consecutive games. They did a great job on me all the time.''

 

Youngblood missed the first series or two of the second half, then went out to play. He told only one defensive teammate, Larry Brooks, about the break. No sense in giving any clues to the Cowboys and his tackle nemesis, Pro Bowler Rayfield Wright.

 

"My first few steps, I thought, 'How am I going to beat Rayfield like this? Not that I can't do it. But how am I gonna do it?' My focus changed. When I tried to explode off the ball, I felt the hindrance, so I just tried to push off the other leg. The amazing thing was, at one point somehow I got around Rayfield Wright, who in my estimation was one of the three or four premier players I ever played against, a Hall of Fame player. I ran Roger Staubach down for a sack. And we upset the Cowboys to make it to the NFC Championship Game the next week at Tampa.

 

"For the first hour after the game, the adrenaline's still going because you're so excited, and you feel OK. Then the pain began. It was just constant. You think you'd get used to it, but not like that.''

 

I said: "Sounds like that was probably a nine-beer flight home to California.''

 

He said: "Nine. Right. In the first half-hour.''

 

"Guys found out about the injury, and they were saying things like, 'You idiot. You can't play.' But the bone was broken. What more could I do to it? And if I was breathing, I was playing that week. We found some plastic genius who made a kind of stirrup. We just used the molded piece that fit over the ankle and then about eight inches up my leg. It sort of encased my leg in plastic, and we padded it and taped it for the Tampa game. I took darvon or darvocet, something like that, but you can only take so many, or you'd go completely numb. Once in the game Doug Williams got outside me, which never should happen, and I was so mad at myself. It was more or less a running game, and we won that one, 9-0.

 

"On the way home, I kept thinking to myself: We don't have nearly as good a team as we've had, and we go on the road twice, and now here I am and I can't play like I wanna play. I was angry about that, but I couldn't believe we were going to the Super Bowl. We had the two weeks then, but that didn't help any. The pain never did subside.

 

"But on Super Bowl Sunday against Pittsburgh, I didn't care. I got onto the field early. A perfect day in Pasadena. Sunny, warm. The fans had these silver flittery boards for the halftime show, and the sun was reflecting off them, and it was just like, 'Woo-hoo! What a day!' Something right out of the movies.

 

"We went out for the coin flip. I think the ref was Jim Tunney. We were the visitors, and he tossed the coin, a Super Bowl coin. When he picked it up to show it to us, I reached and grabbed it. I said, 'I want to keep it!' He said, 'You can't.' I just wanted it for a souvenir.''

 

The Rams clung to a 19-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Youngblood wasn't having much of an impact then, but now, the ball on the Steelers 27, here he came around end at Terry Bradshaw, waiting an extra millisecond for John Stallworth to get open downfield.

 

"I was right on Terry: I mean, a half-step away. I think of this play to this day. And he let it go, a beautiful pass, a fabulous throw. Stallworth catches it and goes in for a 73-yard touchdown. And the difference in me making the play was a half-step. The difference was the broken leg, but that's how it goes. I tried.''

 

Pittsburgh 31, Rams 19.

 

"My leg can forecast the weather now,'' says Youngblood, who turned 55 last Wednesday. "But so can my elbow. My leg never was a problem after that. It healed, and I was ready for the 1980 season.

 

"I have no regrets. None. The only regret I would have had is if I didn't play. I never would have forgiven myself. I guess my only regret about that day is I didn't have the ability to change the game the way I know I could.''

 

Terrell Owens is playing Sunday, by the way.

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Terrell Owens is playing Sunday, by the way.

 

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That's what I love about TO. You can say anything you want to about his showiness or flashiness, but I have a lot of confidence that he will be on the field for this game. :D

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