July 5, 2022
He was just standing in a mall doing what a lot of husbands do. They stand and wait while their wife shops inside a store. They have no interest in going inside because you are just something in the way. He was there and yet people to his left and to his right had no idea who he was. How can no one recognize someone who for so many years was impossible to not recognize?
There stood Jack Youngblood and everyone around him had him for another mall attendee wandering around a menu of stores hoping to draw them in for something they supposedly need.
Jack Youngblood! NFL Hall of Famer! The guy who played with a broken leg! The good looking guy who, while playing, parlayed his football talents and good looks into a few modeling gigs and TV show appearances. If you wanted a picture of a "real man" in the late 70s and early 80s you called on Jack Youngblood.
Yet, on this afternoon no one around him knew right there was an NFL great and one of the toughest players in the sport's history.
And yet, when I said to my wife "I think that's Jack Youngblood" I noticed and was reminded that our legends are forever legends but like all of us they get a bit older. Legends leave us with memories of their great days and embed highlights in our head but we sometimes forget they don't run or hit like they used to.
I met Jack back in 1995 when he took over as the general manager of the Orlando Predators in the Arena Football League. I was calling games for the Preds then and I was in awe because it was "Jack Bleeping Youngblood" and he was right there. I got to know Jack over the next few years and often asked him about his playing days and absorbing story after story of what it was like to be a star in LA, sacking quarterbacks, the wild times of life in the NFL in the 70s and 80s and some of his NBC shows that make him smile today when he thinks back and laughs at what he got himself involved in(go look up C.A.T Squad on NBC).
I saw Jack be as passionate about building an arena team(and in the 90's the AFL was a bigger deal and especially in Orlando) as he was when he was a player. He would travel to big games and I remember Jack at a playoff game at Iowa barking defensive techniques to players from the sideline over a padded wooden wall in the Barn in Des Moines. The Barnstormers had a quarterback named Kurt Warner playing for them.
But I also know Jack as the Gator great, not because I remember watching him play but as a legend people talked about and a player other's would be measured by. Youngblood was part of the group of Florida players who tested this new drink called Gatorade in his freshman season.
Jack and I didn't hang out and I have never gone hunting with Jack Youngblood. But he has always been great to me. Always there for a phone interview on my show. Always smiling when we cross paths and always being a football legend in my mind.
But on this day, Youngblood reminded me that the legends do get older. They still smile and shake hands and have plenty of stories to tell. But they struggle to walk, don't move as smoothly and end up looking like....well, the rest of us.
The years away from the game have worn on Youngblood. Many surgeries later Jack takes a bit longer to walk. The body wears and we are reminded of how the violent game of football can bring legends to their knees. Jack is 72 and still lives in the Orlando area. He remains very much involved in helping retired players not as fortunate as him. He is passionate about that cause because Jack has seen many former teammates pass and others struggle to live day-to-day to make ends meet. The NFL pension was much different for players back then compared to today.
I have had the great fortune to interview some famous people over the years; Muhammad Ali, Johnny Unitas and Arnold Palmer among them. Their stories are priceless. Their presence resonates and their talents are never forgotten.
So there he was. Just standing in a mall and no one around him even knew. Football greatness was standing right there. True legends don't seek attention. True legends capture our attention. Our legends may get older but they still make us pause. I paused that day and went over and said hello to my friend. We spoke for maybe two or three minutes. I asked no football questions, just how he and his family were doing. Jack smiled and seemed to enjoy recognizing someone in the vast mall that passed the time waiting for his lovely wife to finish inside a store. For a brief moment Jack Youngblood was Jack Youngblood- NFL Hall of Famer, one of the best to ever do what he did. We said goodbye and the moment ended. He went back to being just another person, but he certainly is not just another person...
Final note: Jack Youngblood was the 20th pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft. Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning went first and second that draft.