Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Conversation on Uniforms with Jack Youngblood


Interview by John Turney


Pro Football Journal:  Thanks for your time

Jack Youngblood:  My pleasure.

PFJ: Do players care about uniforms?

JY: Sure we do. You want to look good. And you want to feel good. Comfort is important and there is a difference in uniforms, the feel, the heat—the coolness factor. I've had tweaks in uniforms fans wouldn't notice that made a difference in comfort or performance. In equipment, too.

PFJ: What was your color scheme in high school?

JY: We were blue and orange, a blue jersey with white pants and orange trim. For away games, we wore all white with blue numbers. Our road uniforms were never really clean, though, kind of a dingy white. (laughs).

PFJ: What was your uniform number?

JY: Uh . . fifty-two. I was a center and middle linebacker
Monticello-Jefferson County High School Uniform
PFJ: Sounds like it was kind of like what you wore in college?

JY: Similar, very similar.

PFJ: And as a Gator you wore blue and orange?

JY: Yes, a white helmet then as a junior or senior we went to orange helmets.

PFJ: And uniform number there?

JY: As a freshman fifty-two, I was a linebacker, but on the varsity was a defensive end, they changed my number to severy-four.
University of Florida, 1970
PFJ: And a navy blue jersey?

JY: Yes, well, kind of a mix between royal blue and navy, a faded midnight blue. It was a different kind of blue. As a senior, we wore blue at home, before that we wore white at home. As a junior and a soph we wore white at home and since it was hot and often rainy we'd usually change jerseys at halftime so in the third quarter we'd come out in white jerseys and muddy brownish pants.

We couldn't tell during the game, but you could really see it in the films that week.

PFJ: Then, you are drafted by the Rams and you wore white at home there as well, correct?

JY: Yeah, but our white uniforms were HOT. As a rookie, we wore a polyester jersey that held the heat. After a quarter in the Los Angeles heat, you were soaked. I mean SOAKED. The next year we switched to a mesh jersey and it was much, much cooler—much more comfortable.
1971 Rawlings polyester jersey with snap crotch
At Florida, our jerseys were durene, a cotton weave and it was cooler than the polyester ones we had in Los Angeles in '71.

PFJ: That rookie year, weren't your blue jerseys' still durene?

JY: Absolutely. We wore them in my first regular-season game in New Orleans and it was a hot and humid day, it was not nearly as hot in those blue jerseys as it was in the Colesium with the white shirts. We wore the blues again in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. That might have been it for that year in the dark jerseys, not sure.

PFJ:  SOm if occurs to me, in high school, college, the College All-star game and the NFL, including the Pro Bowl you always wore blue jersey (or white). Correct?

JY: Uh, yes, that's true. No, in the Senior Bowl in mobile, we wore red jerseys. Good question, I never thought of that until this moment. Monticello, Gators, Rams—all blue, Pro Bowl, College All-Star game, blue, too, except the Senior Bowl. Hmm.
Youngblood #73, in a red jersey, the only time in organized football he wore other than blue
PFJ: We've seen pictures of those 1971 white jerseys they had a snap under the crotch, too. That could not have helped, could it? In terms of heat?

JY: HELL NO! (laughes). I cut that crap off. It'd be like a wet diaper. I got some scissors and cut that material out. No way was I going to snap that up and have an extra pound of sweat tucked into my pants. I don't know how those guys—Merlin and Deacon and Marlin (McKeever) could stand that snap crotch deal. No way for me.

PFJ: In 1973 you went from blue and white to blue and gold. What was the reaction of your teammates?

JY: Well, Freddie (Dryer) didn’t like them, but most everyone else liked them. Freddie liked the classic blue and white colors. He grew up in Los Angeles and was a Rams fan so he liked the look he saw when he was a teenager I guess.

At first, there was white trim on the gold numbers and gold trim on the blue numbers of the road jerseys but after a couple of home games, the media complained they couldn’t see the numbers very well so Mr. Don (Don Hewitt) and Todd had to cut them off and the seamstress had to sew them back on.

But the color scheme was good. I wore them for the rest of my career.
1973 jersey before the white trim was removed
Mr. Don was a great equipment man, the best ever in my opinion. He was always keeping our helmets shiny, I’ve always felt his illness later in life was a result of him breathing in those fumes from the polish he used on our helmets every day. He had a small cage in the locker room in Long Beach with very little ventilation and I am convinced it had have hurt his health.

He was such a great guy. When I got my dog, Jet, a black lab, when we ran sprints at the end of practice, that dog would sniff out my helmet and fetch it to Mr. Don and then he’d get a treat from a bag Don kept in the locker room. Eventually, Don gave Jet his own locker—#85½.
Youngblood and Jet
It kind of ticked me off when the Rams fired Todd, Don’s son during the Spagnuolo era. It was just one more step away from the LA era. They fired my buddy John Oswald, made him train his replacement, and when the replacement was ready they canned Johnny. They did that to a lot of the old LA people who left their homes in LA and moved to St. Louis.

PFJ: That year, 1973, was the first year you had your full name on the back of your jersey, what do you remember about that?

JY: I do remember that. It was Don Klosterman's idea, our general manager. He came to me and asked if I'd like my full name on my jersey because they had just drafted Jimmy (Youngblood) and our surname is so long, what is it—ten letters, that adding a "Ja" and a "Ji" would be too wide for the nameplate, so they kind of stacked the names, and Don said, and I don't know this to be true, that it was the first time in league history that happened.
Full names on back of jersey
Over the years other guys on our team had it, and when I covered the Rams on the radio in the late 1980s I saw a few others after I retired, but I remember thinking it was kind of cool.

I also liked that our name was in white lettering on our blue jerseys. I thought that made it stand out for some reason. I think the Steelers and us were the only teams that did something like that. It's a small detail that we players notice when we're in the locker room or sitting around, clearing our mind. We do catch little things like that.
PFJ: What were some of the "tweaks" uniform or equipment-wise you remember you or teammate used that readers might find interesting?

JY: Let me think . . . Well, I wore Adidas soccer shoes for a long time. I liked the lightness and feel of the soccer cleat as opposed to the football cleat Adidas made. Eventually, I had Don (Hewitt) drill a hole in the front so we could get a toe cleat in there.
Youngblood's soccer cleats with no toe cleat
Freddie, interestingly, liked to wear Astroturf shoes in the Colesium. He thought the grass, the turf there was solid enough he got good traction from those shoes and didn't need the 3/4 inch or 1/2 inch cleats. When he got those two safeties, he had turf shoes on, there is some trivia for you.
Dryer wearing turf shoes

PFJ: You wore blue shoes at home from 1973-76, right?

JY: Oh yeah, we did. And at first, not all the brands made blue shoes. Again, Mr. Don had to improvise he had to paint a lot of those shoes blue. They were often black Adidas and he'd paint them blue or they might be white Riddells like some guys wore, and he'd paint those blue as well.
Ken Iman's Riddell's painted blue
Before I settled on soccer shoes I wore Adidas football shoes, the same as in 1972, and they had to be painted blue—blue shoes, Carl Perkins style (laughs)!

(Editors note: According to Todd Hewitt, Don Hewitt's son and the assistant equipment manager the Rams had the shoes painted "by a company that made a paint formulated for women shoes".

Soon thereafter, manufactures made shoes other than black and white so teams could but blue, or red or whatever color shoes they wanted)

JY:  You know about Burger Bear's (John Williams) mask, don't you? The two masks Hewitt fixed up for him?

PFJ: Yes, we've written about it, it was a great look.

JY: That was one crazy mask. Don did that for Jackie, too, but it didn't last very long.
John Williams combination mask
PFJ: In 1983, when the Rams went to the 3-4 defense you went to the 3-bar mask from the 2-bar (NJOP from NOP), correct? Why the change? Did the defense have anything to do with it?

JY: Yes and no. I was just tired of having my chin busted up. But yeah, playing head up on a tackle, I guess I thought my chin would take even more of a beating, but I may have changed even if we'd have stayed with the 40 defense, I just don't know.
1983-84 helmet, DW-NJOP
Another thing we did was we had panels sewn into the sides of our jerseys to make it more form-fitting, kind of a think scuba materiel. It could be hot, but the tight fit made it harder for the lineman to hold me.
1984 Jersey with the side panel of stretch material
From the time they changed the holding rules in '78 we were always trying to find a way to make our uniform sleeker, tighter to prevent offensive men from grabbing you. Don (Hewitt) tried two-way tape, but the best way was just altering the jerseys to make them tighter. They became so tight you had to put the shoulder pads and jerseys on at the same time. That didn't happen in '71-'72 when I came into the NFL.

PFJ:  In 1976 in Miami, someone broke into the Rams locker room in the middle of the night and stole a bunch of equipment including quite a few helmets. The equipment men had to shuffle helmets, what was it like that day?

JY: Mr. Don earned his money that day. I had to wear a couple of helmets, one was Terry Nelson's, he had that U-shaped bar up top—if you remember that. I also had another one that was like a bucket—Richie Saul's I think. Everyone had to find the guy whose helmet he had between downs, the offensive guy would look for the defensive guy and vice versa, it was a mess. Very few fit really well. Merlin had to wear a couple of different ones, too. I think he may have had to wear John Williams' helmet at one point. 

Don Hewitt got a game ball after that win. He kept it all together, everyone had a hat on when they took the field which was seemingly impossible when we walked into the locker room that morning.
Terry Nelson's OPO mask with U-Bar
Youngblood with an NJOP in Miami, 1976
PFJ: In your first book you mentioned wearing as little protective equipment as possible, can you elaborate?

JY: (Laughs) That was a long time ago...when that was written. But yeah, just a sponge on my knee, the smallest thigh pads now. I see the kids now without thigh pads, maybe I should have gone that route. I wanted to be as light as possible and as little to fuss with as possible.

PFJ: Eric Dickerson said he liked to where everything that was available . . .

JY: He wore armor! Neckroll, elbow pads, huge knee and thigh pads, a big mouthpiece, the whole nine!

PFJ: We never noticed you wearing a mouthpiece, is that right?

JY: My mouthpiece was Bazooka Joe or Double Bubble, just a few pieces of that did the job.

PFJ: In 1980 we noticed you'd sometimes were a blue sleeve on your elbows

JY: Oh yeah, that's true, I did on occasion. Honestly, we knew the guy who made those and myself and Brooksie (Larry Brooks), and maybe Jimmy (Youngblood) and perhaps Bru (Bob Brudzinski) wore them for a few years. I can't remember. It was partially to protect the elbow and partially to help him with his business—to help him sell some units (chuckles). I didn't wear them much, I think the others wore them more.

They were comfortable and when you fell on hard turf did cushion the blow, but as we've talked about it gave linemen something to grab so my guess is you won't find too many shots of me in them, other than maybe that one year, and even then not every game. I developed some bone chips in my elbows around my tenth year and that was part of it as well.
Youngblood with a neoprene sleeve
Brooks with the sleeves

Brudzinki in the sleeves.

Jim Youngblood in the sleeves.
PFJ: Anything you notice about today's players you wish you'd have thought of wearing?

JY: Let me thing. Actually, yeah, there is. Maybe a couple of things. I realize now that maybe you don't need thigh and knee pads, but really, we never thought of not wearing them. We thought they were required. They were issued, and no one really thought of not wearing them. Now, guys go out naked from the waist down, except for their pants! I basically did what guys did before me. I wish I'd have been smarter!

Another thing is hand protection. We only wore a wrap on our knuckles with some tape around the wrists and that got to be less and less as time went on
1973
1976
1983
1984
I had a conversation with Merlin years and years ago. And asked him some this—I said, "Merlin, we did physical work for a living, we went to work every day, practice and on Sundays, we did labor, physical work, where we could get hurt. He agreed.

So, I said, 'Let's say we were on a ranch, we were going to do some work for a day, let's say haul some hay. What would you wear?'

Merlin replied, "Well, boots, jeans, a long sleeve shirt. A hat. A neckerchief to keep stuff from getting down the back of my neck".

I said, "What about for your hands?" He said, "Well, a pair of gloves".

My replay was "exactly". When we went to work, on a football field, why didn't we wear protection for our hands? He just shrugged.

I saw Merlin's hand get cut to the bone. TO THE BONE, I saw his hand bones from a cleat tearing into his hand. A glove would have helped. He didn't miss a down. My left hand is basically a claw. I know a glove would not have prevented all of that, but it would have helped.

So, these young guys have that part of it right, going back, I would have worn a pair of gloves for a bit of hand protection.

PFJ: In college, you placed kicked and in 1980 you kicked off a handful of times, did you use the same kicking shoe?
Youngblood kicking a PAT at the University of Florida
JY: Heavens yes, the same one. I hauled that thing around for fourteen years. That game, Frank (Corral) pulled something, and we scored a bunch of points, so he'd kick the PATs and I had to kickoff.
When you kicked off you're supposed to go left, right, or center, to give the coverage a chance to set up, so you can, hopefully, pin the opponent deep in their own side of the field. (Laughs). Well, I just told the boys, "I have no idea where this is going, so just watch it and get your asses down there and tackle the guy!".
I'd then have to go to the sideline and get my normal shoe on and Reggie (Doss) would take a snap for me at left end.

In the Senior Bowl, we talked about I also punted in that game. I even got one blocked when there was a rule where they weren't allowed to rush—(laughs) how does THAT happen?

But for most of my career, every week I'd kick a few times and punt a few times just in case something happened to the kicker or punter, I wasn't always the backup, sometimes the kicker backed up the punter and vice versa, but when Frank was doing double duty I was the backup and in other years when maybe our punter could place kick a lick then I'd be the emergency kicker and just in case, for all those years, I kept that square-tied Riddell shoe in my bag, just in case.
Youngblood, punting in the 1971 Senior Bowl
PFJ: A while ago you mentioned taking a step away from the LA era, and speaking of that, what did you think of the 2000 Rams uniforms, the old gold, and navy colors?

JY: I didn’t like them very much, the gold was dull. They never looked sharp to me. The navy was interesting, not too bad. Maybe it would have worked if the gold was brighter. That dome (in St. Louis) was dark. Every time I was there I kept wanting to find a light switch!

PFJ: As you know the Rams changed a lot in their uniforms this year. Let’s start top to bottom. What do you think of the helmet?

JY: (Laughs) Well, the color is good, I like the metallic blue. (Laughs again). The horn is terrible. It looks like a “C”. When I first saw it on the logo I honestly thought it was a Charger logo.
mature ram horn-with curl
Now when I see it on the helmet, it just isn’t a ram horn. There is no distinct curl like a mature ram has. I don’t know how the Rams could get that wrong. That is your symbol and it has been for what—seventy years or more? Longer than I have been alive? It's just not us, it's not the Rams.

PFJ: What would you say to those who say those who don’t like it are simply old?

JY: I AM old! But I am not blind. I know a ram horn when I see it and I know a crescent moon when I see it and I know a “C” when I see it. It's like a goat horn on top and a crescent moon or a "C" on the bottom with no curl. It's not a ram horn.
As I said, I like the colors, I like changes in uniforms like we did in '73. But the change has to be a positive change, not some sort of junk that no one can understand. What was it some “Fibonacci” thing as inspiration? What is the world is that? I had to look that up. What does that have to do with football or a football helmet?

PFJ: Okay, how about the new Rams uniforms.

BY: From what I can tell the blue and gold ones are okay, except for the horns on the helmet and shoulders. The grey ones are weird. I looked at the website and the close-up shots of the uniforms. I don’t know why there is a sun on the shoulders of the grey uniform. The sun on the shoulder and the crescent moon on the helmet? It’s weird. I don't understand it. We're the Rams, not the sun and the moons. We're not the zodiacs, are we?
And those patches with the squiggly lines—What is that? I thought those were those lines from a seismograph, showing the readings of a California earthquake.
I also don’t get the grey uniforms. It reminded me of the guard’s uniforms in that movie The Longest Yard—do you remember that movie?
Ray Nitschke and former Ram Mike Henry in The Longest Yard
Mike Henry was in that, he was a former Rams player who was around the team a little bit since he was acting still in the 1970s when that movie was made, we all knew him a little bit. He was one of the guards. The Rams' grey uniform looks like what the guards had to wear after the inmates stole the new, sharp, black and white uniforms. It also reminds me of our road uniforms in high school—like they couldn't get them clean (laughs).

PFJ: As a digression, there are a couple other guys who you practiced against in that movie?

JY: Yeah, that's right, that young Native American kid, what was his name?

PFJ: Sonny Sixkiller.

JY: Right, I remember chasing him around in camp one Summer. Good kid. Who else?
PFJ. Jim Nicolson, a tackle the Rams drafted.

JY: Right, Tall kid. Wasn't around long. I may have played him in the preseason a couple of years later in KC.
Jim Nicholson, in The Longest Yard 
PFJ: Pervis Atkins was in it as well

JY: I didn't know him as well, he was from Mike Henry's era, and we'd seem him some, but I didn't get to know him. Interesting info. Sonny Sixkiller . . . there's a name I have not thought about for a long time!

PFJ: Back to the uniforms . . . What do you think of the patches with the wordmarks?

JY: Wordmarks? Are those the things that have the yellow zig-zag lines sewn on?

PFJ: Yes.

JY: Is that some sort of advertisement? Are they going to sell that space someday?

PFJ: They say no.

JY: We’ll see, but it’s weird to have them placed there. It looks out of place, why are they on the side? And why are the words stacked like that?

PFJ: No idea.

JY: It's just another thing that seems off, just not something that belongs on an NFL uniform. You know, I was part of the World League and then was a GM in the Arena League, these things we're discussing seem to fit better in those kinds of leagues, not the NFL.

The NFL is supposed to be a cut above, the best of the best. The best players, the best coaches, the best stadiums, the best uniforms, the whole nine yards. When there are uniforms that are not up to snuff, it hurts the Rams brand, the image.

PFJ: Would you want to wear the new uniforms?

JY: Well, I’d wear what the boss man told me to wear. But would I like it? Not really. The blue and gold ones are okay but the horn is UG-LY.

The grey, I'd put it on and play hard like I always tried to do.
But if Dan Dierdorf or Ron (Yary) or Rayfield (Wright) lined up in those light grey uniforms I'd sure have something to say to them—"Did your Mama run out of bleach?" or something to get under their skin. Something to tease them about it (laughs) to let them know they were wearing bush-league uniforms.

But that is what happens when you get a cap guy, a non-football guy to run your team.

Marvin Demoff was my agent and his son Kevin is a sharp, smart lawyer, I am sure, but he’s not a football guy. He does not know if a football is blown or stuffed. And he shouldn’t be a part of designing uniforms for football players. It’s as simple as that.

Maybe they will change them in a couple of years.

PFJ: League rules say they have to keep them five years before they can change.

JY: There is a rule like that? That they cannot change if fans don't like them?

PFJ: Yes

JY: I wasn't aware of that. How long did you say they are stuck with that horn and those dingy grey uniforms?

PFJ: Five years.

JY: Wow.
upper-left: NOP square jaw, upper-right JOP
lower-left DW-NOP, lower right DE-NJOP

9 comments:

  1. I seem to recall that Billy Joe had his full name on his jersey, but I'm gonna have to go back and look at some film.

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    1. He did, but it wasn't stacked. Wahoo McDaniel had only his first name on his jersey with Miami.

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  2. A very fun article, John.
    Thanks for the read.

    I especially enjoyed the way you ended the interview... "Wow."
    Indeed.

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  3. A hugely enjoyable interview with an all-time Rams and NFL great. Youngblood is so well-spoken, I have to imagine he was a "thinking man's warrior," to mix a couple of terms. I'm a native fan of the old St. Louis Cardinals, and as good as HOF RT Dan Dierdorf was, he was no match for Jack! (wincing at the thought of 85's deflection and pick-six in the 1975 NFC playoffs.)

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  4. now THIS is the kind of stuff (and the kind of guy!) the suits at NFL (and Rams) centrals should be listening to......how embarrassing for an all-time great stating publically that your uniforms are garbage and (naming names!) that the people who make/made those decisions are unqualified......Mr. Turney, as usual, fantastic job!!

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  5. Good interview. I suggest that Jack Youngblood and Eric Dickerson be made members of the uniform committee for the next go around. I also suggest they change the throwback uniforms to the ones of 1950-51, which had helmets with better horns, and bright yellow jerseys. Then wear them most of the time, as has been recent practice.

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  6. That was a good read. Is there any more? Love reading what Jack has to day.

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  7. Why didn't Dumoff ask the old school RAMS for their opinions about any changes to be made?? The new helmet and uniform changes are horrible. We had the best uniforms in the league with our classic blue-yellow designs and now we have the worst. I can't believe they screwed this up as bad as they did. All they needed to do was go back to the classics and thicken the horns on the helmet. I will not spend one penny on any RAMS products or tickets. I could care less about the new stadium. I'll follow them as I have for 40+ years but they ain't getting a penny from me.

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  8. I remember those cod pieces, they looked like a diaper. My father "King Corcoran" did the same thing when he played for the Chambersburg Cardinals. The red jersey was hanging in his locker and he said "it has a diaper, I can't play in this" He got scissors from the equipment guy and cut it off.

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