Our series on ASN’s 50 greatest NFL championship competitors of the past 50 years continues with No. 35 Jim Youngblood, originally published on Jan. 20.
Jim Youngblood and his Los Angeles Rams teammates were well aware that they were big underdogs in Super Bowl XIV. They used that as fuel as they prepared to face a Pittsburgh team aiming for its fourth championship in six years.
The Rams finished only 9-7, but peaked late in the season behind a stout defense and an opportunistic offense. They won four of their last five games, then defeated two teams in the playoffs that had handled them in the regular season — the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — to reach the Super Bowl, which that year was practically in their backyard, Pasadena, Calif..
“Now we’re playing Pittsburgh back home and a lot of people are going to be jumping back on the bandwagon,” Youngblood was quoted in Sports Illustrated after the 1979 NFC Championship game. “We have nothing to prove to those people. We just have to prove things to ourselves. I just hope all those writers who bad-mouthed us and all the people in Los Angeles who gave up on us eat soap for the rest of their lives.”
Youngblood, a seven-year veteran out of Tennessee Tech, was an all-NFC linebacker and part of a defensive unit that included defensive linemen Jack Youngblood (no relation) and Fred Dryer, linebackers Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds and Bob Brudzinski, and Pro Bowl safety Nolan Cromwell.
Despite forecasts, the Rams led the Steelers at halftime and 19-17 in the fourth quarter before Pittsburgh responded. Terry Bradshaw, who had thrown three interceptions, hit John Stallworth for a 73-yard touchdown pass to give the Steelers the lead for good. After the Rams’ only turnover of the game, Pittsburgh drove for the clinching touchdown in an eventual 31-19 win.
Jim Youngblood fashioned an excellent NFL career, playing 12 seasons. The 6-3, 235-pound linebacker was the Rams’ second-round draft pick in 1973 after setting the career tackles record at Tennessee Tech (476). He was a two-time Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year and a small-college All-American.
Youngblood was named to the Pro Bowl in 1979 after helping the Rams turn around their season and win a seventh consecutive NFC West title. A South Carolina native, he told the Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal in December 1979 that a three-game losing streak that dropped the Rams to 5-6 might have been the best thing that happened to the team.
Afterward, they rallied behind their defense and young quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who took over for injured Pat Haden. The Rams had lost the NFC title game four of the previous six years and were viewed as not as good as recent teams.
But the Rams upset the Cowboys 21-19 in the playoffs after losing to them 30-6 during the regular season. They blanked Tampa Bay 9-0 in the NFC Championship game after losing to the Bucs 21-6 in the regular season.
“Some of us old guys got together back here in the corner before the game,” Youngblood was quoted in the Washington Post after the NFC Championship game. “We said zero is the number. When we scored our first field goal, we got together on the sideline and told each other, ‘We just won the game. It’s over. They don’t score today.’”