Jack Youngblood is sitting on a balcony overlooking Downtown Los Angeles as he smokes a cigar and marvels at the transformed city he and his former Los Angeles Rams teammates once owned.
The city has changed drastically since he retired in 1984. The Rams, for one, have been in St. Louis since 1995 and an entire generation of fans has grown up here without a pro football team.
Youngblood, however, hasn’t changed much since his playing days when he was labeled the “John Wayne of football.” When a waitress comes around to take his order, Youngblood takes one quick look at the menu and says, “Just bring me the biggest beer you got and the nastiest burger you can make with bacon and cheddar and avocado and bring me that bad boy.”
He has just spent the past three hours signing copies of his new book, “Because It Was Sunday: The Legend of Jack Youngblood” along with his friend and former teammate Fred Dryer.
Youngblood, who lives near Orlando, and Dryer, who lives in Los Angeles, hadn’t seen each other for years but keep in touch regularly. “Thank goodness for the internet,” Dryer said.
If the Rams still played in Los Angeles or if the current Rams organization in St. Louis kept ties with the players who played for the team before 1995, perhaps the two friends who combined for 255 sacks would be able to see each other more regularly at games and alumni events. As it is, e-mail is their only connection these days.
“We are their legacy but they forgot us,” Youngblood said of the current Rams. “They don’t have anything to do with us, really. I find that unfortunate because you look at other franchises, even those that have moved, and they use their alumni in their marketing and in their organization. They use their hall-of-famers as an example for the players who are there today. They use their alumni but the Rams have cut us out of the picture.”
Youngblood has to pause when asked when he was last in St. Louis or how many times he has even gone back to see the Rams play.
“I’ve been invited back twice since they moved to St. Louis and once I invited myself back,” Youngblood said laughing. “The last time I went back was for my Hall of Fame ring in 2001. I needed someplace to have the presentation so we did it there. The other time I went was not long after they had moved maybe around 1998; they invited me for something. I don’t want to sound ugly about it but it’s a sideways deal…They didn’t really want me there.”
Youngblood’s two trips to St. Louis since the Rams moved there are two more than Dryer has made or will ever make.
“I’ve never been back there and I have no plans to go back there,” Dryer said. “The L.A. Rams are gone. They’re the St. Louis Rams now and when I watch them I have no connection to them at all.”
Dryer had wanted the Rams to leave their name, logo and colors in Los Angeles when they moved to St. Louis just like the old Cleveland Browns did when they moved to Baltimore in 1995 but that never happened.
It was the final straw in what was already a strained relationship with the organization after Georgia Frontiere took over ownership of the team after Carroll Rosenbloom drowned while swimming near his Florida home in April 1979. By July 1980, she had already married her seventh husband, Dominic Frontiere, an award-winning composer, and fired Rosenbloom’s son from another marriage, Steve, as the team’s top executive. Rosenbloom had groomed Steve to be his successor but reportedly left 70 percent of the Rams’ ownership to Frontiere to minimize estate taxes.
“I said let this woman take her team and her franchise out of here but leave the logo and you’ll get another L.A. Rams owner here within a couple of years,” Dryer said. “It’s not unlike what Cleveland did with the Browns. There’s no reason we should have allowed them to leave with our logo.
“The team was defined by Georgia Frontiere’s ignorance and incompetence. She couldn’t take the fact that the team wasn’t doing well and she was taking a lot of criticism. She left because of the criticism. Had you had a proper owner in there they would fixed the problem.”
Long before Frontiere moved the Rams to her hometown of St. Louis 15 years after taking control of the team, Youngblood and Dryer said the organization began to change for the worse after the death of their beloved owner, who was more of a father figure than a boss.
“Caroll was unique,” Youngblood said. “He loved us. He loved his football team. We were like his children. He literally thought of us like his children. He wanted us to be successful on and off the field. If you had an idea and needed some help or some direction he would help you. I went to the boss and asked him to help me build some racquetball clubs. I had built one in Huntington Beach and I wanted to build some in Florida and I went to the boss man and asked him to help me. I was actually scheduled to meet him in Florida the day after he drowned.”
Although the Rams were able to make it to the NFC championship game following the 1989 season before having nine straight losing seasons, Dryer believes the beginning of the end of the Rams in Los Angeles came in 1987 when they traded All-Pro running back Eric Dickerson at the height of his career to the Indianapolis Colts.
“As soon as Caroll Rosenbloom died everybody realized that it was in [Frontiere’s] hands and it became the self-fulfilling prophesy,” Dryer said. “Then they moved the Rams from Los Angeles down to Anaheim and had a couple of good years with John Robinson and then it all fell apart. It’s always a confluence of things and the perfect storm. The big move I thought was when Eric Dickerson wanted to be paid. His representation should have worked it out and I think John Robinson could have helped management make that deal happen. They didn’t and Eric committed professional suicide by going to a terrible Indianapolis Colts team. That quickly ended his career as we knew it.”
Now nearly 17 years after the Rams played their last game in Southern California there is talk of the NFL possibly coming back to Los Angeles and one of the teams rumored to be in the mix is the Rams.
Both Youngblood and Dryer wouldn’t mind seeing the Rams come back to Los Angeles although after being burned by their old team time and time again, there’s also a part of them that would like to see Los Angeles start with a clean slate and with a new team, even if it’s relocated franchise.
“I’m not sure that the people here would support a team like the Los Angeles Chargers or the Los Angeles Vikings,” Youngblood said. “They would have to rebrand the team. That’s what St. Louis should have done. They didn’t acknowledge the Rams history but brought back former St. Louis Cardinals players. I used to battle against these guys and now they’re being honored by the Rams. It doesn’t make sense. I wouldn’t want to see that here. I want another football team here but I want it done the right way.”