Rams great Jack Youngblood's broken leg made him the toughest man in NFL history

Youngblood's toughness can't be questioned
Los Angeles Rams v Cincinnati Bengals
Los Angeles Rams v Cincinnati Bengals / George Gojkovich/GettyImages

The Los Angeles Rams' long history has made them a fertile proving ground for some of the best players in NFL history. One player who can claim to both be a Hall of Fame player and one of the toughest human beings to ever play organized sports is legendary defensive end great Jack Youngblood.

On top of a name that makes him sound like he's fresh off staring down James Coburn in an old black-and-white Western film, Youngblood was able to pile up numbers that put him among the best in league history. His legendary perseverance and willingness to play through pain, however, is what sets him apart.

Even though some fans may not be aware of what a legendary player he was, everyone who saw his heroic effort in the 1979 NFL Playoffs knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Youngblood is, as the kids like to say, built different. His toughness was extreme, even for that era.

Los Angeles Rams great Jack Youngblood played with a broken leg

Youngblood's numbers put him up there with the best ever to do it. A seven-time Pro Bowl player, Youngblood made six straight All-Pro teams and earned a spot on the 1970s All-Decade team. Sacks were not an official stat until later in his career, but unofficial totals place the Hall of Fame end at sixth on the All-Time list with 151.5 total.

Only Deacon Jones has more sacks as a Ram. Youngblood was attested to have piled up eight double-digit sack seasons while leading the league twice. These numbers came while getting less frequent pass-rushing opportunities under Ray Malavasi (who wanted to stop the run first and foremost) early in his career and playing as a 3-4 end under Fritz Shurmur near the end.

Despite all that, 1979 is still his crowning achievement.

The '79 Rams were a conservative, defensive-first team. Backs Wendell Tyler and Cullen Bryant carried the offense on the ground while Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo game-managed at quarterback. The defense was the heart of this 9-7 team, and Youngblood's 18 sacks made him the marquee player on that unit.

That defense was good enough to get the Rams a matchup against the mighty Dallas Cowboys in the postseason. Dallas was a thorn in LA's side, as they had beaten the Rams 28-0 in the prior seasons NFC Championship game and won 30-6 earlier in the '79 regular season. Youngblood and the Rams came out firing, taking 14-5 lead into the half.

In the middle of that run, Youngblood sustained a crack in his fibula that felled the normally impenetrable end. In layman's terms, he broke his leg. Rather than get carted off the field and possibly return to football action a few months down the line (also known as what regular human beings without psychotic drives to win would ),Youngblood wanted to get back in the game.

He was even quoted as having told a trainer to "tape this dadgum thing up" because he could still run on it. No, you are not any less of a tough person if you stayed down and asked for the cart. This is insanity.

Oddly enough, Youngblood and the Rams were both still effective while compromised. Dallas scored just twice in the second-half, and Youngblood himself clinced a 21-19 win by sacking Roger Staubach in the final moments of the game. This would be Staubach's final game in the NFL.

"It's amazing what your body will do to the pain that's infecting you," Youngblood said, via CBS Sports. "When I was walking around in the huddle, going back to the line of scrimmage and then lining up, it was painful. When the ball was snapped, the pain went away. I wasn't 100%. I was probably 90, at best, but I knew that I wanted to get after Roger Staubach.

No sacks? No problem

While the famous No. 85 didn't record any sacks in the NFC Championship game against an overmatched Tampa Bay Buccaneers team quarterbacked by Doug Williams, he did play a part in shutting them out en route to a 9-0 win and an appearance in the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This is where his pixie dust started to run out, as Youngblood and the Rams were defeated by Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers. Bradshaw's arm was able to beat LA's secondary quite often, and Ferragamo just couldn't go toe-to-toe with a deep, experienced team.

Youngblood attributed the loss to two blown coverages that essentially handed Pittsburgh 14 free points in a 31-19 team. While the Rams were up 19-17 in the third quarter, the defense wilted late. Oddly enough, this isn't even the end of the Youngblood story.

The modern Pro Bowl was such a non-competitive effort that it was eventually discontinued as a game. Players would skip all the time for inane reasons and injuries as minor as a left pink finger being sore, and those who showed up played at one-third speed to avoid any sort of injury.

Back then, the Pro Bowl was a full-speed affair. Youngblood suited up in that game with a crack in his fibula, playing it with the same passion he would a postseason game. No one will ever do anything close to this ever again, as it stands as a monument to pure grit and determination.

While Youngblood never won a championship despite making the playoffs regularly, Rams fans will remember him as an all-time great. Football fans across the world will know his name too, as no one was more willing to play through immense pain than him.