Before Hall-of-Fame pass rusher Jack Youngblood was a great NFL player for the Los Angeles Rams, he was a great collegiate player at the University of Florida.
He was the 1970 SEC Lineman of the Year. He was an Outland Trophy finalist. He had five sacks in one game and nine tackles in a Gator Bowl upset of Tennessee. He was a first-team All-American and so versatile that he once kicked a 42-yard field goal in a contest Florida won by three points.
So which of those achievements heads his list of most memorable Gator memories? None of them.
That's right, zilch. As Youngblood said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, that distinction belongs to an event that happened during a defeat of intrastate rival Florida State ... but not on the football field.
Onthe bench, and let him explain.
"This is going to sound crazy," he said, "but, for me, recalling play after play in whatever ballgame over the course of four years ... I played each individual play and put the next one ahead. I never looked back and didn't look forward. I looked at the play that was ahead of me.
"(But) I do remember, though, in Florida State ... and we're up there, and we're winning. And they had cheerleaders on our sideline, right in front of their students in the stadium there. And (there's a cheerleader) doing her little cheerleader thing, and I run up and grab her by the hand. And we jump up on our bench ... and I start cheering with her. I caught a little grief about that one."
So the question: From whom? Coaches? Teammates? Fans? Or all of the above?
"From the coaches and the players!" he said.
Ironically, Florida State is where Youngblood should have played. He went to high school in Monticello, Fla., where he attended Monticello-Jefferson County High School and was the captain of the state-champion Tigers. Monticello is only 32 miles from Tallahassee, home of FSU, and Youngblood was interested in playing for the Seminoles.
Except he didn't. He wound up at Florida.
"I wanted to go to Tallahassee," he said. "I really did. Because they were in the backyard, basically, and I followed them a little bit. I didn't know anything about the University of Florida. I had no idea that anybody ... that any scout from the University of Florida ... was looking at our championship little football team there in Monticello, Florida.
"And we win the championship, we're on the field celebrating, I've got my girlfriend under my arm ... and a gentleman grabbed me by the elbow. I turned and looked, and I've never seen this man in my life. And he goes, 'Son, how would you like to play for the University of Florida?' And I said, 'Let me think about that ... Yessir!'
"I'm telling you, there wasn't any hype. There wasn't any ESPN. None of that went on in my career."
The "guy," as it turned out, was Florida baseball coach Dave Fuller, who, as Youngblood explained, "had to do two or three jobs back in the '60s," including the recruiting of prospective players from championship games in north Florida. Fuller did his job, convincing then-coach Ray Graves to give Youngblood a scholarship, and Youngblood never regretted his decision.
"Those four years at the University of Florida were four of the best years of (my) life," he said. "It was a life-changing event."