Rickey Jackson reaches a Hall of Fame milestone for Saints
By Jim Mashek
Rickey Jackson became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame about a decade ago, but he'd never been a finalist in the selection process until February.
One day before the New Orleans Saints faced the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
It was the perfect storm on both fronts, as Jackson was finally voted in with an accomplished class that includes the likes of all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith and Mississippi legend Jerry Rice, who helped the San Francisco 49ers win three Super Bowls while setting one receiving record after another. Jackson's former team, the Saints, then stopped Peyton Manning and the Colts in the Super Bowl.
On Saturday, in Canton, Ohio, Jackson will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the first player who spent the majority of his career with the Saints.
"I always thought I was going to get in, eventually," Jackson said. "I just didn't want to talk about it."
Saturday, he will.
Jackson will be presented by Saints owner Tom Benson. He'll be joined by Smith, Rice, Washington Redskins guard Russ Grimm, Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle John Randle, Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little and Detroit Lions cornerback Dick LeBeau.
Grimm and LeBeau have gone on to distinguished coaching careers in the NFL, and Smith, who grew up in Pensacola, helped provide the offensive spark that carried the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles.
Several of Jackson's teammates with the Saints, including his closest friend on the team, defensive lineman Jim Wilks, arrived in Ohio on Friday to celebrate the moment. Jackson was one of the finest linebackers of his time, but languished on some losing teams until the Saints built one of the NFL's premier defenses in the late '80s.
"We're all proud of him," Wilks said. "Rickey is well deserving. We had a good defense, but he was the one that stood out. Rickey always took the stance that with the Hall of Fame, later was better than never. (Voters in the selection process) can have their own agenda. Some guys don't go in until after they've passed away. It's a complicated process, getting in, and it's just great to see Rickey get in."
Jackson played 15 years in the NFL, 13 with the Saints, before helping the 49ers win their fifth Super Bowl championship in the twilight of his career.
He recorded 128 sacks, third-most in NFL history at the time of his retirement, while forcing 40 fumbles and recovering 29 of them. He was also adept in coverage and had eight career interceptions.
Jackson also joined forces with fellow linebackers Pat Swilling, Vaughan Johnson and the late Sam Mills, becoming known as the "Dome Patrol," a unit that was the driving force in the Saints making four playoff appearances (the first in club history) in seven years.
The Saints did not win any of those postseason games, but their defense was a force.
These days, Jackson splits his time between New Orleans and his native Pahokee, Fla., where he was first known by the nickname "City Champ."
He works in the petroleum industry and has nine children, including four sons playing college or high school football.
Saints coach Sean Payton is pleased that Jackson will give his team an increased visibility at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"It's great to see the representation on behalf of that defense, as good as they were," Payton said. "(Jackson is) certainly deserving. It's somewhat ironic, that it happened (last season), at the Super Bowl. And it's good for him."
Not to mention the Saints themselves.
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