Rich Jackson – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Landry High School/Southern University/NFL
Playing for the legendary coach Felix James, also a member of the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, at New Orleans’ Landry High School, Rich “Tombstone” Jackson showed his outstanding skills and determination as a 210-pound end. When a Landry sprinter beat Jackson in a 100-yard race, then chided him, “You’re too big to beat me,” Jackson spent the entire school year working on his speed. When track season came around, Jackson convinced Coach James he could match speed with the school’s best sprinter. And he did just that, outracing him to the finish line to earn a spot on the Bucs’ relay team.
Despite his foray into track, football would always be his primary pursuit. As a senior in 1959, he led Landry to the district championship and earned a spot on the Southern University football team. A four-year starter at linebacker and defensive end, he also saw time on offense for the powerhouse Jaguar teams. He also didn’t forget his track roots – though not as a sprinter. He won seven SWAC track championships (four in the discus and three in the shotput) and still holds the Louisiana collegiate shot-put record.
Undrafted after a productive career at Southern University, Jackson signed as a free agent with Oakland in 1966. He became a three-time All-Pro defensive end in five-plus seasons with the Denver Broncos, but a devastating knee injury in 1971 would end his career. Despite the brevity of his career, he was a charter member of the Broncos’ “Ring of Fame” at Mile High Stadium. In 1999, Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated, picked Jackson as one of his starting defensive ends on his all-time NFL team and in 2014, the Denver Post called him “the toughest Bronco who ever lived.”
“When I think of him, I think of pain,” Chiefs Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson said. “I can remember he nailed me and knocked the breath out of me.”
“People want to know why they call me Tombstone. That’s the termination of life, a symbol of death, the end of the road — how you like that?” Tombstone told the Denver Post in 2014. “When I came to line up across somebody, I just had the mentality of ‘search and destroy.’ I would look straight through the linemen at the quarterback, and when I took off, it was just like the guys weren’t there. I had moves to eliminate that person. I prided myself that no one lineman could block me.”
In 67 games with the Broncos, he recorded 43 sacks according to the Broncos – that would average out to 10.3 sacks in today’s 16-game season.
In addition to the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame and the Broncos’ Ring of Fame, Jackson has been inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
[Sources: New Orleans High School Sports Hall of Fame, Denver Post]
Denver Post Story, Sept. 5, 2014
The Toughest Bronco There Ever was: Tombstone