Tom Jackson life and biography

Tom Jackson picture, image, poster

Tom Jackson biography

Date of birth : 1951-04-04
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-08-12
Credited as : Football former player NFL and analyst for ESPN, played for the Denvers Broncos, Super Bowl

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Long before he was thrust into the spotlight because of Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Donovan McNabb, ESPN broadcaster Tom Jackson was an All-Pro outside linebacker for the Denver Broncos. Though undersized for his position, Jackson carved out a legendary 14-year career that ended with his induction into Denver's Ring of Fame. How did a guy nicknamed "Tiny Tom" enjoy so much success in the NFL? With a rare combination of speed, heart and smarts.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 4, 1951, Tom grew up idolizing Jim Brown, and dreamed of following in his hero's footsteps. It appeared he might be on his way, after a heralded high school career. But Tom eventually learned that NFL teams—much less major college coaches—weren't particularly interested in handing the ball to a 5-11 defensive back who weighed less than 200 pounds. When Louisville came knocking, he answered, and developed into one of the country's best small-college linebackers.

The Broncos also liked what they saw in Tom. When Denver rose to prominence in the late 1970s—on the strength of its famous "Orange Crush" defense—#57 was one of the main reasons why. Two trips to the Super Bowl and three Pro Bowls later, he retired as one of the most beloved players in franchise history.

Today, Tom is still a fixture on Sundays, only now he's content to watch the action from a comfortable seat in a television studio. As a commentator for ESPN, he adds an insightful, reasonable voice to the network's high-charged coverage of the NFL.

As a kid, Tom was a talented all-around athlete and diehard fan of the Cleveland Browns. Some of his best times were spent on Sundays at Municipal Stadium with his father, rooting on his "Brownies." With Paul Brown calling the shots, the Cleveland teams of that era were dominant. When Jim Brown joined the squad in 1957, the Browns became among the most feared clubs in football. Tom never missed a game. He also loved baseball and wrestling. Forget spring, summer, winter and fall, his childhood was split by three seasons.

Tom's work ethic carried him farther in sports than most people expected. A star on the gridiron, wrestling mat, and baseball diamond at Cleveland's John Adams High School, he hoped to suit up for Woody Hayes and Ohio State. But the Buckeyes never called. Instead, Tom headed to Louisville in the fall of 1969, where Lee Corso was trying to bring the moribund program back to life. The rookie coach saw something special in Tom, converted him to linebacker, then watched him develop into one of the school's greatest players ever. After sitting out his freshman year, he led the team in tackles for three consecutive seasons, matching Doug Buffone's triple from 1963 to 1965. Thanks to Tom, Corso built a swarming defense that enabled him to complete his reclamation project ahead of schedule. In 1972, the Cardinals shut down everyone they faced—including New Mexico State's Joe Pisarcik and the tandem of Ray Rhodes and Drew Pearson at Tulsa. Louisville went 9-1, and finished ranked in the Top-20. Tom was voted the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year for the second time of his career.

In 1999, the Cardinals retired Tom's jersey (#50). With the honor, he joined the likes of Buffone, Lenny Lyles, Ernie Green, Frank Minnifield and Louisville's most famous football alum, Johnny Unitas.

Tom expected to go high in the 1973 NFL draft, but his size worked against him again. Though teams liked his speed and intelligence, he lasted until the fourth round, when the Broncos took him. Irritated that he had been overlooked, Tom then spent his first few years in Denver convincing his coaches he could handle the rigors of playing every down. He enjoyed a breakout season in 1976, intercepting seven passes. Big plays became his trademark. Equally effective rushing the quarterback as he was dropping back in pass coverage, Tom retired fifth on Denver's sack list with 44 and first among linebackers with 20 interceptions. Amazingly durable, he stands second only to John Elway on the team's all-time list of games played with 191.

When Red Miller assumed the coaching reigns in 1977, Randy Gradishar, Joe Rizzo, Bob Swenson and Tom emerged as one of the NFL 's top linebacking units—the juice the fueled the Orange Crush. The Broncos, in turn, made the first of their two Super Bowl appearances during Tom's career in 1978. The second came in his last season, 1986. Along the way, Tom went to three Pro Bowls, and was named All-Pro twice. His teammates also voted him Denver's Most Inspirational Player a franchise-record six times.

Tom liked the stage of the big game, and always played well under pressure. No Denver fan will ever forget his playoff performance against Pittsburgh at Mile High Stadium in December of 1976. In the postseason for the first time in their history, the Broncos throttled the mighty Steelers, 34-21. Tom picked off two passes by Terry Bradshaw and recovered a fumble, setting up three Denver scores. Of course, things didn't go as smoothly in the Super Bowl.

Tom played for two titles with the Broncos, and lost both times. In Super Bowl XII, Denver was steamrolled by the Dallas Cowboys, 27-10. Down by 13 points at the half, the Broncos rallied in the third quarter, but a flea-flicker pass from Robert Newhouse to Golden Richards sealed their fate. (It's worth noting, however, that the offense deserved most of the blame, as Craig Morton and crew turned the ball over eight times.) Nine years later, Denver faced the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI. Again the team was blown out, as Phil Simms and Big Blue exploded for 30 points after intermission to win easily, 39-20. Tom injured a knee early against New York, and watched virtually the entire contest from the sidelines. When he walked off the field, he knew his career was over.

Tom played for three coaches with the Broncos—John Ralston, Red Miller and Dan Reeves. Under Ralston, Denver finished second in the AFC West four out of five years, but was never a serious playoff contender. That changed when Miller took over. After a stint as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, he brought the Broncos to the Super Bowl in his first season. Three years later, Miller (whose real name was Robert) was replaced by Reeves, and Denver embarked on a new era of prosperity.

The one constant throughout was defensive coordinator Joe Collier. The brains behind the Orange Crush, he asked for an honest effort from his players, and in return introduced them to innovative schemes that helped revolutionize the NFL. Tom benefitted from Collier's brilliance as much as anyone on the Broncos. Installed at weakside outside linebacker, he was able to use his quickness and instincts to their fullest advantage.

Tom played with some Denver legends during his 14-year career. Of course there was Elway, acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Colts in 1982. Before he hit the scene, Tom's notable teammates included Gradishar, Wright, receiver Haven Moses and kicker Jim Turner—all of whom have a place in the Broncos' Ring of Fame. A seven-time Pro Bowler, Gradishar never missed a game in 10 years, and retired after the 1983 season as Denver's all-time leader with 1,958 tackles. Wright, a world-class sprinter early in his career, was a sensational one-on-one cover corner who allowed the Broncos to blitz whenever they wanted. Moses, who averaged 18 yards per reception for his career, was a dangerous deep threat with a knack for scoring touchdowns. Turner, one of the last straight-on kickers, spent nine seasons with the Broncos, amassing 742 points. This nucleus stayed together for nearly a decade, a run that would be virtually impossible to match in today's era of free agency.

Tom moved into a broadcasting career almost as soon as his playing career ended. Reeves offered him a job on his coaching staff, but he wanted to explore life away from the sidelines. Personable and insightful, he was a natural as a commentator. Since 1987, "TJ" has occupied a chair next to Berman as a studio host for ESPN. Among the others he has shared the desk with on the network's signature shows—NFL Countdown and Primetime—are Sterling Sharpe, Steve Young and Bill Parcells. The weekly Sunday morning pre-game show has won five Sports Emmy Awards (1988, 1991, 1994, 1995 and 2001) and five Cable ACEs (1989, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995). Thanks to the same dedication that drove him on the football field, Tom has become a polished and entertaining announcer.

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