Denver Broncos | News

Broncos Legends: A look back through Rich 'Tombstone' Jackson's Broncos career

In our Broncos Legends series, we're revisiting the careers of some of the best players in franchise history with video highlights and rarely seen photos — and they'll join us to break down their favorite moments as a Bronco and more. Here's a refresher on Rich Jackson's time in Denver.

Career overview

The man who would be known as "Tombstone" arrived in Denver to little fanfare. On July 16, 1967, the Broncos dealt Lionel Taylor and Jerry Sturm to the Raiders in exchange for Jackson, Ray Schmautz and Richard Tyson. Presumably it was Tyson, a 1966 third-round pick, who was the centerpiece acquisition in the deal at the time; Jackson, an undrafted player, had played five games as a rookie in 1966.

"We need offensive linemen and linebackers with some experience," head coach Lou Saban said at the time, according to a UPI wire story in the New York Times.

That Jackson's five games counted as experience spoke perhaps to the Broncos desperation at the position. But it wouldn't take long for the Broncos to realize they had gotten an absolute star in the deal.

Denver promptly moved Jackson from linebacker to defensive end, where he would become one of the best at his position. In his first year with the Broncos, Jackson started all 14 games, and by the end of his second, he was an AFL All-Star and All-Pro.

Unfortunately for Jackson, sacks were not an official statistic until after his career ended, but he made his name getting to the quarterback. A physical force, Jackson could at times toss linemen aside as he hounded quarterbacks. His specialty was the "head slap," a since-banned move that he used to stun linemen as he worked to get around them. Though there's some debate as to whether the move originated with him or Deacon Jones, Jackson certainly used it to no less success.

In 1969 and 1970, Jackson added two more all-star and All-Pro seasons, but his ascension came to an unfortunate halt because of knee injuries. The Broncos would soon part with him, trading him to Cleveland in 1972, his final season.

But even if his career didn't last long, he could go toe-to-toe with the best of them. When Sports Illustrated's Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman put together his all-time team, Jackson was one of his picks at defensive end.

"Jackson occupies a special place in my memory," Zimmerman wrote, "because 1) no one ever heard of him, since he was an outlander from one of the AFL's backwater franchises, and 2) he has never reached any serious level of Hall of Fame consideration, despite my lobbying for him every year in the preliminary balloting, mainly because knee injuries took the heart out of what could have been a glorious career."

Jackson also held a special place in the hearts of Broncos fans and that of the organization. After Pat Bowlen created the Ring of Fame in 1984 to honor the team's legends, Jackson was selected to be part the four-man inaugural class.

Career accolades

Second-team AFL All-Time Team, Broncos Top 100 Team, Broncos 50th Anniversary Team, Ring of Fame inductee (1984), four combined AFL All-Star and Pro Bowl selections, three first-team All-Pro or All-AFL selections, 1970 Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Pro Athlete of the Year

Stats to know

82 games, 43 sacks (unofficial)

In his own words

"My style of play is more or less the style of my own. It's more or less an aggressive style. I just like to hit people, and I like to go hard. I try to keep myself in superior condition in that it would allow me to go hard on every play."

Jackson recalls his favorite moments

"When we played the New York Jets that time and we annihilated Joe Namath, that stood out. I saw Joe Namath at the Black College Football Hall of Fame about a couple years ago, and he was one of the guests. We had a conversation, and it was good to see him, and I apologized to him. We treated Joe pretty bad.

"When we played against the Kansas City Chiefs, I had outstanding games against them. And when we played against the Oakland Raiders, I had some fantastic games against them. Some things in those games stood out, and I guess the matchup I had against Jim Tyrer for the Kansas City Chiefs, [and] big Bob Brown for the Oakland Raiders. We had some pretty classic matchups, and I was fortunate that I always came out on top. I got a lot of clippings that mention that, how well I did. I never really thought of myself as being a great ball player, but I just tried to play the game the way I thought it should be played."

Flip through photos from Rich Jackson's Ring of Fame Broncos career.

Related Content