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Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Clarence 'Jazz' Jackson

Catch Up with the Former Running Back from Western Kentucky

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When the NFL held its Draft on January 29 and 30, 1974, the weather may have been great in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the home of Western Kentucky University.

Senior running back Clarence "Jazz" Jackson was otherwise preoccupied and wouldn't have noticed.

"I sat in my dorm room (listening to the Draft on the radio) and they got down to the 14th and 15th round, and I was telling people, 'Man, I ain't going get drafted.' Then it came around to the 16th round and I was sitting there when I heard it," said Jackson, who was chosen by the Jets 395th overall. "I started crying. I was in my room all by myself anyway, but I was just so excited and overwhelmed that I had been drafted. I ran all through the dorm yelling, 'I've been drafted! I've been drafted!'

"I thank God every day for that moment. I didn't care what round I went in. I told some people that if I got drafted by anybody, I would make the team. They didn't believe me though."

Their mistake. Jackson felt the ability to believe in himself came from his father and coaches along the way.

"My father was a military man. you just don't give up, and that's what I believed," he said. "And I think that's one of the reasons I even made it to college because I messed up my leg in the 11th grade and played my whole senior year with a torn cartilage in my right knee."

At 5-8, 167 pounds, Jackson wasn't the largest rookie in New York's training camp. In fact, then-General Manager Weeb Ewbank told him he was the smallest Jet ever. But regardless of his size, one would have been hard-pressed to find someone more driven.

"Learning the playbook and the different stuff you had to do versus what I had to do in college was totally different," Jackson said. "Once I got into camp, some of the guys, we'd go out after practice and all that, but when I decided I've got one shot at this, they'd be going out, and I'd go back to my room and study. I studied everything so if somebody went down, I would know what to do.

"I knew the running back plays, I knew the wide receiver stuff, I knew all the special teams stuff. Because like I said, I've got one shot at this."

And while Jackson succeeded with his one shot, beat the odds, and made the team, it wasn't a stress-free experience.

"There were some guys that would come around and knock on your door at night and slide stuff under your door. And normally when you get a knock on the door, you get that little piece of paper that says, 'Bring your playbook, the coach wants to see you,'" Jackson said.

"So I went to the coach's room, and we're talking 10, 11 o'clock at night, and he said, 'What's wrong?' I said, 'I got a note that said you wanted to see me, and bring my playbook.' He said, 'Son, somebody's playing a joke on you.' I was so happy. I'm emotional with certain things, especially when this was a life situation for me. Because I knew if I made it, this was going to change my life.

"And I found out later that the same person who played the joke on me, he got cut the next day."

In this case, karma evidently had a name, and it could be found on the league's waiver wire. Jackson's name, on the other hand, was on the Jets' roster. And in his second game, against the Bears in Chicago, his name could also be found in the game's box score.

In the second quarter, John Riggins caught a pass out of the backfield from Joe Namath, and ran 34 yards before he was hit from behind and fumbled. Jackson was in the right place at the right time, picked up the loose ball, and ran 22 yards for a touchdown. The Jets won, 23-21.

Jackson's name appeared in the box score again later that season when the Jets hosted the Houston Oilers at Shea Stadium. In the opening quarter, he caught a 20-yard pass from Namath and found the end zone.

"It was joy, it was happiness, it was a little boy's dream come true," said Jackson, who led the Jets in rushing that game, a 27-22 loss. "And to run around and tell everybody, my brothers and my sisters, my mama, I caught a touchdown from Joe Namath… High school friends and college friends were calling me, it was a great feeling. One of the best feelings I ever had in my life.

"Just to make it that far, it was just a dream because everybody had doubts. I was never going to be nothing. Nobody ever thought of that part of me, of having that determination to get to where I got. But I put in the time. I put in the work."

Contributing to the Jets for three seasons as a running back and on special teams as a gunner and kick- and punt-returner, what makes Jackson most proud of his career?

"Just the fact that people doubted me, doubted that I could do it," he said. "Even some of the people that I'd seen come and go while I was there that were bigger than me, and I guess they were supposed to be better than me. But they got cut before I did.

"My hard work and trying to be a standout in practice when I had to be a running back for the (scout) team to show our defense a good picture, I just wanted to be there. When we ran sprints, I tried to be out front. At least you could say you saw me.

"And being a Jet and living in New York, you know how you used to look at commercials on television, 'New York City! One of the greatest cities in the world!' I said, 'One of these days, I'm going to get to go to New York.' But I never thought I'd be going there to play ball."

Now retired as a supervisor for Philip Morris, Jackson and his wife, Miss Jackson, have seven children and seven grandchildren. Making their home in the Richmond, Virginia, area, they enjoy spending their time giving back.

"I do quite a bit of volunteer work," Jackson said. "Before this pandemic hit, I volunteered for a little bit for everything, me and my wife, both. We helped out in our community. And at one point I was coaching junior high recreation basketball and won a few championships in three different divisions."