Harold Jackson, surely the greatest, most productive wide receiver not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, last week was inducted into the inaugural class of Hattiesburg Hall of Fame.
“I can't tell you how much this means to me,” Jackson said at the time. “This is home. This is where it all started for me. I'm in a whole bunch of halls of fame, but this one ranks right up there at the top because it's home.”
Indeed, the 72-year-old Jackson could fill a trophy case just with his hall of fame awards. He also is in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Jackson State Hall of Fame, the SWAC Hall of Fame and the Black College Football Hall of Fame.
“There's only one more that I really believe I deserve,” Jackson said. “There was a lot of talk about it a few years ago, but...”
Jackson's voice trailed off and he didn't say which hall of fame he was talking about, but please allow me to finish that thought...
His time may have passed, but Harold Jackson deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The primary criteria for players to be selected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is that the player was a dominant player at his position during his era. Jackson was surely that.
Jackson is a soft-spoken man, but his numbers speak loudly:
• He was the leading receiver of the decade of the 1970s. In the '70s, Jackson led the NFL by gaining 7,724 receiving yards. That's 22 percent more than second-place Kenny Burrough, which, to me, means Jackson was dominant at his position – and then some.
• For his career, Jackson caught 579 passes for 10,372 yards and 76 touchdowns. That's far more catches for more yards and more touchdowns than these guys: John Stallworth, Tom Fears and Lynn Swann. All three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
• Jackson caught more touchdowns than Charlie Joiner, gained more yards than Fred Biletnikoff, gained more yards and scored more touchdowns than Paul Warfield. Joiner, Biletnikoff and Warfield are enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
• When Jackson retired in 1983, he had the most catches and receiving yardage of any player who had played his entire career in the NFL. Think about it.
• He was a five-time Pro Bowler.
There's more. Hall of Famers are supposed to be difference makers for their teams. Consider this: The Philadelphia Eagles in 1973 traded Jackson to the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams, 6-7-1 the season before, finished 12-2 that season, largely because Jackson led the league in touchdowns and was a consensus All-Pro.
Remember also, Jackson played most of his career at a time when teams didn't throw the football as much as they do now, and he played during a time when defensive backs could put their hands all over receivers.
Jackson was a relatively small (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) man playing a big man's game. Yet, in 17 NFL seasons, he never missed a game because of an injury. Says Jackson, “I'm proudest of that.”
Jackson is not alone among Mississippians snubbed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As has been written in this space before, quarterback Charlie Conerly (Clarksdale), tight end Jimmie Giles (Greenville), center Kent Hull (Greenwood) and defensive end L.C. Greenwood (Canton) all should have received pro football's highest honor.
All were among the elite NFL players at their positions in their eras. All were highly respected by their peers. All were difference makers for their teams.
Somehow, all have fallen through the Pro Football Hall of Fame cracks. Sad, but certainly true.
Rick Cleveland is a Hattiesburg native and an award-winning sports columnist in Mississippi. Rick was also inducted into the Hattiesburg Hall of Fame on the same night. Email Rick Cleveland at firstname.lastname@example.org.