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New Orleans Saints legend Rickey Jackson celebrates turning 65, continues adding to resume and evolving in life

'It's like a new home for me, that's why I've never left (New Orleans), because the people are like family'


City Champ is 65.

He bears some of the signs that Father Time stamps to everyone – gray hair, a few extra pounds, a tick or two slower on the reflexes.

But City Champ still is City Champ.

The smile is as devilish as it was during a Pro Football Hall of Fame career in which he punished opponents with a ferocity that was the foundation to the Dome Patrol, the most dominant linebacking unit in NFL history, and forever will ensure his beloved status as a New Orleans Saints legend. He's as engaged as he's ever been – when he's not in New Orleans and other cities checking on his current business interests and exploring new ones, he's playing golf with fellow Hall of Famers like Lawrence Taylor and Eric Dickerson.

And Rickey Anderson Jackson, the Saints' second-round draft choice (No. 51 overall) in 1981 and arguably the best defensive player in franchise history, appears to have no plan to slow down. Even today, he's in the process of completing unfinished business.

He recently finished the coursework to earn his history degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and on April 30 he'll walk across the stage to complete the process he started when he entered Pitt in 1977, a freshman from Pahokee, Fla., who'd go on to become a second-team All-American in 1980.

And one of the reasons he chose to earn the degree was because it was a requirement for him to be able to join the local graduate chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., a procedure that soon will be complete.

"I was so close, I was like a couple of hours away from getting it, it didn't make sense not to go back and get it," Jackson said of the degree. "And then, I wanted to pledge Kappa. By me wanting to pledge (graduate chapter), you have to have your degree to pledge. That really kicked it off for me to go back.

"I started out pledging (as an undergraduate) in '78, I was (participating in the pledging process) for four weeks. Guys were hazing, so (the chapter) got suspended. It was something that I always still wanted. It was something that I didn't complete – I didn't complete the degree and I didn't complete that. Those two things were always in the back of my mind of going back to do."

New Orleans Saints Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling and Willie Roaf, along with members of Sam Mills and Vaughan Johnson's families attended the Saints walkthrough practice on Sunday, November 6, 2022 ahead of Week 9 against the Baltimore Ravens.

Those tasks completed, it seems a perfect time for City Champ – a nickname that has been with him since childhood, he said – to reflect on 65 years and a relationship with a city that has watched him grow from a rambunctious youngster to elder statesman.

"I've had a great life here," said Jackson, who also spends time in West Palm Beach, Fla. "Coming here in '81 as a young man, and getting a chance to grow all these years here, everybody kind of embraced me. It's like a new home for me, that's why I've never left here, because the people are like family. It's like I made a new family.

"I always tried to have business in the city, and it worked out for me. I still have a lot of business that I do in the city, so I have to be here."

Even when he isn't here, he's here, especially during football season. The No. 57 jersey remains a fan favorite, and rightfully so.

Jackson was the Saints' all-time leader in sacks, with 115 in 195 games, from 1993 until last season, when defensive end Cam Jordan topped the mark. He remains the franchise leader with 38 forced fumbles – he led the league in forced fumbles four times – and is second in fumble recoveries with 27 (he leads defensive players; quarterback Drew Brees had 28).

He was a five-time All-Pro, a seven-time Pro Bowler and is a member of the Saints Hall of Fame and one of the initial inductees into the Saints Ring of Honor.

"It means a lot," he said. "Even when I go downtown, you see '57' and you see 'Jackson,' it means they appreciate some of the things you did while you were here on the field."

Now, long off the field, Jackson has the opportunity to reflect and take stock of what he sees in today's NFL. The starkest difference, of course, is financially.

"There's so much money out there now," he said. "When I was coming along, it was about trying to make some Pro Bowls and trying to see how far you can go with football. It's not like that now.

"They're giving guys $10 million, $15 million and they don't have to do nothing. I don't blame them, though. We didn't have money like that and guys before us didn't have money like that and now, you look at a defensive guy getting $20 or $30 million. Imagine if L.T. and Reggie White could have made that kind of money.

"It wasn't there for us. It's there for the young boys, I'm happy for them. Some of them are stealing, but I'm still happy for them."

Here, he smiles.

That devilish grin.

City Champ is still City Champ.


Rickey Jackson

New Orleans Saints linebacker


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