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Prayers Up for the “City Champ”: Saints Hall of Fame Legend Rickey Jackson Undergoes Brain Surgery

One of the greatest players in the entire history of the New Orleans Saints franchise underwent a potentially life-altering medical procedure a short while ago, and many Who Dats this morning are sending “prayers up” as a sign of love, admiration, and respect.

As reported initially by NOLA.com Columnist Jeff Duncan: former Saints “Dome Patrol” member and NFL Hall of Fame linebacker / living legend Rickey Jackson underwent brain surgery this morning at a local area New Orleans hospital, former Saints trainer Dean Kleinschmidt said.

Duncan spoke directly to Kleinschmidt via cell phone earlier this morning, but the former Saints trainer declined to provide details of Jackson’s procedure or indicate why Jackson required surgery.

“I’m expecting to hear back from the surgeon later today,” Kleinschmidt told Duncan.

As reported a short time later by WWL TV New Orleans reporter Meg Farris: the surgery was a success, and Jackson is expected to make a full recovery.

Jackson officially retired in 1995 after winning a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers, with whom he signed with in Free Agency following the 1993 season. He recorded career totals of 128 career sacks, 40 forced fumbles and 28 fumble recoveries during his 14-year NFL career.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Jackson is nicknamed “City Champ” by family, friends, and fans alike; which was influenced by his days in high school, where he played defensive end (and also tight end on offense) at Pahokee High School for the Blue Devils varsity team. Pahokee is a city located on the shore of Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County, Florida (about 100 miles northwest of Miami).

Via his Twitter account, former Los Angeles Rams standout and fellow Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson requested prayers for the former 4-time All-Pro and 6-time Pro Bowl selection.

Some of the team’s greatest memories come from that Jim Mora  / “The Dome Patrol” Era; where back then, it was the defense winning games for the Saints, instead of the high flying offense we see now in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era.

But actually, the original ‘framework’ for “The Dome Patrol” actually began with former Saints head coach Bum Phillips.

Phillips, who had been fired by the Houston Oilers the day before, was scouting the 1980 Gator Bowl (presumably with the knowledge that he wouldn’t be out of work for long) to get a look at University of South Carolina RB and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers (whom he later took with the #1 overall pick in the Draft a few months later for the Saints).

But instead, Phillips came away just as impressed (if not more) in that game with a young defensive end for Pitt (as the University of Pittsburgh used to be known as, back during those days) named Rickey Jackson.

It ended up being Jackson — and not Rogers — who “stole the show” that night with a near-dominant defensive performance in front of a national television audience on the ABC Network. Clearly, Phillips didn’t forget about Jackson a few short months later during the 1981 NFL Draft.

Photo courtesy of United Press International

The following April after being hired as both the new Saints head coach and General Manager, Phillips took Jackson in the 2nd round (the #51 pick overall); and then at that time had the forethought to convert Jackson from a 4-3 defensive end at Pitt, to a 3-4 outside linebacker for the Saints.

Long before the phrase “hybrid” (a player who can both line up as a defensive end with his “hand in the dirt”, or be a stand-up pass rusher coming off the outside edge) became part of today’s 2018 football terminology, Jackson was a prime example of a player who was versatile enough to do many things, and do them very well at that.

Jackson went on to become a star linebacker in the League, despite the Saints’ lack of success in the win-loss column during Phillips’ tenure.

Photo by George Rose, Getty Images

But perhaps more importantly years later, would eventually give Mora, (who was hired by new owner Tom Benson and GM Jim Finks in early 1986) an integral player to build the “core” of his new defensive scheme around.

The United States Football League eventually had folded around that same time, and Mora then subsequently brought in two former USFL stars at inside linebacker: Sam Mills, who had played for Mora and won back-to-back USFL titles with the Philadelphia / Baltimore Stars, and hard-hitting inside linebacker Vaughan Johnson of the Jacksonville Bulls, whom the Saints got in the USFL allocation draft.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The “Dome Patrol” linebacking corps was then completed in the 1986 NFL Draft, when Mora was stunned to see Georgia Tech University and All-ACC defensive end Pat Swilling still on the board in the 3rd Round; who he quickly snapped up and put at the other outside linebacker spot in the Saints 3-4 defensive scheme, on the opposite side of Jackson.

For the better part of nearly a decade,”The Dome Patrol” defense terrorized opposing NFL offenses, even though the Saints could ever seem to “get over the hump” in the NFC West division (ruled in those days by the San Francisco 49ers and Hall-of-Fame head coach Bill Walsh and his ‘West Coast’ offense, led by All-Pro QB Joe Montana).

Nevertheless, they are remembered fondly by many of the greats who have played the game of Pro Football; even by some of their former opponents that a few years ago voted them as “The Greatest Linebacker Corps in NFL History”. The Dome Patrol term would later go on to encompass the entire Saints defense under Mora, including players such as defensive linemen Bruce Clark, Frank Warren, and Jim Wilks; and DB’s Gene Atkins, Van Jakes, and Toi Cook.

But regardless of whomever you had to face as a Saints opponent back in those days, the Saints defense (unlike this present day Saints defense of the past few seasons) back then was a defense that was FEARED.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

But no players were more feared on that unit than the four linebackers, each of who brought their own individual strengths to the team.

Jackson was the most complete player, able to rush the QB as effectively as he was “sniffing” out the run or covering RB’s out “in the flat”.

Johnson was known for his tenaciousness and ability to deliver “bone-rattling” hits (like the one on Rams RB and Hall of Fame legend Eric Dickerson pictured above) that had opponents trying to account for his whereabouts at all times.

Swilling likely had the biggest impact of the four because of his incredible burst off of the snap of the football, which allowed him to blow right past offensive tackles and come in unimpeded for a sack against the opposing QB.

And there was Mills, who was the “field general” of the defense because of his high football IQ and knowledge of Mora’s system. Sadly, Mills passed away in 2005 from cancer.

The most fond memory from the legendary days of “The Dome Patrol” for most Saints fans?

Easily, it would be the moment when the team clinched its first ever winning season, by making an incredible goal-line stand with the ball at the 1-yard line, against the Pittsburgh Steelers in late November of 1987 at Three-Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA. With their backs against the wall (literally almost) and certainly against all odds in the most difficult of circumstances while Steelers fans were yelling at the top of their lungs, the Saints defense was able to hold its own  and gave New Orleans (at least in those days) its greatest victory ever in team history.

It was a moment of exhilaration for both a team and a fan-base whom up to that point, had experienced nothing but heart-break and agony.

Obviously, the more-recent Saints teams now under Sean Payton and Drew Brees have gone on to make their own special memories, for Saints fans of this current generation.

But it was the “City Champ” — the great Rickey Jackson — who was the one of the very first Saints legends who gave Who Dat fans their first-ever taste of success. Prayers up for a speedy recovery……

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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