NEW ORLEANS –
Greg Jackson, the San Francisco 49ers’ assistant secondary coach, often regales his players with tales from another football era.
“I tell a lot of these young guys how we used to practice and how we prepared,” Jackson said here this week. “We practiced in pads every single day. I’m looking at us now and I almost get upset – ‘We’re not in pads.’ They don’t believe me. They say, ‘There’s no way you practiced in pads every day.’ I say, ‘Yes, we did.’ We didn’t realize what shorts were during those times.”
Those times were the five years he spent with the Giants from 1989-93. Jackson joined the team as a third-round draft choice and was the starting strong safety for most of his tenure. He also played for the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers in a 12-year career. But his favorite pro memories are from his time with the Giants.
“We were always one of the toughest teams in the National Football League, week-in and week-out,” Jackson said. “We never took anything for granted. The coaches we had there at the time were superb. You don’t realize it when you’re young, coming in and playing, but later on you think about it and you say, ‘We had some damn good coaches back then.’"
Jackson played his first two seasons under Bill Parcells, who could be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. His first defensive coordinator was Bill Belichick, who someday will certainly be enshrined in Canton.
Jackson started and had four tackles when the Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV. Twenty-two years later he is back in the title game with the 49ers, who will clash with the Baltimore Ravens Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII.
Despite the long gap between Super Bowl appearances, Jackson said he can take lessons he learned in Super Bowl XXV and pass them on to his current players.
“I was telling the secondary guys the other day, there are two parts of the game where they’re going to score a lot of points if you’re not prepared,” Jackson said. “When you first start the game you’re going to be so excited and your adrenalin is going to be pumping. And toward the end of the game, that’s when your nerves are going to come into play. I said that’s when you have to focus and rely on what you know. Just stay relaxed out there. It’s still a game that we play, week-in and week-out. It’s just on a bigger stage. If you prepare, you’ll be fine.”
Jackson can recall every detail of the Giants’ defensive game plan in Super Bowl XXV. The Bills ran an ultra-fast no-huddle offense and Belichick emphasized to his players that running back Thurman Thomas and wide receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton had to be punished each time they touched the ball.
“We worried about Thurman Thomas more than anyone else,” Jackson said. “We knew we had the ability to cover the receivers. We knew Thurman Thomas was going to get his yardage. It was a matter of trying to contain him on big plays. We knew our offense could control the football.
“When they caught the ball we needed to hit those guys, because we felt at that time they weren’t being hit hard enough. There weren’t a lot of gang tackles on those guys because they were all spread out. When they caught the ball, all of us had to hustle to the football as fast as we could and strip the ball. It made a huge difference. If you look at that game, we did slow them down from the way they were during the season.”
Although that game was thrilling, Jackson said it doesn’t compare to the Giants’ epic 15-13 victory over the two-time defending champion 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
“Greatest game I ever played in, by far,” Jackson said. “It was so exciting to win the NFC championship against the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl was exciting. But to have the opportunity to win the NFC championship to get to the Super Bowl, that was exciting. They were trying to three-peat. And they already had their hotel rooms (in Tampa, the site of the Super Bowl). It was crazy. That was one of the times in my career that was the best, when we beat the 49ers in San Francisco.”
Off the field, Jackson learned as many lessons with the Giants as he did in uniform. A native of Miami, he played college football at LSU. Jackson experienced a culture shock when he was drafted by the Giants.
“When it became November it was probably about 55 degrees and I had on a lumberjack coat,” Jackson said. “When I walked in I was the laughingstock of the locker room. I said, ‘What is everybody laughing at?’ Because I’m from Miami, I thought it was freezing in New York. It was hard my first year, but I got used to it. It was fine after that.”
Jackson began his coaching career at the University of Idaho in 2003. He also coached at Louisiana-Monroe, Tulane and Wisconsin before joining the 49ers in 2011. Now he has a chance to win another Super Bowl ring. Ironically, the 49ers will take the field with a quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who became the starter late in the season just as Jeff Hostetler did in 1990 for the Giants (because of an injury to Phil Simms).
“I see a lot of similarity,” Jackson said. “Hostetler was athletic, just like Colin is. He wasn’t as fast as Colin, but he was just as mobile. Hoss could get away from anybody. And Colin does the same thing. When Hoss scrambled, he still looked for guys. When Colin scrambles, he looks for guys. They’re very similar.”
Jackson hopes the result of the game is too.