Russ Jackson - Quarterback - 1958-69 - McMaster University
The Argo Bounce - Jay Teitel - Sarner Young Books - Pg 123-125
Up until his retirement in 1969 at the age of thirty-three the rest of the Canadian Football League had been helpless against his quarterbacking genius. Three times in those twelve years he had led the Rough Riders to Grey Cup Championships in '60, '68 and '69 (just before he retired), He had been selected as the league's most valuable player three times, and the most outstanding Canadian player four times. In 1969 he won the Jeff Russel Trophy as the player who combined a sense of fair play with a high calibre of performance. As a quarterback he was immensely durable, unusually powerful, and highly intelligent. He could run like a halfback, throw like a catapult, and think like a computer with military training.
Russ’s last game I will never forget. It was the Grey Cup of 1969, against Saskatchewan. A group of NFL scouts had made a highly publicized trip to the game in Montreal to examine a fleet Ottawa receiver named Margene Adkins. What they saw instead was Russ. During the game he played more brilliantly than
ever, if that was possible, picking up the Saskatchewan blitz with some sixth sense (Russ was murder against a blitz), dumping little passes into the gaps left in the defence, teaming up with a stocky lawyer/halfback named Ron Stewart to win the game. And then there was the locker-room interview after the game, the one I would have given anything for the American scouts to have seen. Russ sat on a bench patiently answering questions, holding his left shoulder which, he told interviewer he’d dislocated some time in the first half. He called it “the shoulder”, referring to it with modesty, as though it was a pet that was receiving far too much attention. And all the time Russ was smiling his incredible toothy caricature of a smile, his head altogether too up-front and wholesome, too large in the jaw and small in the crown, the hair too moulded to the skull, the nose and ears too large to belong to anyone but an original.
He was an absolutely unique football player. This point can’t be overemphasized. No one who ever saw him execute his bootleg, with that haughty military manner – what, me with the ball? Go back to your barracks, son – no one who ever saw him throw a pitch-out could deny it. Russ played quarterback as no one else ever had. Johnny Unitas might not have looked like Frank Ryan when he retreated in to the pocket, but at least there were common elements in their styles. Russ did everything differently. He reinvented quarterbacking the way Barbara Streisand reinvented singing. He may even have reinvented the huddle. Instead of a circle Russ favoured a phalanx formation in front of him, the first line hunched and second standing up – what made it more unusual was that Russ stood straight up too, with his hands on his hips, looking his team directly in the eye. Then – the truly mysterious part – seconds before the breakup he would extend his right hand and rest two or three fingers firmly on the Centre’s helmet. What was it? A healing? Knighthood? Years later a theory would arise that is was just the snap-count – one finger meant first “hut”, two the second etc. – but I kept holding out for a more Magian interpretation.
Once the huddle was over, Russ’s approach to the line of scrimmage was equally singular. Most pro quarterbacks will amble up, even sidle up, and then settle in behind the center, scanning the defence and drinking in the scene before they call the signals, or audible off. Russ on the other hand always stopped a foot behind centre to do his reconnoitering, standing rigid, his arms at his sides, his honest prow of a nose looking common but noble – like the nose of a foot soldier who had risen to the rank of general in one of Marcus Aurlius’s legions – then suddenly he stepped with a knife-edged precision, bowed his legs powerfully, and barked the signals all in one crisp surge, either drawing the opposing team offside, or freezing them in place, while he rolled out an threw a forty-yard pass on a line to Whit Tucker.
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