When Tom Jackson retired from football in 1987 he wrote a book with Woody Paige. Blitz was immediately purchased in my home. Jackson had been a Sunday staple in the Malnati household. My father loved his style of play. We also loved his character as a human being.
Growing up in Greeley, we had the occasion to meet many Broncos players during the late summer weeks of training camp. As a small boy, eyes wide open, jaws on the floor, we would stare at these giants of the game as they walked through Target. Professional athletes are human too, and many of them fell short of the heroic pedestal we had placed them on. TJ was different.
We had some interesting encounters with him, and we still have the autograph he signed during a training camp scrimmage in 1986 at Jackson Field when the fans were allowed to walk out on the field and talk to the players. He was kind, playful with my brother and I, and eager to talk to my uncle who had taken us.
That takes me back to Blitz. We found out that Jackson would be doing a book signing at a now closed bookstore in downtown Greeley. The 8th Edition hosted Jackson, and the people came out and got their autographs. My brother and I couldn’t wait to go. As the hours passed, and we waited for my father to come home from work, we got a little nervous. By the time we got to the bookstore the signing was just about over, and there really wasn’t any reason for Jackson to be there, but he was.
We walked in late, afraid we had missed our chance. Of course, we were shy as we approached to get our autograph. As we presented our book for him to sign he smiled that big smile, asked us some questions, and all of a sudden, it was story time. Tom Jackson started a full on conversation with my dad. He asked us about school, he talked about football, and all manner of stuff.
If you asked me to recount the entire meeting, I never could. I was seven, and I was awestruck. What I do remember is that we showed up late, and he stayed. He wasn’t angry or frustrated. He didn’t just sign our book and say goodbye. He smiled, he talked to us. He stayed. He stayed for a long time. That’s rare.
For the last 29 years I have had the opportunity to see Jackson on ESPN. I have always felt a great connection to him, as he made two little boys’ (and their dad’s) night, month, year. I will miss TJ, not because of his grace and elegance on ESPN, not because of his love for the Denver Broncos, but because he stayed late, for us.