"I am five feet from getting Bernard Jackson's autograph."
"I am three feet from getting Bernard Jackson's autograph."
"I am one foot from getting Bernard Jackson's autograph."
Brief panic set in when the kid who'd just received his piece of inked magic started acting like it was a hassle I didn't have a pen and was asking to borrow his. "No doubt one of those rough necks from the north side," I said to myself.
The dude reluctantly capitulated and Bernard signed.
I was so excited about this brush with greatness that I went back 10 minutes later to get an autograph for cousin John. Bernard knew I was a repeat customer and seemed slightly puzzled by it, but dutifully signed away.
THE COVETED SIGNATURE.
I lost John Wooden's. I would never lose Bernard Jackson's.
Our paths crossed on that damp April evening in 1972 because the Cougs were playing the Crimson and Gray Game at Joe Albi Stadium while the final stages of construction transformed burned out Rogers Field into Martin Stadium.
Bernard had wrapped up his senior season five months earlier and was about to launch what would be become a nine-year NFL career.
JACKSON SET A SLEW OF WSU RECORDS, INCLUDING MOST RUSHING YARDS IN A SEASON AND A CAREER.
That's because he was a human highlight reel -– at a time when Washington State fans were starving for something to cheer about. He was a slashing, dashing, rushing and returning bolt of electricity.
In 1971, five straight years of really bad football seemed to vanish every time he touched the ball. The Cougs pulled off one of the great upsets in all of college football that year when they defeated powerhouse Stanford. They followed it with a wild shootout over Oregon in which Bernard rushed for 261 yards and took a fake punt 46 yards for the winning score.
He was so good that right there in the middle of USC's Tailback U dynasty, this 165-pounder from ol' Wazzu was selected first-team all-Pac-8 and All-Coast.
In two seasons at WSU, Bernard set or tied 11 school records.
When he died of liver cancer in 1997, at age 46, former teammate Wallace Williams told Dan Weaver of the Spokesman-Review that Jackson was "The Franchise." Crosby Anderson called him "Our Hope." And Bill Moos, another teammate, said that Jackson was "as outstanding a running back as ever attended Washington State" but also a soft-spoken leader who kept the team together as racial tensions swept campuses across the nation.
A few weeks before that 1972 Crimson and Gray Game in Spokane, Bernard was picked in the fourth round of the NFL draft -- the 81st pick overall -- by the Cincinnati Bengals. Paul Brown moved him to defensive back, and he later became a mainstay on Denver's storied "Orange Crush" defense. He started in the 1978 Super Bowl.
Whether measuring the college or pro resume, Jackson is one of the greatest Cougar players ever. And yet for four decades his name somehow escaped the WSU Hall of Fame selection committee.
Earlier this month, when WSU announced the honorees for induction this fall, there was Bernard Jackson's name.
At long last.
He will be joined by Rien Long, Aaron Sele, Jim McKean, Dan Bertola, Kim Welch, Whitney Evans and Ian Campbell. The selections of Jackson and McKean, a basketball star of the 1960s, correct two glaring oversights in WSU's hall of fame history.
And it shouldn't be a surprise. Since taking over as athletic director, Moos has worked overtime to make up for hall of fame lapses. Luminaries such as Steve Ostermann, Jack Fanning, Doug Flansburg, Bud Roffler, Ron Bennick and Ray Sundquist all slipped through the cracks until Moos became AD.
When he talks about the importance of honoring the past, he clearly means it.
While WSU's major investment in facilities will no doubt be mentioned prominently whenever Moos himself is one day inducted into the hall of fame, it's his deep crimson roots and love of Washington State that will truly stand out. Nothing illustrates his passion for the school more than his quest to salute those who built the unique spirit that makes WSU so special.
FROM THE CF.C ARCHIVES: A quixotic quest to find Bernard Jackson results in the last, memorable interview of his life
JACKSON INTERCEPTS TERRY BRADSHAW IN 1977 AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME AS TEAMMATE TOM JACKSON LOOKS ON.