Glance Back

Though he is now 45 years old, John Jefferson is still, in certain respects, much like he was when he was 25.<p>

A simple phone conversation with him is sure to elicit laughter at some point - for "J.J." answers questions on various topics today with the same enthusiasm and joy that he exhibited on the football field in the late '70's and early '80's.

A trip to his office will show that he currently spends his professional time on NFL matters just as he did as a player in league for three teams over an eight-year span.

Finally, a belief in the power of mind over matter is what he guides others by after it guided him some 20 years ago as an athlete.

Likable, approachable, and insightful – that is Jefferson.

Packer fans during the "lean" years, that period which fell between Super Bowl II and the beginning of the Mike Holmgren era, might remember Jefferson and a brief moment or two in the sun. The ex-Packer wide receiver made his contribution to Titletown lining up opposite James Lofton from 1981-1984 in Green Bay.

Jefferson currently is in his second year with the Washington Redskins as the team's Director of Player Development. According to the Redskins' media guide, his responsibilities include "the integration of players into professional football, encouraging their educational development, and acting as a counselor to both rookies and veterans as needed." He also sets up programs for players in the off-season which will help them off the field and after their playing careers are over.

"We're just trying to give them the things we wish we had," said Jefferson from Redskins' headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia. "We wish this program existed back when we played – where you can actually sit down and talk to someone. Like in my case, where you would of had somebody you could go to. It really wasn't ‘coach,' and you wouldn't consider front office, but somebody you could talk to and lead you on a straight path and maybe think twice about this decision. I have those types of conversations with gu ys, and I think it's been very beneficial."

Jefferson has also been known to show up on the Redskins' practice field and sidelines on occasion, where he assists in a coach-like capacity.

As a player in the NFL from 1978-1985, Jefferson had his most productive and prolific years with the San Diego Chargers (1978-80) playing with quarterback Dan Fouts, wide receiver Charlie Joiner, and tight end Kellen Winslow. He was a part of one of the NFL's all-time great offenses there.

"I have very pleasant memories of those years. There was great excitement in the air," said Fouts in a 1985 L.A. Times article. "J.J. was the first real superstar I played with in the mature part of my career. He could infect a team and a stadium with his enthusiasm."

Jefferson did the same in Green Bay, where he has fond memories.

"Just being around the guys was a lot of fun, but the peak would have to be that playoff game," he said. "One of the things I wanted when I arrived was to get back to the playoffs with the Packers."

Jefferson is referring to a Jan. 9, 1983, playoff contest between the Packers and the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field. That day was special to Jefferson and the team for many reasons. Though the regular season was cut short by a players' strike, the Packers returned to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years by virtue of their 5-3-1 regular season mark. They made it worth the wait, too, as quarterback Lynn Dickey and Co. launched an aerial assault worthy of a 41-16 victory and a trip to Dallas to play the Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Final. Packer fans went wild, and that day marked the last time to date that the goal posts have come down at Lambeau Field.

Jefferson shined in the big victory with six catches and two touchdowns. His first touchdown was a 60-yard post play that helped him set a Packer playoff record of 148 yards receiving. The record still stands today. Jefferson's performance that day was the best of his Packer career.

In the week leading up to the playoff game, Jefferson talked about getting more involved in the offense and making it more diverse. Though he was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 1982 season with teammates Lofton and tight end Paul Coffman, he caught just 27 passes in eight games with no touchdowns. The Packer passing attack started with Lofton and was tailored for him, and eventually that contributed to Jefferson leaving the Packers in 1985.

Football career ends in '85

Prior to the 1985 season, the Packers had essentially no contact with Jefferson or his agent on reaching a new contract agreement. He had told the Packers after the 1984 season that he wanted to be traded, and thus became a low priority on the team's agenda. He was soon shipped to the Cleveland Browns where he thought he had a chance to be the primary receiver. It never worked out, though, and he was cut by the Browns during the last month of the 1985 season, essentially ending his playing career.

"I really would have liked to finish up in Green Bay," said Jefferson. "There were issues where you try to get a bigger role, you talk about that with your coordinator and all that. I just wanted to play a bigger part in what was going on."

A knee scope Jefferson had in Green Bay, just before he went to Cleveland, also contributed to his retirement. It showed some of the wear and tear that the 6-foot-1, 204-pound receiver was dealing with from years of playing and taking shots over the middle. Jefferson always was driven by effort and enthusiasm as a player, not necessarily by his speed or strength.

"It takes awhile for your body to catch up with your mind," said Jefferson. "Your mind is always fresh. I was kind of unable to do the things that I knew I should have been capable of doing. I stayed in the training room more than I did on the field."

Furthermore, Jefferson's exit from Green Bay was similar to that in San Diego. He failed to report to Chargers' training camp in 1981 because, as it was reported, he wanted to renegotiate his contract. He was traded to the Packers three games into the 1981 season, where he received a four-year deal worth between $275,000 and $300,000 a season. Jefferson says today, however, that the money was not the sole reason he left.

"It was time for me to leave. It was kind of a parting of the ways," he said. "It was a marriage that didn't go well, and it was time for me to get out of it. There are no hard feelings."

In his first game as a Packer, Jefferson began with a bang. A "high-five" with Lofton during player introductions got the Milwaukee County Stadium crowd fired up, and Jefferson further excited the fans with seven catches for 121 yards. The prolific quartet of Dickey, Coffman, Jefferson, and Lofton helped the Packers win six of their last eight games in 1981, helping spring optimism for next year.

The Packers, however, were not able to make the playoffs but once during Jefferson's era because as he said, they "did not have the balance" to be a consistent contender. His individual numbers were much lower than those he had in San Diego, where he twice led the league in touchdowns (13) and became the first wideout in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in his first three years in the league.

"We could have done a lot better job, I thought, in the passing game," said Jefferson. "I think we were still feeling each other out. I thought that (head coach) Bart Starr started to get a grip on the players. They were making a change with a new coordinator and everything, so we started over again, but I have no complaints."

Jefferson described playing in Green Bay as "kind of like coming back to college," which was where he returned after his playing career ended. He was living back in his native Texas when his old coach of one season (1984), Forrest Gregg, gave him a call. He wanted Jefferson to help him at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, where he was the head coach.

"They were on the death penalty at the time," said Jefferson. "They had all walk-ons more or less. So he asked me if I would come out and help him out."

Jefferson assisted Gregg wherever he could. Southern Methodist had been hit with the harshest of penalties by the NCAA for various violations and was trying to dig itself out of a large hole, back to respectability.

The University of Kansas caught on to what Jefferson was doing at SMU, and they hired him to be their wide receivers coach. Jefferson loved coaching, but it was demanding on his time during a period when his two children, Tiffany, and John, II, were growing up. Thus, after five seasons as receivers coach, he moved into an administrative role with Kansas as the Director of Student-Athlete Life. It was a position he held until he joined the Redskins in March of 2000.

Because he mostly used his smarts to get open as a receiver and not his athletic ability, Jefferson is a natural in communicating and dealing with today's players in his administrative role. With the Redskins, he is helping those younger than him to use their minds to get ahead in life outside of football.

The last time Jefferson was in Green Bay, he witnessed his old team thump the Redskins, 37-0, on Sept. 24. He was happy to return to Green Bay and still keeps one eye on how the Packers are doing.

"After your time is gone, you just follow them, but you don't live and die with all this stuff," he said. "So I still follow them and wish them well, like when they play the Bears, of course."

Jefferson still speaks like a true Packer, too. Add "dislike of the Bears" to the list of how he is much like he was 20 years ago.

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