Best known for his interception to help the Huskies seal the deal in Pasadena in 1978, Michael Jackson went on to set Washington tackling records that may never be broken. Now, he works at a nonprofit that helps fight homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, and other issues affecting people from birth through age 24.
The night before the 1978 Rose Bowl, Washington star linebacker Michael Jackson had a dream.
In the dream it was late in the game, and Washington needed a big play on defense.
“But the dream didn’t end,” Jackson said. “(Michigan quarterback Rick Leach) never threw the ball, he never ran the ball. He just rolled that way, and I was covering the guy and I had to make a decision. I had to figure out what I was going to do.”
The next day, Washington had squandered almost all of a 24-0 lead to Michigan. The Wolverines trailed 27-20 with a minute and a half to go at the Husky 8. Leach rolled out, threw to receiver Stanley Edwards, who juggled the ball and Jackson swooped into steal it.
“I remember thinking, I have seen this before,” said Jackson.
Michigan ended up getting one final chance, which also ended in an interception, but it is Jackson’s interception that is the defining play in a game in which the Huskies were two touchdown underdogs.
Jackson went on to set Washington tackling records that may never be broken and led the Seahawks in tackles for three straight seasons (1980-82) during an eight-year NFL career. But he will always be remembered as the guy who saved the 1978 Rose Bowl for UW, still considered one of the biggest moments in Seattle sports history.
“The interception was really great, and I am proud of that,” said Jackson, 61, who lives in Kirkland. “That play, I think, is what people remember about me. That was a really great play, but it wasn’t my best game. The game we played that year against USC, we beat them 28-10, that was the best game I ever played.”
In that game against the Trojans, Jackson had two interceptions, 15 tackles and a fumble recovery. But he had many big games and was one of the best defensive players in school history. He still holds the school record for tackles in a game (29 twice), season (219) and career (578), records that seems unbreakable.
“I am pretty proud of that,” Jackson said. “I brag about that quite a bit.”
And he would have been doing it for Washington State if he’d had his wish. Jackson grew up as a big WSU fan while growing up in Pasco and dearly wanted to play there. But WSU coach Jim Sweeney told Jackson he would not be good enough to play his first two seasons.
And when new UW coach Don James told Jackson he would have a chance to play as a freshman if he came to Washington, he was sold.
Jackson was taken in the third round of the 1979 draft by the Seahawks, deciding to retire after the 1986 season when he lost his starting job before that season.
“At the time, it was great,” Jackson said of his tenure with the Seahawks. “But right now, it kind of sucks, because I hurt.”
Jackson became an actor after his career, with roles in “about 15 movies and TV shows.” He often played villains, something he enjoyed doing.
“Maybe that is the dark side of me,” said Jackson.
A funny thing to hear from someone who spent a great portion of his life helping others.
“I went to a real job (after acting), something you can count on,” Jackson said. “You have to take care of your family and pay your bills.”
He got a job with his church as a youth director, then taught third grade at a private school “before they ran me out of there after two years. You talk about a tough crowd. Those kids are hard.”
He has been development director at Nexus Youth and Families, a nonprofit organization, since 2014.
“It is the most rewarding work I have ever done,” Jackson said. “We work with homeless kids, do drug and alcohol treatment. And we do mental health therapy for kids birth through 24.
“I feel like I am one of the most privileged people out there. I have been blessed. I had great parents and a great family, and I am just trying to find a way to give back to the community that supported me so much.”
Jackson has been married to wife Kathy for 29 years and has four children, ranging from 36 to 49, and eight grandkids.
He still cherishes his time at UW and says, “I am a Husky for life.”
“It was a dream come true,” Jackson said. “They don’t write movies like this one.”