Back when the players on the field called the plays, he was the orchestrator of one of the greatest AFL defenses ever assembled. Now 42 years after taking his last snap in the pros Harry Jacobs is being honored as a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame induction class of 2012.
Jacobs was introduced in a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo as one of 14 honorees, all of whom will be inducted into the Hall this fall.
Knowing several of his former Bills teammates have also been bestowed the same honor, including teammate and fellow linebacker Mike Stratton, it gave Jacobs a sense of team all over again.
“That’s the most invigorating feeling of the whole thing,” said Jacobs. “It means more to me because once again I’m a member of the team that’s being honored for what we did all those years. We knew it would take all of us. That’s how we felt and that’s the way we were.”
Showing support for Jacobs at the press conference was his roommate during his playing days Ed Rutkowski. Bills Wall of Famer Booker Edgerson was also in attendance.
Jacobs ran Buffalo’s league-leading defense in its prime including the Bills’ AFL championship seasons of 1964 and 1965. Most of the players from those teams concur that the defense was the catalyst behind the repeat championship in ’65, which put an exclamation point on that season with a 23-0 shutout of San Diego in the championship game. The ’65 defense led the league in points allowed per game (16.1) interceptions (32), and gave up a league-best four rushing touchdowns all season.
Running that defense was Jacobs, who called all the plays in the defensive huddle.
Ironically, middle linebacker was a position Jacobs never played until his college career at Bradley was over. And the man who would coach Jacobs for the first half of his pro career was responsible.
Lou Saban, who was still coaching at Western Illinois at the time was named head coach of the College All-Star team in Chicago and they were to face the Baltimore Colts. Despite having an All-American middle linebacker from USC on his roster, Saban decided he would start Jacobs at middle backer. This despite the fact that Jacobs was an offensive tackle and defensive end.
“I’m sure the middle linebacker idea was planted in his mind in the four years I played against his Western Illinois team and I beat them up pretty bad,” he said. “Johnny Unitas was the Colts’ quarterback and that was the first game I ever played calling defenses. I started and played the whole game and made good calls and played well, according to Saban. Then I got drafted by Detroit and got picked up by Chicago and then to Boston back with Lou Saban and started in the very first AFL game.”
Saban eventually became coach of the Bills and brought Jacobs to Buffalo in 1963. He’s lived in Western New York ever since.
“Ralph Wilson did a wonderful thing bringing me to Buffalo,” said Jacobs. “Lou Saban obviously had a big hand in that, but Ralph kept me here. We’ve lived in the same home since I’ve been here and all three of our children were born and raised here. Same house since 1966.”
An active member and former president of the Bills Alumni Association, Jacobs still works full time at his wealth and succession management company ‘The Jacobs Team.’ His son now heads up the business.
An annual attendee of Bills Alumni weekend every fall, Jacobs intends to be there again in 2012 shortly before the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame honors him.
“About two or three years ago Mike Stratton and George Saimes on Alumni weekend both of them on the same day said they hadn’t recognized it then, but both thanked me for putting them in the right place at the right time every time. That meant an awful lot to me. We are still a team. We were a team then and we still are now.”
The date for Jacobs’ induction with his fellow honorees will be announced by the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame before the end of June.