On July 7, 1969 the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles completed a seemingly minor transaction. The Eagles sent RB Israel “Izzy” Lang to
for second-year WR Harold Jackson and rookie DE John Zook. Zook was immediately
dealt by the Eagles to Atlanta along with DT
Frank Molden, DB John Mallory, and a draft pick for LB Jim Purnell, who the
Falcons had only recently obtained from Chicago
(and who was, in turn, dealt to the Rams shortly thereafter).
LA’s running back corps had been badly depleted by injury in ’68 and especially missed HB Les Josephson, who was lost for the year with a foot injury. It was hoped that the 27-year-old Lang would provide a suitable running mate for FB Dick Bass. At 232 pounds, he fit Head Coach George Allen’s preference for big backs. In five years with the Eagles, mostly in a reserve role, Lang rushed for 872 yards on 244 carries (3.6 avg.) and caught 63 passes for 554 more yards. More of a natural fullback, he had also seen action at halfback and, while he had briefly started, fell behind FB Tom Woodeshick on the depth chart and finally requested a trade.
This followed an earlier transaction in which the Rams obtained All-Pro OT Bob Brown from the Eagles. At that time, CB Irv Cross returned to Philadelphia, where he had played his first five seasons before being dealt to Los Angeles, and he gave a favorable scouting report on Harold Jackson, an obscure backup receiver.
Izzy Lang was ultimately a disappointment with the Rams, lasting just one season and carrying the ball only once. Josephson’s successful return to the lineup, combined with the arrival of HB Larry Smith, kept him on the bench and he retired after the season. John Zook proved valuable in Atlanta, lasting seven years and gaining selection to one Pro Bowl before moving on to the Cardinals.
Harold Jackson moved directly into the starting lineup for the Eagles, who were attempting to rebuild once again under a new owner (Leonard Tose), general manager (Pete Retzlaff), and head coach (Jerry Williams). He caught his first touchdown pass in the second week against the Steelers (a game in which veteran WR Ben Hawkins caught four TD passes) and two weeks later had a hundred-yard receiving game against the Colts (8 catches, 138 yards), which became the first of three consecutive and a total of five for the year. When it was all over,
had caught 65 passes for a league-leading 1116 yards (17.2 avg.) and nine
touchdowns. He was selected for the Pro Bowl – a huge accomplishment for a
player who had been on his team’s practice squad a year earlier.
The Eagles were seeking to revitalize the offense under a new head coach in 1973 and
was traded back to the Rams along with RB Tony Baker and three high draft
choices for veteran QB Roman Gabriel. With a LA club that had a conservative
offense but was also much better than the Eagles overall, Jackson had an outstanding year in ’73 –
while his 40 catches were 22 fewer than his league-leading total of 1972, they
were good for 874 yards and a 21.9-yard average plus a NFL-topping 13
touchdowns. Along the way, he burned the Cowboys for 238 yards and four TDs on
7 catches in a game at the Memorial Coliseum. Afterward, he was not only
selected to his third Pro Bowl but received consensus first-team All-NFL
Jackson’s second stint in Los Angeles lasted for five years and, while he never again caught as many as 50 passes in a single season (more a reflection of the era he played in and LA’s offensive style than his talent), he was still highly regarded and was selected twice more for the Pro Bowl, in 1975 and ’77. From there it was on to New England, where he stayed for four years, his best coming in 1979 when he caught 45 passes for 1013 yards (a career-high 22.5 avg.) and seven touchdowns at age 33.
Following inconsequential stops in
and Seattle, Jackson’s career came to an end in 1983. At
that point he had caught 579 passes and his 10,372 yards ranked second only to
Don Maynard in NFL history at the time. A low-key individual who was too often
overlooked, he was very consistent and certainly justified Philadelphia’s interest in 1969.