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“Normally, when you look at his numbers, you look at sacks, but I don’t know if you had anyone better as far as run defense,” Hebert continued. “I was most impressed with his overall toughness and how he could handle double teams from tight ends and tackles and keep his lane and keep containment.”

Jackson’s reputation for toughness was cemented both on and off the field. After a game in 1989, Jackson was driving home in a Corvette when he smashed into the back of a flatbed truck. His car was demolished and he was hospitalized with a broken cheek bone.

Jackson’s jaw was wired shut and he was supposed to miss four to six weeks, but instead missed only two games.

“He almost got decapitated,” Swilling recalled. “He’s tough as nails, but I couldn’t believe he showed up and played in that game _ and played well. And I still can’t believe it.”

Jackson played without thigh or knee pads, which he believed slowed him down. Hebert remembered Jackson sometimes stuffing small kitchen sponges in his pants where the pads would normally go.

Jackson said he wore small shoulder pads, too. Yet he missed only two of 229 regular season games in his career.

The Saints were coming off a 1-15 season when they selected Jackson in the second round of the 1981 draft out of Pittsburgh, where Jackson played end along with Hugh Green.

Rather than lamenting the fact that he’d start his pro career with an NFL laughingstock that had never had a winning season when he arrived, Jackson said, “I thought I was going to be the best defensive player in the league and turn everything around. That’s the only attitude you can have.”

That approach was in character for someone who gave himself the City Champ nickname when he was a three-sport standout _ football, basketball (power forward) and baseball (first base) _ in his native Pahokee, Fla.

Sure enough, the Saints went to the playoffs for the first time _ and three more times _ while Jackson was their top defensive star.

Jackson never won a playoff game with New Orleans, but spent the last two years of his career with San Francisco, where he won a Super Bowl.

Even while he was with the 49ers, Jackson maintained his affection for New Orleans. In his first game back in the Louisiana Superdome as a visiting player, he knelt at midfield and kissed the black-and-gold fleur-de-lis.

“I came and kissed it, man, because I bleed black-and-gold,” said Jackson, who now has a business supplying commercial customers in south Louisiana with oil and gas and who still joins Swilling and Johnson for Dome Patrol autograph sessions. “It wasn’t business with me. … I was more old school. This is my team, this is where my heart’s at, and the only thing I want is for the Saints to win.”