The day before Christmas, and the day after, was spent in close company with an overheated television set. The pictures were memorable. The robot, Statz, again proved his heart is all wire. He did not bite the girl on the ear. The other robot, Jimmy the Greek, predicted Anwar Sadat would replace George Allen. Or something. We saw Chuck Foreman give this all, and we saw the Cowboy's cheerleaders almost give us their all. But the best was Tom Jackson.
He's a linebacker for the Denver Bronos. His name may be only vaguely familiar to that part of the world which knows of football players only from what it reads. No demons have moved him to set his hair on fire or advocate the decapitation of ball carriers. So he gets human-being ink, which ain't much. More's the pity, because this guy can flat play.
Somewhere toward the denouement of the Denven-Pittsburgh game last weekend, Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw an absolutely perfect pass. he needed to. Time was escaping and Denver was leading. The pass would fly to Lynn Swann, a magician afoot, and who knows where Swann would take the ball? A touchdown?A 28-27 lead late in the game?
This absolutely perfect pass was suddenly, incredibly, interrupted by a hand 10 feet in the air. The hand was Tom Jackson's. He had no business doing that. The play would take place 15 yards behind him. Put Jackson leaped. he stretched his left hand high. It collided with the speeding ball. The ball bounced straight up. Coming down, it landed in Jackson's arms. The interception led to a touchdown that made the Broncos 34-21 winners.
The best part came seconds after the interception. It was Jackson's smile. Born of pure joy it was. We might smile about an accomplishment. We've earned a piece of happiness. But it's different somehow when joy takes over. The smile comes quickly, out of control, and if you're Tom Jackson, you jump up and down and keep smiling. Even a man is thousand miles away, nailed to his easy chair, is moved to foolishness: he sees in Jackson's joy a sign that the Broncos can do wonders.
If the Broncos hope to win the Super Bowl, they'll need whatever extraterrestial help is available. Come Sunday here, they'll play the Oakland Raiders for the American Footabll Conference championship, the winner moving on to the Super Bowl. Tom Jackson, for one, believes in wonders.
"Even time we play the Raiders," he said, "it's like the guys in white hats ride in and have a shoot-out with the guys in black hats with the patches over their eyes." The Raiders' organization logo has a pair of swords crossed behind an unfriendly fellow wearing an eye-patch.
"Everybody and anybody who's ever been an underdog will be rooting for us," Jackson said. "They want to see Cinderella get her slipper back." On a metaphorical hot streak, the linebacker then said, "They to see the sheriff come in and clean up the town . . . I have this inner feeling that no matter what happens, we'll win. They'll come in and play good, but it doesn't matter. We'll win."
By intercepting seven of Ken Staber's passes, Denver beat Oakland, 30-7, early this season. Two weeks later, Oakland won at Denver, 24-14. In the first game, Jackson was a star, both on the field and on the sideline where he led the Broncos in taunts at the suffering Raiders. Among other things, he called Oakland coach John madeen "fat man," but then no one ever said taunts ought to be subtle.
This week Jackson expanded on his feelings about the Raiders.
"I hate him," he said. "They won the world championship playing viscious, brutal football. I don't like the Oakland organization or the way they do things."
Er. did Jackson know what his words would look like in cold type?
"They know how I feel about them."
In Jackson's five seasons as a pro. Oakland has a 7-2-1 record against Denver. He says words mean nothing now, that the decision will grow out of physical skills. And the little guy - selling insurance, anybody 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds is too big for your kitchen chair but at linebacker he's a lot - is afraid Oakland is too big for the Broncos.
Stabler "is the best quarterback in the game." Jackson said. One reason is "his offensive line, those 275-pound and 300-pound guys, gives him more time to pass than anybody else gets." It's not the passing that worries Jackson most, though.
Denver's quick, agile defenders controlled Pittsburg's running ame last weekend, even rendering Franco Harris mortal. "But I'd probably rather play Franco and Mark van Eeghen," he said, naming Oakland's 1,237-yard ginner. "We have the speed to nab a Franco when he tries to run away, but van Eeghen hits us where we are possibly weakest - in physical strength. They get those 275-pounders in front of him and he puts his head down and goes five, six yards, whatever it takes."
Jackson even dares mention that unmentionable - defeat.
"We've got to get them out of their running game.If they can run on us, they'll win."
Then he smiled, this time out of accomplishment. "If we win, it'll be another great part of a great year. And if we lose, it'll be the end of a super year and you just can't be disappointed with everything we've done. Next year will be something to look forward to."