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SUPER BOWL XXIX : COMMENTARY : He Already Answered the $838,000 Question

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If this isn’t the AntiClimax Bowl, as every San Francisco 49er player, coach, trainer, executive, secretary, scout, ballboy and cheerleader has staunchly maintained this week, how, then, do they explain Rickey Jackson?

If San Francisco beats San Diego Sunday, Jackson stands to make $42,000.

Two weeks ago, when San Francisco beat Dallas to qualify for the Super Bowl, Jackson pulled down $838,000.

That was the deal the 49ers agreed to in August when they took Jackson off the streets of New Orleans and made him the first six-time Pro Bowl linebacker, 13-year league veteran and probable first-ballot Hall of Famer to play for the minimum wage.

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Terms of Jackson’s free-agent contract were simple.

One full season: $162,000.

Win the NFC championship, we’ll give you a little bump. Call it an even million.

Call it an incentive clause. Or Santa Claus, delivering three weeks late. In order to squeeze Jackson in under an already straining salary cap, the 49ers offered as little on the front end as allowed, then backloaded the deal with a carrot--deductible from next year’s cap--the size of Coit Tower.

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Suffice it to say, Jackson has played with a keen focus down the stretch.

“That’s all (49er right tackle) Harris Barton talked about all year--'We got to get you your money,’ ” Jackson says. “The whole offensive line talked about it down the stretch. ‘We got to get to the Super Bowl for Rickey Jackson.’ ”

Bowling for dollars became Jackson’s clarion call, and “Beat Dallas” the penultimate TV quiz show. Grand prize: round trip to Miami, plus $838,000 in spending money.

Why, Jackson has been asked about 838,000 times the past three days, would a 36-year-old linebacker who compares himself favorably to Lawrence Taylor take such a gamble in his 14th and possibly final NFL season?

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He answers by talking about his nights on the town with new teammate, and two-time Super Bowl champion, Ken Norton Jr.

“We go out to dinner and he lets me try his ring on,” Jackson says.

He smiles wistfully.

“It fits perfect. I like to walk around with it. You can see it all the way across the room.

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“The diamonds stick out and light up. It’s a pretty shiny gold. It really makes you want one. Any time a guy can get one like that, that looks that pretty, it makes you want one.”

He wasn’t going to get one in New Orleans, where he had spent his entire career without winning a single playoff game. Not at 36, with Pat Swilling gone, Sam Mills gone and Jim Everett clambering on board as the Big Offseason Acquisition.

“New Orleans is in a rebuilding stage,” Jackson says. “I can’t see them going to the Super Bowl in the next few years. At this stage in my career, I didn’t have the time to wait.’

San Francisco became the place, and the idea first lodged in Jackson’s mind at last January’s Pro Bowl, where the 49ers now stop to shop.

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Before the game, Norton, Jackson, Deion Sanders and Richard Dent talked a bit about the Super Bowl. As in, how to get there via the path of least resistance.

“You figured it was either going to be the 49ers or Dallas,” Jackson says. “You know the 49ers have a great offense. All they’re looking for is a defense that can hold people. You give them that kind of defense and they’re the best team in football.”

Norton defected first and one by one the others followed.

“You got Ken Norton and Gary Plummer in the middle,” Jackson says, retracing the steps. “You got Richard Dent on one end. I came there on the other end. The secondary was already pretty good. You add Deion Sanders and you got an all-star team. A dynasty.”

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Jackson mentions his good friend and golfing partner Lawrence Taylor, Mr. Linebacker to the world after long career spent in the spotlight of New York and a pair of Super Bowls.

“I don’t think L.T. had a greater career than I did,” Jackson says matter-of-factly, “but he played in a lot more bigger games than I did. “I don’t think you can run on me or pass on me. L.T. could play the run whenever he wanted, just like I could. L.T. and me were the best two linebackers to play over the last 14 years.”

Sunday is Jackson’s first opportunity to prove it on the big stage.

So, no, if you’re asking, Superfluous Bowl XXIX won’t be anticlimactic to Rickey Jackson.

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Might as well go ahead and play the game then.


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