Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson is forever scarred by fatal car crash
There’s a story behind the hairline scar that splits the right eyebrow of Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson and runs down to his eyelid. It dates to the mid-1970s when he was a kid growing up in Los Angeles and an accident that nearly cost him his life.
Jackson never saw the police report, so he doesn’t know if his father or the other driver was at fault. Either way, as a 9-year-old, he was involved in a head-on collision on Highway 111, about a four-hour drive east of Los Angeles, while riding in his father’s Cadillac.
They were towing a boat, as they had been fishing at the Salton Sea, a weekend trip they often took.
The memories come back to him in metal-on-metal sounds and mental snapshots, a terrifying mosaic.
“I remember the lady in the other car died on instant impact,” said Jackson, 52. “She was in the passenger seat. I was in the passenger seat of my dad’s car. The motor came through the car and hit me in the face.”
Jackson’s next recollection: “I remember a guy asking if he could pray for me. I remember my dad saying yes. I tried to touch my face, and they said, ‘Don’t touch your face.’ Because my eyelid had been totally severed.”
Jackson recalled the tragedy this week in a phone call with The Times, during a break from preparation for Sunday’s home game against the Chargers. The revival of the Browns is among the feel-good stories of this young NFL season, a franchise that had won one game in the past two seasons and is now 2-2-1 with three games that have gone overtime.
Now, Jackson faces a team that bears the name of his hometown. He used to be a yellow-jacketed security guard for Los Angeles Raiders games at the Coliseum, used to sneak into Lakers games at the Forum, and routinely talked his way into the exclusive Forum Club to hobnob with the floor-seats crowd.
He was a high school quarterback at Dorsey and played for Glendale Community College and University of the Pacific before embarking on a long coaching career in college and the pros that included a year (2011) as head coach of the Raiders.
Jackson is acutely aware his life could have ended on that stretch of two-lane highway.
“Oh, yeah. No doubt,” he said. “Being in the hospital, I remember my mother — because for the first three days, I was out of it — I remember her not leaving my side for the first three days, before they transferred me from Palm Springs back to Kaiser in Los Angeles.”
His nightmares were so vivid and constant that he sought comfort by sleeping with his parents the next three months. Also, he could not bear the sound of a slamming car door.
“I just remember being trapped and not being able to get out,” he said.
Then, there was the scar.
“I was teased about it in high school a ton,” he said. “You play with some type-A personality guys, and they see that. Because at the time, the scars were lacerations that were still thick. Guys would always tease and say I have ‘booty skin,’ like they must have cut something off my butt and put it on my face.
“At the time, I didn’t think it was funny because I knew what I had been through. But now that I’ve gotten much older, I kind of laugh about it. I don’t think people understood all the things I went through as a young kid, just working through that.”
As for the memories?
“I’ve kind of let them go,” he said. “I’ve probably kind of buried things along the way, as I lost my dad and mom. But you have kids, so you kind of think of those things when your kids are driving, doing things for the first time, traveling. That’s when those memories come back.”
Like the line through his brow, which has faded and mellowed with age, they will be with him forever.
Through the first five weeks of the season, the NFL is off to a high-scoring and competitive start. A look at some of the numbers:
►3,739 points scored are the most through Week 5 in NFL history (3,566 in 2011 and 2013).
►424 touchdowns are the most through Week 5 in NFL history (404, 2015).
►275 touchdown passes are the most through Week 5 in NFL history (247 in 2013 and 2014).
►The margin of victory through Week 5 is 9.96 points per game. That would be the lowest for a full season in 86 years, since the NFL record was set in 1932 (9.13).
►45 games have been decided by one possession (eight points or fewer) — tied for most in NFL history through Week 5 (1999).
►2018 marks the first time there has been at least one overtime game in each of the first five weeks of the season since the regular-season overtime rule was instituted in 1974.
►Eight overtime games tie for the most through Week 5 since the regular-season overtime rule was instituted in 1974 (1983, 2002).
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
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