I was personally blown away yesterday by the news that former Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson bought it big time Friday night on a lonely highway in Louisiana.
I (as a lowly cub reporter) used to interview Michael Jackson at his favorite post-practice restaurant named McCafferty’s on Sulgrave Avenue in the Mount Washington section of Baltimore. The guy was so open to questions and so relaxed in answering them, we often wound up eating dinner together. He was a genuine dude.
He knew that I was a genetic Eagles fan—but he didn’t care about that. All he did was praise the Eagles organization, and compared it to what Ted Marchibroda was doing at the time for the Ravens. He found intrinsic similarities between the team philosophies of the 1998-era Eagles and the Ravens, both of which at the time were indeed on their way to some ground-breaking stuff in the NFL in the 2000’s.
I secretly hoped the Eagles would eventually pick up Michael Jackson in free agency after he left the Ravens in 1998.
Jackson, who established several Ravens franchise receiving records in 1996 and had the best season of his eight-year NFL career that year, was killed early last Friday morning in a motorcycle accident in his hometown of Tangipahoa, Louisiana. He was 48 years old.
During the Ravens’ first season in Baltimore in 1996, quarterback Vinny Testaverde led an offense that was one of the most prolific in the NFL and still stands as one of the highest-scoring groups in franchise history. On the receiving end of many of Testaverde’s passes that season was Michael Jackson, a tall and slender Louisiana native with a wide smile and a warm disposition.
Jackson spent three seasons with the Ravens from 1996 to 1998, accumulating 183 catches for 2,596 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 1,201 receiving yards and league-high-tying 14 touchdown receptions in 1996 are single-season franchise records.
“Today, our hearts are saddened by the awful news involving Michael,” said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who was in the Cleveland Browns’ scouting department when they made Jackson a sixth-round draft pick in 1991. “He was a vibrant person who became one of the first Ravens heroes and a popular player among Baltimore fans. Well known for his big smile and welcoming nature, it was easy to feel a special connection with Michael.”
Jackson was deeper than the casual fan knew— he was intensely interested in politics, and he also had a side business in the development of contemporary music acts. He even built his own recording studio during his time in Baltimore.
He became a free agent after an injury-plagued 1998 season, and after a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks, Jackson decided to retire at age 30. He returned to Tangipahoa, Louisiana, where he ultimately served one term as mayor from 2009 to 2012.
“He had a big, beautiful smile all the time,” said former NFL tight end Brian Kinchen, who was Jackson’s teammate for the receiver’s entire career, first with the Cleveland Browns and then the Ravens. “There was an upbeat thing about him that made us all fortunate to be his teammates. It’s easy to see how Michael became mayor; he had a personality where everybody was his friend.”
According to a news release from the Louisiana State Police, Jackson was riding a 2013 Kawasaki motorcycle northbound on US 51 in the village of Tangipahoa at a “high rate of speed,” at approximately 1 a.m. last Friday. A 2014 Chevrolet Malibu, driven by Destiny Alexus Gordon of Kentwood, backed out of a parking space across both lanes of the highway and into the path of Jackson’s motorcycle. The motorcycle crashed into the driver’s side door and “penetrated into the driver’s compartment of the Malibu,” according to the release. Gordon, 20, was also killed in the collision.