RIP Vincent Jackson: A man who walked so that Mike Evans could run

There’s been so much celebration over the last 12 days for Bucs Nation, but at the start of this week we were brought crashing down to earth with the news of Vincent Jackson’s passing.

The former second round pick out of Northern Colorado came to Tampa from the Chargers in 2012, the middle of our barren playoff drought.

But he hit the ground running with a Pro Bowl year, racking up 1,384 yards and 8 TDs.

He went on to score 20 times for the Bucs and set a single game franchise record of 216 yards against the Saints.

But pure stats don’t tell half of the story when it comes to V-Jax — Even though from 2008 to 2014 he had six years of 1000+ yds. That’s upper echelons good.

Jackson was a leader, a man with incredible work ethic, who didn’t fit in to the 5–11 mould that so many veterans filled when joining the Bucs in the 21st century.

At 6’5 and 230 lbs, running a 4.46 40, he could make plays on his own, briefly making substandard QBs look like greats.

As a fan, he presented hope that sunny days could be ahead. He became a team captain in his second year and carried the franchise through two years in 2013 and 2014 where the team went 6–26.

Ask a Bucs fan about V-Jax and they’ll talk about one of three things: A certain play, a certain mentoring or a certain charity.

First the play: There was one bright spot in that horrendous 2014 season and naturally, #83 was in the middle of it. In week 4 against the Steelers, the Bucs needed to show something. The week before, there was a 56–14 shellacking on primetime at the hands of the Falcons (it was 56–0 at the end of the third quarter).

No-one gave the Bucs a chance, they’d never beaten the Steelers in the road in franchise history. But with 50 seconds on the clock in a four point game, Mike Glennon navigated his way to the five yard line.

With 12 seconds left, Jackson did this. The route, the dive, the grab. The only WR on the offense that day who could have done that.

Earlier on in that game, a certain Mike Evans caught his first career TD, an eight-yard high ball that showed a glimpse of the red zone monster we’d see in the years to come.

Evans was mentored in that rookie year by Jackson. Even though it meant a reduction in his own numbers, Jackson was happy to help the #7 pick, another sign of his utmost professionalism as a team mate.

And I’ve managed to go almost 500 words without mentioning probably the most impressive stat when it comes to Jackson and the Bucs.

Four years in a row he was the team’s nomination for the Walter Payton MOTY award. He gave so much to the Tampa community and created his own foundation, Jackson in Action 83.

It helped children whose parents were in the military, echoing Jackson’s own experiences as a child.

Jackson was a true Bucs great, in an era where greatness lacked across the whole franchise.

Many words in the weeks to come may be written about Jackson’s final months, and the tragedy that unfurled. This is not a place for that.

This is a fan remembering everything that the man gave to his favourite team — And a small thing he did for me personally, that means the world.

In 2011, the Bucs travelled to London for a Wembley game against the Bears, and a family friend was working on the plane that chartered the team to Heathrow.

Knowing how much of a fan I was and wanting to surprise me, she asked the team to sign a card. Only three players obliged.

The only one that was personalised? Front and centre, with the biggest font? V-Jax.

It remains pride of place in my old bedroom, 10 years on.

RIP #83.

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Tom Bloomfield

Tom Bloomfield

Tom is a long-suffering Bucs fan that was thrown the biggest bone in the world after 18 years. He writes about the NFL and the Bucs with a slight UK perspective