Wilbur Jackson, the first black player to be offered a football scholarship at the University of Alabama, played running back from 1970-73 in Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s newly implemented wishbone offense. In his three years’ playing at Alabama, Jackson accumulated 1529 yards rushing and 17 rushing touchdowns, helping Alabama win the 1973 national championship.
Jackson continued playing football in the NFL as a first-round draft pick for the San Francisco 49ers, ending his career with the Washington Redskins and a Super Bowl victory.
Gameday: Talk about your recruitment to Alabama.
Wilbur Jackson: I was recruited by Pat Dye. He had this region of the Southeast at the time, and my high school had two players being recruited by Alabama at the time. He just came and checked on them, and my high school coach showed him some film of me, and then I was offered, and that’s how it happened.
*GD: What was like it playing under Coach Bryant?
WJ: It was interesting. He was tough, he was hard, he was fair. He didn’t play favorites. It was an experience I look back to now, and it’s something I’m glad I had. It was some tough times, but you look back now, and you sure are glad to have it.
GD: What is the greatest moment you had as a football player here?
WJ: That’d be very tough, and every time someone asks me that question, I hang up the phone and as soon as I do, I think about something else. I’d think probably the relationships I made when I was there. You met so many guys, and became friends. And even now, you still call them friends. But I’d say off the field, that was my best memory here.
*GD: Alabama’s about to play their first game of the season. Could you talk about the feelings you had leading up to the first game of the season as a player?
WJ: You know, it was always a sense of a relief. You go through spring training, summer workouts, then fall practice… it was just a lot of hard work, and finally, finally you get a chance to play somebody else and measure yourself and see how you’ve done. So I’d just say it was a huge relief.
*GD: You’ve talked about your feelings leading up to the game, but what was it like actually playing in it?
WJ: The first game was always the beginning. When I was there, the talk was always about a national championship. There was no BCS back then, so there were four things always on your mind: winning the conference championship, going undefeated, getting into a major bowl and getting to play on New Year’s Day. And it all started with that first day, so you felt like your entire season hinged on that first game, so there was always that anticipation.
*GD: Talk about winning a national championship at Alabama.
WJ: It was great. It’s almost like it is now. Everybody’s going for the same goal. For a lot of schools it was unrealistic, but at that time, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Ohio State, Nebraska, Oklahoma all had a legitimate shot to win. And Coach Bryant would always talk about the teams in the ‘60s that had won a championship, and we all wanted to live up to those teams. Even now, I sit down and watch a game, and my hands are all sweaty because I know what all the players have gone through. I know what their ultimate goal is.
*GD: You’ve won a national championship, now what do you think Alabama’s chances are that it will win its 14th this year?
WJ: I can’t speak odds, but I think we have a good chance, but I don’t want to jinx it. There’s a lot of big expectations there, but I’m sure Saban’s put it in their heads, let’s win the first game, then worry about the second game the second week, the third game the third week. And I’m sure that’s their mindset right now.