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Harry Jacobs the anchor of great Bills' defenses

This is the eighth in a series of Saturday stories profiling the Greater Buffalo Sports?Hall of Fame's Class of 2012.


The ring on Harry Jacobs' right hand isn't a Super Bowl ring. He didn't play in any of those, though he says his 1966 Buffalo Bills could have stayed with Bart Starr and the Packers in Super Bowl I, in a time when AFL-NFL supremacy was on the line.

It technically isn't an AFL Championship ring either – he gave those to his sons. This is an extra he had made later to commemorate his reign as the hawking leader of the Bills' defense that led the team to what are still its only titles in franchise history: the 1964 and '65 American Football League championships.

Jacobs, the unit's middle linebacker, will join several teammates in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame after being named to the 2012 induction class.

Jacobs was known for being one of the smartest players on the field in his day, knowing where to be at all times. He called the plays, not the coaches.

"They don't do that today," he says proudly. "Everything's called in. … Richie McCabe, one of the defensive coaches, he was asked one time, ‘Why don't you call the plays?' He said, ‘Every time I watch the film, Harry called 90 percent of what I would have called.' "

His teammates agreed.

"Mike Stratton, who was my right linebacker, and George Saimes, who was my free safety, both in one of the alumni games thanked me for putting them in the right place at the right time, every time," Jacobs says.

"They exaggerated a little bit," he adds with a smile, "but I was glad to hear it."

Jacobs was born in Canton, Ill. in 1937 and played college football at nearby Bradley. He came into the professional ranks with the Boston Patriots when the AFL began in 1960, and his ticket into the new league was Boston coach Lou Saban, who was hired from college rival Western Illinois.

"I killed them on defense, so he brought me in to be the middle linebacker," Jacobs says. He played at defensive end in college.

Boston fired Saban in his second year with the team. Bills owner Ralph Wilson brought Saban to Buffalo the following year after firing his first coach, Buster Ramsey. With Saban at the helm, the Bills purchased Jacobs from Boston in 1963.

Jacobs developed great chemistry with outside linebackers Stratton and John Tracey. During the AFL title years, the three led the defense to a string of 17 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher (teams averaged 109 yards per game on the ground in 1965).

The unit would go on to set the record for most consecutive games played by a linebacking unit at 62.

"That record will never get broken," Jacobs says. "[Today's players] don't play that way."

Jacobs retired in 1970 after a brief stint with the New Orleans Saints, and is one of only about 20 players to play in the AFL throughout its entire history (some sources have a lower figure because they discredit players who missed a season due to injury).

Jacobs returned to Buffalo after retirement and has stayed here since. His reasoning was simple: "It's a great place to raise a family." He and his wife, Kay, have lived in the same Hamburg home for the last half-century.

Jacobs signs his emails as "Coach," though he's never coached an athletic team.
"I coach businesses," he says.

The Jacobs Team coaches small, usually family-owned businesses through its business succession strategy, also going into areas like risk management and investment strategies. The organization was established even before Jacobs retired from the NFL: pro football wasn't enough to pay the bills back then, he says.

Jacobs considers himself a born-again Christian and talks more about his faith than anything else. He doesn't mind that nearly a dozen of his former teammates are already in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Come Oct. 17, they'll be reunited with their middle linebacker.


The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame's 22nd annual induction dinner will be held Oct. 17 at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom. Tickets are sold out. To purchase auxiliary seating, call Tina Pastwick at 693-3807.