Mike Jackson was the unsung hero of the Ernie and Bernie Era at the University of Tennessee. He was the home state hero who was overshadowed by the duo from New York who made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Wednesday at the Big Orange Tipoff Club luncheon at Calhoun's on the River in Downtown Knoxville, however, he proved that the sweet memories from those years are very much alive in his heart and in the hearts of all those who came to hear him relive them with them. Jackson was the featured speaker for the Tennessee Basketball booster club's weekly gathering this week.
Prior to making his talk, as is his custom when he comes from his hometown of Nashville to Knoxville for games on The Hill at Thompson-Boling Arena on the banks of the Tennessee River, Jackson paid a visit to the storied facility where he played in the 1970s as a classmate of mine, Stokely Athletics Center.
In those days, coaches Ray Mears and Stu Aberdeen roamed the court and commanded the respect of everyone as they won Southeastern Conference championships.
Mike talked about how he was taught by Mears and Aberdeen to wage war and win battles in life. He talked about his teammate David Moss, who died of cancer, and his courageous battle against the deadly disease.
Jackson spoke of love, commitment, and passion, and made an analogy to the movie "300" in which the leaders of the Spartans, one of whom was short in stature but large in heart like Aberdeen, told his adversaries, in the face of overwhelming odds, that the Spartans would "never retreat, never surrender."
It was how Tennessee looked at every challenge when he was playing, even when they faced perennial powerhouse UCLA at The Omni in Atlanta, the first time Tennessee had ever been on national television, a rarity in those days a generation ago.
Mike made it clear that his mountaintop experiences that he had on Rocky Top were due to what he brought with him to those great times: his family that believed in him, coaches that gave him a chance, supportive UT administration and the players he played with, an unbroken chain of family that included Ernie Grunfeld, Bernard King, Reggie Johnson and Johnny Darden, the starting five that he was a part of in winning championships.
To be coachable, Jackson told his audience, a player must be approachable, attentive, objective, shapeable, receptive, trusting, confident and curious. Mike was certainly all that in his playing career, and he has helped many other young talents follow in his footsteps in athletics and business.
As Jackson related, Mears and Aberdeen taught him to be relentless and resilient in the pursuit of excellence. It is said that teams reflect the personalities of their coaches, and those are the qualities that Jackson was taught at UT.
One of the things Jackson said he was also taught as a Vol player was to accept any challenge and be able to overcome it. General George Patton's victory march was always played in the Big Orange locker room as the players dressed in silence for each game, preparing to win.
When the Vols won the SEC Championship in Jackson's senior year, each one on the team received a ring with the AAA Bar Zero brand on it that was the name of General Patton's ranch. It signified that the team would go anywhere, anytime, any place, bar none and could achieve victory over any foe.
As the crowd filed out and stopped to get his autograph, to have photos made with him, and the media wanted to interview him, many of the Tipoff Club members remarked about what a first class person Jackson was. It was the ultimate tribute to a man who learned the lessons his coaches taught him well and has applied them throughout his life with great success.