Thinking man’s linebacker
Jacobs used brain to battle brawn
By David B. Lukow

     Harry Jacobs was a coach in shoulder pads.
     The starting middle linebacker for the Buffalo Bills during the team’s American Football League (AFL) salad days, Jacobs used his head to overcome a lack of ideal size. During an era dominated by ferocious, hard-hitting linebackers like Dick Butkus, Mike Curtis and Willie Lanier, Jacobs relied on intelligence and knowledge of the game to help his team win.
     “I think I was a pretty intelligent football player,” Jacobs said. “I had an ability to read offenses and make calls. Our coaches prepared us well and we all knew each other. We played together a long time.”
     One of the teammates that Jacobs knew very well was Tom Day. A former defensive end with the Bills, Day passed away in August.
     “Tom was a super team player and a really good friend,” Jacobs said. “Tom was one of the toughest guys out there and I was one of the little guys. I always felt that if the situation presented itself, Tom would be there for me. He was a terrific player. He’s really going to be missed.”
     From 1963-69, Jacobs was an integral part of a dominating Bills’ defense. In 1965, Buffalo surrendered only 226 points, which remains a team record. In 1964, opponents gained a total of 913 yards on the ground. No Bills team has ever given up fewer rushing yards.
     Buffalo won two AFL championships during Jacobs’ tenure with the team. The second league title proved to be the sweetest.
     “The 1965 championship was great, it was the best team effort we ever had,” Jacobs said. “No one picked us to win. We shut down San Diego, which was one of the most prolific scoring teams in the AFL. They had a great offense.”
     Led by quarterback John Hadl and wide receiver Lance Alworth, the Chargers compiled a 9-2-3 record in 1965. The Bills finished the regular season 10-3-1.
     The Buffalo head coach during the championship years was Lou Saban. A former linebacker with the Cleveland Browns, Saban introduced Jacobs to the middle linebacker position.
     “Lou was a really good coach,” Jacobs said. “He treated us as individuals. He knew people as individuals. I played against his team in college. I got into pro ball because of Lou. He put me at middle linebacker during a college all-star game. While in college, at Bradley University, I played offensive tackle and defensive end.”
     Drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1959, Jacobs also spent time with the Chicago Bears and Boston Patriots. He retired from football after spending the 1970 campaign with the New Orleans Saints.
     The AFL, the league where Jacobs spent much of his career, produced quite a few excellent football players. Many of those players wore the colors of the Kansas City Chiefs.
     “Jim Tyrer of the Chiefs was the biggest player I ever played against, he was 6-foot-9,” Jacobs said. “Lenny Dawson was a smart quarterback. He could do an excellent job. Abner Haynes, who was a member of the Dallas Texans before they became the Chiefs, was a very good running back.”
     Following the 1969 league playoffs, the Chiefs, coached by Hank Stram, defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. It marked the second straight year that the AFL had left the NFL in the dust.
     While with Boston, Jacobs played in the first game in Patriot history.
     “It was against the Denver Broncos, it was in September, 1960,” he said. “The Broncos wore striped socks. Those didn’t last too long.”
     George Blanda, who would finish his career as the place-kicker for the Oakland Raiders, was one of the better quarterbacks in the early years of the AFL. As a Raider, and while he was with the Houston Oilers, Blanda gave Buffalo defenders plenty of headaches.
     “In his way, George Blanda was a great quarterback,” Jacobs said. “He got the job done. He was a competitor.”
     It’s been 30 years since he walked away from pro football, but Jacobs remains interested in both the game and the local NFL franchise.
     “We had box seats for a long time,” he said. “I still follow the Bills on television. But I have 14 people in my family and that’s where my life is now. It still helps, though, to be associated with the Bills. It’s helped me in the business world.”
     Although he never coached at the NFL level, Jacobs currently spends his time coaching business owners. The rituals and routine of the gridiron helped prepare him for life after football.
     “Today, I help people build team-based businesses,” he said. “I’ve designed a business paradigm. I took a lot of it from football. I try to use the same system we used.”
     A native of Canton, IL, Jacobs returned to Western New York once his playing days came to an end.
     “The people of Buffalo are great, they make the difference,” he said. “Buffalo is the most eastern Mid-western city there is. I chose Buffalo because of the people. They’re very special.”

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