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
The Buffalo head coach during the championship years was Lou Saban. A former
linebacker with the Cleveland Browns, Saban introduced Jacobs to the middle
“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.”