When Russ Jackson emerged on the CFL scene in 1958 as a scholar-athlete from McMaster University, there were doubts that a Canadian could be successful as a quarterback. Traditionally, this position was filled by American players. By 1969, however, all uncertainties had vanished as Jackson displayed an ability that belied his passport. Displaying rare confidence, poise and toughness, he developed into one of the greatest quarterbacks in CFL history.
Playing all of his twelve years in an Ottawa uniform, Jackson led the Rough Riders to three Grey Cup wins (1960, 1968, 1969) in four appearances. Three times he was given the Schenley Award as the league’s outstanding player (1963, 1966, 1969) and twice he won the Jeff Russel Memorial Trophy as the top player in the Eastern Division (1959, 1969).
On the field, Jackson was a threat both throwing and running the ball. He maintained a 6.6-yard rushing average for 5,045 yards while completing 53.3 percent of his passes for 23,341 yards, connecting for 184 touchdowns in the air and accounting for 55 majors on the ground.
In 1969, he capped off his career in dramatic fashion. That year, he led his Rough Riders to a Grey Cup win, capturing the award for the game’s outstanding player. Devoted Ottawa fans showed their love from the stands with signs that read, “In Russ we Trust.” For his heroics on the gridiron, he was presented the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s Outstanding Athlete of the Year.
After coaching for two years with the Toronto Argonauts (1975-76), Jackson left the football field. With the mathematics and teaching degrees he earned while climbing the football ranks, he went on to become a respected high school math teacher and principal.
In 1986, the Canadian Inter-University Athletic Union created an award in his name to be annually presented to the football player who best exhibits athletic ability, academic achievement, and devoted citizenship, qualities which were best exemplified by Jackson himself. In 1970, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, and three years later he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Jackson has also done sports commentary for the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats with radio station CHML-AM in Hamilton.
In 2006, Jackson was voted one of the CFL’s Top 50 players (#8) of the league’s modern era by Canadian sports network TSN, the highest-ranked Canadian-born player on the list.