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Original Issue

Roles model at the Sound

Puget Sound's Bob Jackson excels both on the gridiron and in the pool

Soon after midnight the official Bob Club pizza (topped with Canadian bacon and pineapple) has been consumed, the alarm has been set, the lights have been turned out and the club's two founders and co-chairmen are finally nestled snug in their beds. But now a head bobs out from the bottom bunk.

"Hey, Bob," whispers Bob Moore, a butterflyer for the University of Puget Sound, a school in Tacoma, Wash. with 2,700 students.

"Yeah, Bob," replies Bob Jackson, Puget Sound's All-America breaststroker, from the top bunk.

"What are you doing tomorrow morning at six?"


"Great. Want to come down to the pool and train?"

"Sure. I've got nothing better to do."

Most of the athletes Jackson spends his afternoons with would disagree. That's because they're members of the Puget Sound football team, on which Jackson the breaststroker is a Little All-America nose guard.

"Swimmers are weird," says UPS Defensive Line Coach Paul Wallrof. "Those guys march to the beat of a different drummer. It takes mental toughness to work out twice a day, year around. Can you imagine getting up at 5:45 in the morning? Gosh. It's still dark then."

Jackson, who's a senior, is used to living his life in the dark. It's dark when he gets up for swim practice, and it's dark by the time he finishes football practice. Even his swim coach, Don Duncan, admits he doesn't fully comprehend how Jackson can keep up with the demands of his sports. "It's like the guy who's married to two women, but neither woman knows about the other," says Duncan. "He has two separate families, two distinct life-styles, yet he is very emotionally involved with each. Most athletes wouldn't understand that type of feeling. Only Bob Jackson knows how it feels to be involved in two such different sports."

Not since Bob Allen, an All-America breaststroker and top lineman at Iowa in the late 1930s, and Stanford's Bob Anderson, a star halfback and two-time NCAA 50-yard freestyle champion (1946, '48), has an athlete so successfully combined football and swimming on a national collegiate level. Jackson has led the Logger football team to a 10-1 record and a probable berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs with 66 tackles, nine sacks and two blocked field goals. Against Cal Davis, Jackson even returned a punt 57 yards to set up a 7-0 UPS victory. And against Humboldt State he became the first UPS lineman to intercept a pass in 16 years. On Saturday in a 10-0 win over Santa Clara in a driving rainstorm, he had five tackles.

As a swimmer Jackson is a three-time Division II 100-yard breaststroke champion, a two-time winner of the Division II 200-yard breaststroke and a member of the Loggers' 1980 and '81 record-setting 400-yard medley relay teams. His 55.20 clocking over 100 yards at the 1980 Division II nationals was then the third-fastest NCAA time ever for that distance. He is the only Division II swimmer ever to place in a Division I meet and has twice been a Division I All-America in the 100-yard breaststroke. Last summer he finished fourth in the 100-meter breast-stroke at the World University Games in Bucharest.

That Jackson reached these levels of achievement is, well, astounding, considering his early athletic life. "I was a disaster as an athlete when I was little," he says. "My father made me play baseball when I was 10, and I was a reserve-reserve-reserve. The coach practically had to drag me up to bat, I was so afraid of making a mistake. And when I got to the plate, I never swung. I either struck out looking or walked.

"Then, in the middle of my ninth-grade year, my family moved to Tacoma, and all the kids at Curtis High were involved in sports. I felt pressured to join a team, and since the school had just built a pool...."

At the time, Jackson's competitive swimming experience had consisted of a 25-yard freestyle race in a phys ed class. "I figured 25 yards of freestyle was all I could take," says Jackson. "You can't afford to breathe in the freestyle. So I decided breaststroke would be easier; I could breathe with every stroke if I wanted to."

Jackson swam competitively for the first time as a sophomore, and his times dropped steadily. But he made a lot of people in the stands nervous. "The gun would go off, and Bob would go 100 mph," says Jim Baurichter, a swim coach at Curtis High. "He couldn't finish a race. It was as if somebody put a piano on his back for the last 75 yards."

Jackson didn't give up. "The next year I was struggling at 1:07, still trying to qualify for the state meet," he says. "Then, at the district meet, I went 1:03 and got third. I was so proud, until a kid got up on the bus on the way home and shouted, 'Bob Jackson will never go under 1:03.' I thought, 'Oh, yeah?' " Two weeks later Jackson set a Washington state record in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 59.3.

At the state meet his senior year, Jackson had a bad case of the flu and sagged to a time that was more than three seconds slower than his record. As a result, he didn't have any trouble avoiding the pressures of college recruiting. Washington U. didn't deem him worthy of a swimming scholarship; he was told he could try to earn one as a walk-on.

But Jackson's mind wasn't set only on swimming. After playing defensive tackle and place-kicking for two years at Curtis, he looked into the possibility of playing football at Washington State, but once again no scholarship was forthcoming. "So I decided to make both schools regret that they didn't give me a chance," says Jackson.

He did get an athletic scholarship at Puget Sound. Soon he worked himself up to 200 pounds and opened everyone's eyes. "He's the quickest [4.6 in the 40] and the smartest guy on the team," says Wallrof. "He has never lifted weights. He gets his strength, quickness and concentration from his swimming. He has a swivel move that few defensive linemen have. It lets him change directions instantaneously when pursuing a play. He's very flexible. That's why he doesn't get hurt. When he gets hit, he just collapses."

Jackson's athleticism is even more apparent in the swimming pool. He works out only once a day during football season, so he and Duncan have devised a training schedule that consists almost entirely of breaststroke sets. Because of the unnatural movement of the legs in the whip kick, most breaststrokers try to protect their knees by swimming a variety of strokes in practice. But Jackson insists on working on his breaststroke exclusively.

So far he has had only one real problem combining the two sports. "In football, we learn to react to the movement of the offensive line, not to sound," he says. "It takes me halfway through the swimming season before I react to the gun. I hear the gun and I think, 'Well, it's time for me to go.' I've learned to watch the guys on either side of me and react to their movement."

Jackson is as modest as he is proficient. "All I ever wanted was a pair of U.S.A. sweats," he says. "I finally got them last summer on the Romania trip, and I was really proud of them. When I got back to UPS, I wore them to the gym to play basketball. I left the bottoms there, and when I went back later they were gone. I also got a huge red towel that said UNITED STATES SWIMMING TEAM. But it was so gaudy I couldn't bring myself to use it."

Jackson has become an inspiration to those around him. "The most important thing I hope I give people is the knowledge that the mind isn't limiting," he says. "I hope people realize how important it is to believe in yourself. I knew all along how good I could be, but nobody else did. So once I convinced someone to take a chance on me and open a door, I walked through it. And I showed everyone."

Jackson lives in a house on the edge of the campus, and it has become a focal point of student attention. The Bob Club meets there every Tuesday night at 11:30 for its sole official function—reruns of The Bob Newhart Show. "There are 50 stipulations to get into the club," says Moore, Jackson's best friend and roommate the past three years. "Number 1, you have to be named Bob. Number 2, you have to be incredibly handsome. Most people don't even meet the first two requirements." In fact, only Bob and Bob belong.

Nevertheless, some go to great lengths to try to get into the club. Witness what happened this Halloween when in an attempt to become members, Robb Powers and Chris Sollars, UPS freshmen and also breaststrokers, painted their hair orange, sewed two UPS football jerseys together, pasted a large 82 on the back and climbed inside.

"We went as Bob Jackson," says Powers. "Together, we're 305 pounds, and at that weight we think we can carry on the breaststroke/nose-guard tradition at UPS."

Sorry, guys. It probably would take at least three or four people to play Bob Jackson at UPS after he's gone.


Nobody has done the football-swimming double as well as Jackson since the '40s.