Ex-Colt Simpson glad obit was dead wrong


MIAMI -- Although he never found his name in the obituary column, it surprised Jackie Simpson to learn of his own death.

He had died -- supposedly -- and the Baltimore Colts' alumni would gather for periodic reunions, stand around reflecting and memorializing Simpson, who had been a defensive back and kick returner on their championship teams of 1958-'59.

But here he is today, having lunch in a waterfront restaurant, truly alive, neatly dressed and looking in the best of health. One thing is differentf: Hair that was once blacker than shoe polish now is a distinguished gray.

"I feel pretty good for being dead," he explained. A rather casual sort of reaction. Then he smiled and went about enjoying a chance to refute the false report that had persisted relative to his demise.

"What happened is some years ago, maybe 10 or 15, I don't exactly know when, another Jackie Simpson died. He played at the University of Mississippi and then in the American Football League with Denver and Oakland. Someone read the story, got us confused and spread the word. But, as you can see, it was the other Jackie Simpson."

Former Colts teammates would shake their heads and tell one another it sure was a shame about what happened to Jackie . . . except it was the wrong Simpson.

"A couple years ago, someone gave me Buzz Nutter's number in Southern Maryland and I called to just say hello," remembers the living, breathing Jackie Simpson.

"Nutter, the center on our Colts team, answered the phone. When I told him who it was, he said I had to be dead. But I convinced him it was a mistake. We talk now about every couple months."

Simpson was a standout halfback at Miami Edison High School, highly recruited, and went to the University of Florida, where the Colts drafted him on the fourth round in 1957 after taking Jim Parker, Don Shinnick and Luke Owens ahead of him.

He remembers signing a contract with general manager Don Kellett at a restaurant called The Place For Steak, receiving a $7,800 contract and a $1,000 bonus.

Before he could report for training camp, he was drafted and spent 21 months as a paratrooper at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he also played on the football team.

After discharge, the Colts activated him for the last two games of the 1958 season, which meant he was eligible for the championship classic against the New York Giants, the first overtime ever played.

"That was a great piece of history," said Simpson, who wears a championship ring to identify with a prideful part in Baltimore's past.

Simpson, now 60, has moved to Cookeville, Tenn., away from his native Miami but returns to visit.

"I just wanted a slower pace and in Cookeville you have that," he said. "A friend of mine from here, a builder named Ron Thomas, went there to live, liked it and my wife Jeanie and I followed."

After the Colts' 1960 season, Simpson was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Billy Ray Smith. He said the Steelers then were a poor, disorganized operation, compared to the Colts, and the coach, Raymond "Buddy" Parker, became overly spirited at times and might act on an irrational impulse.

"If we were on the road and lost a game, he'd go down the aisle of the plane on the way home cutting players," Simpson recalled. "We'd try to avoid him by hiding in the galley, the restroom or under a blanket, pretending to be asleep."

As Simpson talked, he pointed to a huge building off the Venetian Causeway. It's now the Miami Herald newspaper office but he remembers as a child living in an apartment on the same location and fishing in nearby Biscayne Bay.

Suddenly, he was dwelling again on Baltimore, his first home in pro football. "We had a bunch of fine guys such as Buzz, Artie Donovan, Jim Mutscheller, Lenny Moore, Andy Nelson, John Unitas, Milt Davis and Bert Rechichar," he said.

"One night I went out drinking with Bert. None of us knew where he lived. He said it was a secret between him and the CIA. But anyhow, he was carrying a freshly killed turkey under his arm and every place we went he'd put it on the bar."

With the Colts in Los Angeles for a 1959 game, Jackie was invited to an after-game party. He had a good time, a few drinks, a couple of dances and was given the chance to make sure Betty Grable got home safely. He was up to the responsibility.

"Gee, I think about Don Joyce, how feared he was, but a fine guy," Simpson said. " 'Big Daddy' Lipscomb, another character. And can you imagine how many touchdowns Lenny Moore would have scored if he played in Green Bay and ran that off-tackle play of Vince Lombardi's?"

About the Colts' title win over the Giants, he hasn't forgotten fumbling a punt. The other deep man, Carl Taseff, was supposed to tell him if he needed to fair catch. Taseff hollered but the crowd was so loud Simpson didn't hear him.

"I caught the kick and, just like that, got pounded. The ball went free. The Giants recovered at the 10-yard line. Our coach, Weeb Ewbank, was all over me. But Frank Gifford fumbled on the next play, Joyce recovered and I got off the hook. I'm forever thankful."

The memories of being with an outstanding team and the fun, laughs and camaraderie have made for an enjoyable part of Simpson's life.

And, what's especially important, he's still living to talk about it and wants to emphasize that so far as he's concerned the hereafter can wait.

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