City of Hamilton unveils Russ Jackson Football Field in honour of Canadian quarterbacking legend

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

It only took 52 years of retirement and four years of promises, but the greatest Canadian quarterback in football history has finally been honoured in his hometown.

On Saturday, the City of Hamilton officially unveiled the Russ Jackson Football Field at William Connell Park on the central mountain, a tribute to the city’s most iconic football playing son.

“It’s great to be honoured in this way, especially right here in Hamilton,” Jackson told the assembled friends, family and dignitaries from the podium.

“Both my wife and I, we lived and worked here and went to school here, and coming back and being honoured like this is really special.”

Jackson, now 85, began his illustrious playing career at Westdale Secondary, before attending his hometown McMaster University. There he posted gaudy numbers en route to being selected sixth overall in the 1958 CFL Draft by the Ottawa Rough Riders. In front of those assembled, the legendary quarterback honoured all three, sporting first a Westdale Warriors jacket, before peeling it off to reveal a Marauders sweatshirt and beneath that the very Rough Riders jersey he wore in his final CFL game.

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

In 12 professional seasons, Jackson went on to become the finest Canadian-born player that the league has ever known, throwing for 24,593 yards,185 touchdowns and 124 interceptions. More than simply a pocket passer, he added 5,045 yards on the ground and 54 touchdowns. He remains the only Canadian quarterback to ever throw for more than 10,000 yards.

A six-time East Division and three-time CFL All-Star, Jackson was named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian four times in his career, but his dominance was largely irrespective of passport. He is one of just three homegrown players to ever win the league’s Most Outstanding Player award and the only one to do it more than once, claiming the CFL’s top honour three times.

Jackson brought the Grey Cup to the nation’s capital on three occasions, but his finest moment came in his final season in 1969. After winning his last MOP award, Jackson tossed a Grey Cup record four touchdowns against Saskatchewan in the 57th version of the title game and retired as the Grey Cup MVP. That year, he took home the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete.

In the years following his retirement as a player, Jackson’s iconic status among Canadian football fans has only grown and he has been honoured accordingly. He became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1970 and was enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1973, before joining the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1975. In 2012, he even received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto, but the one accolade missing was some form of acknowledgement in the town where he grew up playing football.

A promise to rectify that omission was first made back in 2017, but has been plagued by delays both real and imagined ever since. Saturday marked the culmination of that long process and perhaps in penance, Hamilton mayor fred Eisenberger wore not the black and gold of his beloved Ticats, but was instead emblazoned with the proud “R” of the old Rough Riders.

With Jackson and his wife Lois flanked by Eisenberger and CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, the ribbon has finally been cut and Jackson has high hopes for what the park can become.

“I just want it to be someplace that the kids have an opportunity to play, to grow, to be able to come here and play football and just enjoy life,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s exactly what the greatest of all-time once did on a Hamilton field and now no one will ever forget it.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.