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Madden: Time to chill out on loss of Jackson

Saturday, March 15, 2003

I am outraged at the decision of free-agent safety Dexter Jackson, late of Tampa Bay, to sign with the Arizona Cardinals instead of the Steelers.

Can you believe Jackson passed up a chance (not a guarantee) to win a Super Bowl (OK, another Super Bowl) as well as the opportunity to reside in our own little paradise here on earth?

Jackson's reward: a lousy couple of extra million dollars. That's it. Good luck justifying that line of reasoning to his girlfriend and newborn when Jackson moves everybody concerned to the armpit that is Tempe, Ariz., where it was 82 degrees and sunny yesterday.

That Super Bowl ring aside, Jackson obviously doesn't want to win (again). If he did, he would have signed with the Steelers.

That Super Bowl MVP aside, Jackson obviously can't handle pressure. He's the kind of guy who would lose an AFC championship game at home.

Jackson isn't the great player we all thought he was Monday, when reports said his signing with the Steelers appeared imminent. The only people on Jackson's side now are nerds like ESPN analyst John Clayton, who called Jackson the "perfect coverage safety" in the Tampa Bay defense.

What does Clayton know? He's not from the 'Burgh. Well, OK, so he is, but he's wrong this time. Jackson stinks.

The Jackson saga is hilarious. For one thing, his agent, Peter Schaffer, obviously pulled a scam.

Jackson had all but signed Monday night with the Steelers, causing Steelers management to rework Aaron Smith's contract to open up $1,367,000 in salary-cap room.

By restructuring his deal, Smith got a $1.72 million signing bonus. Smith would have gotten the money eventually via salary, but cash now is always better than cash later.

Jackson then signed with Arizona, but Smith still gets to keep his signing bonus. Smith's agent, of course, is Schaffer.

Conflict of interest? It certainly doesn't conflict with Schaffer's interest or the interest Smith will collect after depositing a lump sum of $1.72 million cash into the bank.

Jackson's girlfriend went into labor Tuesday. Jackson was supposed to be incommunicado then but apparently found the time to speak to the Cardinals. Boy, it makes you wonder what was said in the delivery room.

"C'mon, honey, push! Push! You're doin' great, baby! Just push! What? The phone? No, I can't talk to Kevin Colbert now! Can't you see we're havin' a baby? Nothin', baby, it was nothin'. Just keep pushin'. Yo, I told you, I can't talk on the phone! Who? Rod Graves? From the Cardinals? Honey, I have to take this. Hey, the kid's gonna have to eat, right? Just stop pushin' for a couple seconds, OK?"

So, Jackson isn't coming to Pittsburgh. It's a shame, because he would have fit perfectly into the Steelers' secondary.

But you can't blame Jackson. He got more money. Tempe is nicer in the winter than Pittsburgh. And he just won a Super Bowl, which likely made winning a ring considerably lower on his revised list of priorities.

I laughed when Steelers fans, apologists and shills -- speaking in a tone normally reserved for jilted lovers -- said that Jackson was a loser because he signed with an inferior team. He was the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl, the biggest sporting event in the country and maybe the world. If a list of winners for the year 2003 is ever compiled, Jackson's name figures to be right near the top of that list.

Face it, winning doesn't mean anything anymore. Athletes still pay lip service to it, but, at this point, such talk is patronizing and almost offensive.

The Super Bowl check used to matter. The World Series check used to matter. But now, with even the minimum salary so monstrous in every major sport, the players don't need that championship loot. The desire to win is a product of individual taste, not financial necessity. Older players often maneuver to win a ring late in their careers. But that's after their bank accounts are stuffed.

In NFL free agency, actual climate can matter more than the proverbial winning atmosphere. Going from Tampa to Tempe might be a drastic drop in the caliber of football, but it's a lateral move in terms of temperature.

And, as Jackson probably realized just before reneging on the Steelers, you can only win your first Super Bowl once. Been there, done that. From here on out, winning isn't everything for Jackson, or the only thing, or anything. He signed with Arizona, remember?

Anyway, who needs Jackson? The Steelers don't. If he would rather play for an inferior team, he's not black-and-gold material, although he certainly would have been back around 1999. Maybe Jackson will learn his lesson when he's vacationing on some sandy beach during the playoffs next season while the real men are playing games in sub-zero weather. Yes, Jackson will certainly seem like a dope then.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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