August 20, 1979
During his three seasons as a receiver in coach Don Coryell's aerial circus, John Jefferson had an impact on the San Diego Chargers' passing attack that was as electric as the gold lightning bolts that exploded off the sleeves of the team's jerseys. Blessed with the body control of a belly dancer and suction cups for hands, Jefferson twice led the NFL in touchdown catches and became the first player in the league to gain 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first three seasons. His frequent landings in opposing end zones prompted team publicists to dub him the Jefferson Airplane. He preferred a simpler sobriquet: JJ.
Jefferson stamped his initials on NFL couture as well. After being poked in the eye as a rookie, in 1978, he donned a pair of wraparound goggles for protection. The funky eyewear coupled with San Diego's space-age uniforms made him look like an extra from the cantina scene in Star Wars. "We were something different," says Jefferson of the Chargers in those days. "We were a breath of fresh air."
The air in San Diego soon turned stale for JJ. After he held out during training camp in 1981, the Chargers dealt him to the Green Bay Packers for wideout Aundra Thompson and three draft choices. Expected to team with fellow All-Pro receiver James Lofton to form the most dynamic duo in Wisconsin since Laverne and Shirley, the 6'1", 198-pound Jefferson instead wound up playing second fiddle. In San Diego, Jefferson had caught 66.3 passes per year; in his last five seasons, with the Packers and the Cleveland Browns, he averaged only 30.4.
Jefferson was working as a commercial real estate broker in his native Dallas when football came calling again, in 1989. At the urging of his former Green Bay coach Forrest Gregg, he started as a volunteer assistant at SMU, and in 1990 he was hired to coach the wide receivers at Kansas, a position he held for four years before moving into athletic administration. Today, Jefferson, 42, is director of student-athlete life at Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his wife, DeWanda, and their children, Tiffany, 18, and John Jr., 14.
With quarterback Dan Fouts, wideout Charlie Joiner and tight end Kellen Winslow of Coryell's Chargers now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, JJ has no doubt what would have happened had he remained in pass-happy San Diego. "If I had stayed," he says, "then you would have been reading about Jerry Rice breaking all of my records."