Boston Patriots

Jess Richardson "Last of an Era"
(game worn)

High school star, collegiate standout, a pro football draft choice with a career that spanned twelve seasons, and a respected coaching resume that had more longevity than most, gave Jesse Richardson a luster appreciated by all who knew him and perhaps envied by some. However if ever a man had to deal with setback and sorrow, Richardson proved he was a resilient individual who could in fact overcome the worst that life and athletics could throw at him.

A two-way line standout at Philadelphia’s Roxborough High School, he enjoyed a high school career that brought honors and recognition of his talent that has left him on a number of “All Time…” all star lists for both Pennsylvania and Philadelphia area high school football players. As the leader for the Roxborough 49ers, he earned All Public School honors and a scholarship to the University of Alabama where he lettered for three seasons and was a key component as a defensive guard in the Tide’s 61-6 win over Syracuse in the January 1st, 1953 Orange Bowl. The decisive victory was termed “the most lopsided win in bowl history” to that point in time and Richardson enjoyed national exposure as it was the inaugural television broadcast of a major college bowl game. “Big Jess” became an eighth round draft pick of his hometown Philadelphia Eagles and his 6’2”, 235 pound frame quietly but very effectively controlled the interior of the Eagles line for many seasons. Richardson suffered a devastating injury that tore knee ligaments early in 1957, the type of injury that was most often not resolved with the available surgical techniques.

Against all odds, he battled back, strengthened his knee and lower body, and was again in the starting lineup for the ’58 season. In order to be as fast and quick as possible, Richardson played with minimal protection. He would not wear pads under his uniform and insisted on the smallest sized shoulder pads that would fit his muscular torso. As part of his “sleek and swift” approach to the game and his appearance, he refused to wear a facemask, even after the National Football League rules were changed to include it as a mandatory part of the game uniform. Richardson would go through most of his entire career without a mask and retire as the last NFL lineman with that distinction. As noted football researcher and author John Maxymuk pointed out in the very first sentences about Richardson in his book, Eagles By The Numbers, “Even though he was the last lineman in the league to play without wearing a facemask, Jess Richardson never lost a tooth. His nose wasn’t so lucky. He broke that so many times that he would reset it himself by going in the shower, smearing his nose with Vaseline, and rubbing up and down along the sides of his nose till he felt everything was back in place.” In addition to his desire to move as fast as possible, Richardson believed that a facemask would interfere with his peripheral vision because of his “deep-set, narrow eyes.” Whatever his true motivation, Big Jess was “grandfathered” by the league and was never required to don a mask.

Interestingly, for a player who went about the business of raising Hell in the middle of the defensive line of a rugged if unspectacular 1950’s Eagles defense, Richardson, even without facial protection, was known to engage in some “extracurricular” activity that included an errant elbow or punch. Filling out to 260 pounds, he was the Eagles Defensive Most Valuable Player in 1955, and came back from his horrid 1957 injury with a Second Team All Pro nomination and Pro Bowl appearance in ’59. Helping the more heralded Chuck Bednarik, Maxie Baughn, Bob Pellegrini, and Tom Brookshier on Philly’s run to the 1960 NFL Championship, Jess suffered through the death of his seven week old infant just days prior to the game with the Packers. He still played and helped to secure the crown for the Eagles. During the latter part of 1961, new Coach Nick Skorich removed Richardson as a starter and then cut him in ‘62’s training camp. Jess immediately hooked onto the Boston Patriots squad, fought through a bout of hepatitis, and became a contributor along the defensive front. Despite advancing age, Jess’ willingness to mix it up in the middle of the action didn’t change. Because he was guilty of physical contact with an official during a “discussion” over a call, he was tossed from the game and hit with what was then a record $500.00 fine. So popular was this rather under publicized defensive lineman, that the Boston fans passed the hat around the stadium and presented Jess with the fine money after the game. His injuries finally caught up with him. He saw limited action in the Patriots’ loss to the Chargers in the 1963 AFL Championship game, and finally called it quits at the conclusion of the ’64 season. He continued to serve the franchise as their defensive line coach until leaving for a similar position with the ’71 Eagles under head coach and former Philadelphia teammate Ed Khayat.

Though a large individual, the RK4 two rivet husky helmet was a bit too big for Jess and they installed the Riddell internal leather padding.  This not only helped with comfort but made the suspension size a tad smaller.   After his dismissal from the Eagles he apparently used the same style helmet numbers from his Eagles days and applied them to the center ridge of his new Patriots helmet.  The Patriots never wore these style numbers and in 1964 the blue stripe was added and covered up the peculiar placement of these digits.

Teaching all he had learned to the next generation of Eagles defensive linemen in his hometown of Philadelphia surely was a dream come true but it ended when the entire staff was fired after the 1972 season. Tragically, Jess Richardson would then have to battle kidney disease which took his life on June 17, 1975 at the young age of forty-five. Now remembered primarily by football buffs for being the last man standing without face protection, his legacy is carried by the Richardson Memorial Dialysis Section of Philadelphia’s Mercy Catholic Hospital. For true fans, Richardson also represents the end of professional football’s great golden era but this lives on in the representation given by his wonderful “old school” Boston Patriots helmet.

Coach Richardson with long time teammate and friend Head Coach Ed Khayat of the Eagles, 1972