Baltimore Ravens receiver Michael Jackson in 1998

Michael Jackson—the football player, not the entertainer–was supposed to be the next Reggie Collier at Southern Miss when he signed a scholarship in 1987. Jackson was a long-limbed speedster, expected to run the Golden Eagles’ option-oriented offense under Jim Carmody.

Instead, Jackson wound up catching the passes of Brett Favre.

Jackson, who went on to a productive NFL career with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, died early Friday morning of a motorcycle accident in his hometown of Tangipahoa, La. He was 48.

“So sad,” Favre texted Friday afternoon.

“What a really good guy Michael was,” said Carmody, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame coach long retired and living in Madison. “I saw him not that long ago at a celebrity golf tournament in Philadelphia. After all these years, he thanked me for giving him a chance to play major college football.”

Rick Cleveland

Jackson, who wore jersey No. 1 at USM, made the most of that chance, converting to wide receiver and becoming a long ball threat for the Golden Eagles. He caught 44 passes at USM, six for touchdowns and became a sixth round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns in 1990. He not only made the Browns roster but contributed immediately for then-Browns coach Bill Belichick.

Jackson moved with the Browns team to Baltimore in 1996 and caught 14 touchdowns that season, which tied for the best in the NFL. He caught 353 passes and 46 touchdowns in his eight-year NFL career.

“Today, our hearts are saddened by the awful news involving Michael,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. “He was a vibrant person who became one of the first Ravens heroes and a popular player among Baltimore fans. Well known for his big smile and welcoming nature, it was easy to feel a special connection with Michael.”

Newsome’s comments about Jackson’s personality were echoed by Carmody, who said: “Michael was such a personable, intelligent guy who really was happy to be at Southern Miss. He was one of those guys who always seemed to have a big smile on his face.

Michael Jackson, from his USM days

“We thought he was going to be the next Reggie Collier when we signed him,” Carmody continued. “Thamas Coleman (now deceased) recruited him and did a great job. But we had Brett at the same time and nobody was going to beat him out at quarterback.”

Jeff Bower, another Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, coached Jackson for two years when Bower was USM’s offensive coordinator under Curley Hallman. Said Bower of Jackson, “He was fast, and I mean really, really fast. He was kind of like Reggie (Collier) because he didn’t look like he was moving that fast but he had that long stride and nobody was going to catch him. But more than that, he was a tremendous individual and a hard, hard worker who made himself into a great football player.”

Jackson, whose full name was Michael Dywayne Jackson Dyson, retired from football at age 30 because of a series of injuries. He moved from Baltimore to Tangipahoa where he ran a nightclub and a music business, before entering politics. He ran successfully for mayor of his hometown and served from 2008-2012.

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Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, this year was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.