In the interest of self-preservation, it’s probably best to avoid someone named “Hacksaw.”
Unfortunately, a large number of NFL ball carriers were unable to do so in the 1970s and early 1980s.
That period of time is when Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds roamed the gridiron for the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers.
Hacking the days away until Rams kickoff. Here’s Hacksaw Reynolds. 64 days. pic.twitter.com/TnDl9f9XJ5
— DieHard Rams BC (@DieHardRamsBC) July 6, 2022
Reynolds obtained his nickname when he took his frustrations out on a defenseless automobile after a bad loss in college.
After that, Hacksaw was even more possessed.
His antics as a player wholly devoted to football were legendary, and Reynolds’s teammates loved him for it.
He would win two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and become a stalwart member of the ’Niners’ linebacker group.
This is the story of Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds.
Born to be a Football Player
John Sumner Reynolds was born on November 22, 1947, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he was a character from the very beginning.
He had the disposition to run over and through people while playing sports and excelled as a fullback at Western Hills High School in Cincinnati.
Western Hills happens to be the same school attended by former MLB All-Star Pete Rose.
Something must have been in the water because both Rose and Reynolds played with a grittiness that eluded most athletes.
On the gridiron, Reynolds enjoyed blowing open holes for the tailback coming behind him.
It also wasn’t beneath Reynolds to take a handoff and look for contact rather than avoiding tacklers for a large gain.
By the time high school graduation came, Reynolds was ready to take his act to the next level.
After brief consideration, he signed with head coach Doug Dickey and the University of Tennessee.
Reynolds Switches Positions
Arriving on the Tennessee campus in 1966, Reynolds spent time with the freshman team and continued his fullback duties.
Although he wasn’t able to play as a freshman, the Vols went 8-3 and defeated the Syracuse Orangemen, 18-12, in the Gator Bowl.
In 1967, Reynolds began the year playing on offense before being switched to the defensive side of the ball.
Making the move from fullback to linebacker wasn’t a stretch for Reynolds.
He still had to bring the thunder, only now he could tackle and humble ball carriers.
As a sophomore, Reynolds helped lead Tennessee to a 9-2 record that included a close 26-24 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl.
— Dale Bright (@dalebright) June 29, 2016
During the contest, Reynolds made a huge stop of the Sooners’ Steve Owens to give the Vols a chance to pull out a victory.
Unfortunately, the team was unable to capitalize and went home empty-handed.
“Hacksaw” Is Born
By 1968, Reynolds and fellow linebacker Steve Kiner were making life difficult for opposing offenses.
The duo was able to stop traffic inside (Reynolds) as well as outside (Kiner).
During the season, Reynolds showed off his play-making skills when he picked off the ball twice for 42 total return yards.
Tennessee had an 8-2-1 record during Reynolds’s junior year, but the team was blown out by the Texas Longhorns 36-13 in the Cotton Bowl.
In 1969, the Vols were contending for a national title after the first seven weeks of the season.
At that point, the team was blowing out opponents. The closest game was a 17-3 win over Georgia on November 1.
Then, on November 15, disaster struck.
Ranked number three in the country and playing against quarterback Archie Manning and 18th-ranked Ole Miss, Tennessee was humiliated 38-0.
Reynolds was beyond livid due to the loss and still irate by the time he returned home.
“I came back to school and I was very upset,” Reynolds said. “I had to do something to relieve my frustration.”
He desperately looked for a way to find an outlet for his anger and found it in the form of a 1953 Chevy pickup.
No. 73: Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds
"After a game in college he was so frustrated after a loss that he took a hacksaw to a car."
— NFL (@NFL) October 12, 2019
What happened next would become the stuff of a college football legend.
“I went to Kmart and bought the cheapest hacksaw they had, along with 13 replacement blades,” Reynolds told the LA Times. “I cut through the entire frame and driveshaft, all the way through the car … It took me eight total hours. I broke all 13 blades. When I finished, I got one guy from the dorm, Ray Nettles, to witness it. The next day, we took the rest of our friends from the dorm up the hill to see it, and when we got there, both halves of the car were gone, with just the 13 broken blades lying on the ground. To this day, I don’t know what happened to that car.”
Looking over the remains of Reynolds’s work, his teammates began calling their friend “Hacksaw,” and the moniker stuck.
First Round Pick
Hacksaw’s attack on an unlucky automobile helped the Vols win their next two games.
During a contest against Kentucky a week after the Ole Miss loss, Reynolds recovered a Wildcat fumble in the end zone for the winning score.
However, the hacksaw stunt wasn’t enough to help Tennessee beat rival Florida in the Gator Bowl.
The hard-fought game went down to the final minutes, but the Vols lost 14-13.
Reynolds was already one of the best linebackers in college by the late sixties, earning All-SEC and All-American nods as a senior.
His demolition of the Chevy only added to his notoriety, and Reynolds was the 22nd overall pick of the LA Rams in the first round of the 1970 NFL Draft.
Reynolds Eventually Becomes a Starter
In 1970, Reynolds joined a Rams team that was full of veteran leadership.
He didn’t get much playing time and came off the bench during his first three years in the league.
Finally, in 1973, Hacksaw cracked the starting lineup and collected two interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and a half sack (the NFL did not keep track of tackles at the time).
— Ken Gelman (@kengfunk) February 24, 2017
LA had a new coach in 1973, and Chuck Knox brought out the best in his players.
The Rams ended the year 12-2 and lost in the Divisional round to the Dallas Cowboys.
Near Misses for the Rams
In 1974, the Rams began three straight years of agony.
From ’74 through the 1976 season, LA posted winning records during the regular season including 12 wins in 1975.
Hacksaw Reynolds takes out Terry Metcalf (from 1975): pic.twitter.com/ySEPnZpj
— SI Vault (@si_vault) September 26, 2011
However, the team lost in the NFC Championship game each year as well.
In ’74, the Rams lost to Minnesota by four. That loss was followed by an embarrassing 37-7 beatdown to the Cowboys in ’75.
The Vikings upended LA again in 1976, 24-13.
Through it all, Reynolds never missed a game and was voted to his first Pro Bowl after the 1975 season.
Super Bowl Bound
The 1977 Rams returned to the postseason but lost in the Divisional round to Minnesota.
In 1978, fate was once again cruel for LA when the franchise went 12-4 and beat Minnesota in the Divisional round only to lose to the Cowboys in the NFC title game.
Finally, after four NFC Championship game appearances in five years, the Rams broke through in 1979.
Led by Reynolds, Jack and Jim Youngblood, and Fred Dryer, the defense helped in leading LA to a 9-7 regular season, an upset of Dallas in the Divisional round, and then a 9-0 blanking of the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC title game.
At long last, the Rams were headed to the Super Bowl! It was the organization’s first championship game appearance since 1955.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 25, 2018
During media day the week before the contest, Reynolds was tired of telling the story about how he acquired his nickname.
He took matters into his own hands by typing out the story and simply handing copies of it to reporters.
“Reporters were asking the same questions over and over. I decided to beat them to the punch,” said Reynolds. “The league didn’t want me to do it, but I thought it would be fun. I tried to make it light and lively.”
In Super Bowl XIV, LA led the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-10 at halftime only to see their lead evaporate in the second half on the way to a 31-19 loss.
Reynolds Heads North
In 1979, Reynolds tallied two fumble recoveries including one returned for a score.
The following season, he had an interception and two fumble recoveries and was voted to his second Pro Bowl.
Despite his steady play and leadership on defense, the Rams released Reynolds after their 11-5, 1980 season.
Hacksaw Reynolds days til spring pic.twitter.com/G8IoCtZG6I
— Steve in Crowtown (@StevenCrowtown) January 15, 2022
Although it didn’t look like it on the surface, Reynolds went from a team loaded with veterans to a sleeping giant looking to add vets.
“Any time you can get a player the quality of Jack Reynolds, you find a way to do it, and defense has been one of our problems,” ’Niners coach Bill Walsh said at the time. “Even with a first-round draft pick, we couldn’t have found anyone with Jack’s credentials.”
During the 1980 season, San Francisco had gone 6-10.
However, that was a four-game improvement over Walsh’s first year with the organization in 1979.
It would only get better from there.
Reynolds Denies Lott a Pencil
Walsh knew Reynolds was a different breed when the linebacker showed up to his first camp with the ’Niners carrying his own film projector.
“I used to study a lot of film and look for tips,” Reynolds said in 1992. “If a team only ran a certain play for a particular player, you knew when to look for that guy. How do you think I was able to last 15 years?”
Even after long practices and meetings, Reynolds would retreat to his dorm room to watch more film.
His intense nature soon got the attention of a highly prized rookie, Ronnie Lott.
Lott had been a star at USC and was the eighth overall selection of the 1981 NFL Draft.
During one of the first team meetings of the season, he sat next to Reynolds, hoping the veteran’s presence would rub off on him.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) December 23, 2019
After sitting down, Lott noticed something peculiar about his older teammate.
“And I looked over, and he had 100 pencils,” Lott said. “And they’re all finely sharpened. I’m like, ‘Who is this dude?’”
Not long after, Walsh walked into the room and told the team they would be taking notes.
Lott’s eyes went wide when he realized he had nothing to write with.
He looked next to him and asked Reynolds if he could borrow one of his pencils.
Twice, Hacksaw told the rookie “No.” He then gave Lott a bit of advice.
“He said, ‘I want you to know something,’” Lott said of Reynolds. “‘I love this game. I’ve given everything to this game. But you better be prepared if you want to play with me.’”
Lott was finally able to secure a writing instrument, but he realized he wasn’t in college anymore.
Another Super Bowl for Reynolds
Lott and the 49ers got a taste of who Hacksaw was early in the 1981 season.
For each pregame meal, Reynolds decided to arrive ready to play.
Mouths dropped when Hacksaw walked into their very first team breakfast already dressed in his uniform with eye black and tape included.
This wasn’t a first-game ritual, Reynolds did this for every game.
“Jack gave us leadership and maturity and toughness and set an example for everybody… As strange a guy as he was, he really put us on the map. I think that single addition was the key to our success,” Walsh would later say.
Reynolds’s intensity and leadership by example rubbed off on the team.
Of course, it helped that the San Francisco team was already filled with players who wanted to prove they belonged.
Quarterback Joe Montana had been a third-round selection and was in his first full season as a starter.
The defense had three rookies in the secondary—Lott, Carlton Williamson, and Eric Wright—who sent a message to NFL receivers that they were not to be toyed with.
After beginning the season 1-2, the ’Niners won 12 of their next 13 games.
They would defeat the New York Giants in the Divisional round then edge the Cowboys by one in the NFC Championship game.
The contest against Dallas was the day San Francisco announced their arrival as a team to be reckoned with when Montana found receiver Dwight Clark for “The Catch” to win.
In Super Bowl XVI, the 49ers and Reynolds would earn their first championship with a 26-21 victory.
You always see the iconic photos of Walsh, Montana, and Young. Here’s to the unsung hero’s Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds and Super Bowl XVI hero Dan Bunz. @49ers @BetterRivals @RonboSports @NBCS49ers @MaioccoNBCS #49ers #ForeverFaithful pic.twitter.com/h8f4klXTWt
— ɔᴉɹƎ (@OhHiEric) November 1, 2018
One of the highlights of the day was during the third quarter when Reynolds, Lott, and linebacker Dan Bunz stuffed Cincinnati running back Pete Johnson for no gain on fourth and goal.
Second Title for Reynolds and the ’Niners
A year after their Super Bowl victory, San Francisco won just three games during the strike-shortened 1982 season.
In 1983, the organization returned to the playoffs only to lose to Washington in the NFC Championship game.
Reynolds was a consistent starter in the 49ers’ defense.
However, by 1984, his age was showing.
While he turned 37, San Fran tore through the regular season, losing only one game for a franchise-best record of 15 wins and only one loss.
Walsh and the front office had accomplished an amazing feat by assembling the right players on both sides of the ball.
Remarkably, that year, the 49er offense was ranked second in the NFL while Hacksaw and the defense ranked first.
In the Divisional Playoffs, the ’Niners beat the Giants, then shut out the Chicago Bears 23-0.
The conference title game was Reynolds’s eighth as a player.
As Super Bowl XIX approached, the hype surrounded the talent of Joe Montana and his opponent, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 20, 2019
Regrettably for television viewers, hype is all it would be.
Montana torched the Fins’ defense for 331 yards and three touchdowns while Marino passed for 318 yards, a score, and two picks.
Furthermore, Hacksaw and the ’Niners defense prevented Miami from scoring in the second half.
The final score would be 38-16, giving Reynolds his second championship ring.
Hacksaw wanted to return for another season in 1985, but Walsh and his coaches believed Reynolds’s best days were behind him.
Whether a Ram or a 49er, I always think of Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds when I think of 64. pic.twitter.com/qGXHqVFEwh
— Chris H (@MoorparkChris) April 13, 2022
As part of his final contract with the ’Niners, the team stipulated that Reynolds would become a coach when he retired.
Reynolds followed the plan reluctantly when he was told he could no longer play.
After 12 days as a coach, Hacksaw decided to retire for good.
“As of this afternoon, as of this moment, I am formally announcing my retirement from the 49ers as a player and from the National Football League unless a special situation similar to what I had in San Francisco arises,” Reynolds said.
There wasn’t much Walsh could do.
He understood that becoming a coach after 15 years in the trenches was too difficult a transition for Hacksaw.
“He had a tough time bridging the gap between being a coach and a player,” Walsh said of Reynolds. “He couldn’t stand to hear us discussing limitations of other players because that was his team. It might have been easier if he had started coaching with another team. He wouldn’t have had the emotional and personal connections with the players.”
During his career, Reynolds played in three Super Bowls, winning two. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and a two-time second-team All-Pro.
Living the Good Life
If Reynolds’s antics on the football field weren’t enough to display his uniqueness, there was also the fact that he lived on an island, literally.
During his playing career, Reynolds had built himself a place on San Salvador Island in the Caribbean.
“That’s where Columbus landed,” was how he described his home to anyone who would listen.
When Walsh broke the news to Hacksaw that the ’Niners weren’t inviting him back to play in 1985, the coach had to mail a letter to Reynolds because he didn’t own a phone in his island home.
Sightings of Reynolds after his retirement were rare but enjoyable for fans.
“I’m always hacking up, sawing up, beating up something. I like to stay busy,” Reynolds said in 1992.
Now 74 years young, Reynolds remains on his island, content with life and the career he had in the NFL.