NFL Sober Coach: Jackie Wallace, From Super Bowl to Homeless

Jackie Wallace

In June 1990, photographer Ted Jackson came across a half-naked man sleeping on a rusty box spring. The man turned out to be former NFL great Jackie Wallace, now 66 (Pictured, Wallace in his ‘home’ under a bridge, July 1990)

Imagine working your whole, young adulthood to achieve the ultimate sports goal of going to and playing in the Super Bowl. With that would come a nice yearly earning and you would think that the person in this position would have it all!

Well, meet Jackie Wallace. In June of 1990, a photographer came across a nearly naked man sleeping on a dirty mattress under a bridge in New Orleans. It was 39 year old Jackie Wallace who had played for the Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Colts and Los Angeles Rams. He was clearly being beaten down by drugs and alcohol. He had actually played in 3 Super Bowls.

Wallace was a star at the University of Arizona and was drafted in 1974 by the Minnesota Vikings. He played in a Super Bowl with them and went on to play for LA and Baltimore. He played in a total of three Super Bowls but soon after his last Super Bowl he was cut and started drinking to cover the pain of losing his career.

The year after he was cut he lost his mother as she passed away and his cousin introduced him to crack cocaine. This is where the freefall really stepped up to full speed. It took eight years to drain him financially and at that time he was living under the bridge in New Orleans. His old school found out about his condition and admitted him into rehab in 1992. He married that same year and was doing great in a 12 step program and knew that one slip up and he could be right back under that bridge.

One day, after being clean for 12 years, Wallace let his demons decide his fate. He woke up, told no one and bought a ticket back to New Orleans. Once he arrived, he was right back to using cocaine on a daily basis. He didn’t go back to the bridge but he jumped from shelter to shelter and used his NFL pension check of $650 a month to stay high. Dealers would credit him drugs and wait for his check every month to settle up.

He would then start the cycle all over again. In 2009, Wallace was arrested for writing bad checks. He was sentenced to intense in-patient treatment, but soon more checks surfaced that he lied to the courts about and was sent to prison for seven years.

So this is where the “happy ending” comes, right? Well not this time. Wallace was released for good behavior after serving only 3 and a half years and decided to go straight from the prison yard to the dope house. He ended up in debt to drug dealers and from what his girlfriend at the time(2014) had said, “The dope boys came and got him and will keep him till his check comes.” If only Jackie Wallace had a sober coach back then. Would his outcome be different? Its hard to imagine a pro- athlete, who played in three Super Bowls, living under a bridge and sleeping on a dirty mattress. So its easy to see that addiction doesn’t discriminate. Jackie Wallace is still out there suffering with addiction. If you are struggling with addiction or know someone who is contact the elite team at or by calling 1-800-706-0318.

How Jackie Wallace went from playing in the Super Bowl to homeless