Solidifying their defense to spur their chances of going all the way in 2002, the Packers have signed five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Hardy Nickerson to a Green Bay contract, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced late today.
The 15-year veteran, named to the 1990s NFL All-Decade second team in 2000, became available after being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars June 3 in a salary cap-saving move.
Still an exceptionally productive performer and respected team leader at 36 - and an athlete who consistently keeps himself in optimum physical condition - Nickerson underscored the current state of his skills by amassing a career-high and club-record 230 tackles (102 solo and 128 assisted) for the Jaguars in 2001 while playing in 15 games, including 14 starts.
It marked the eighth time in Nickerson's career that the 6-2, 237-pound University of California alumnus has collected more than 100 tackles in a season, including a club-record 214 while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993.
"Hardy Nickerson is a welcome addition to our defense and our team," Sherman said of the club's newest member. "He brings with him a wealth of valuable experience as a linebacker and class as a person.
"The thing I like most about Hardy Nickerson is that he wants what I want - to win a championship."
Nickerson's career-best 230 stops last season easily surpassed Jacksonville's previous single season club record, 186, set by Kevin Hardy in 1998.
Overall, statistically, Nickerson's '01 season was a genuine classic. He highlighted his highly productive 15th campaign by:
- Posting double-digit tackle totals (from 11 to 23 stops per game ) in all 15 games he played;
- Starting the 200th NFL game of his career at middle linebacker against Tennessee (November 4), seeing action on all 71 plays while leading the team with a team-high 19 tackles;
- Setting a team single-game record with 23 tackles (13 solo) against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens (November 25); and
- Leading the Jacksonville defense in tackles for each of the last eight games of the season, setting a club record.
Nickerson, who also took on a major leadership role as the Jaguars' defensive captain, embellished his memorable season by posting a career-high three interceptions, augmenting those contributions by forcing one fumble and recovering one.
Over his distinguished career, he has averaged more than 100 tackles per season, having amassed 1,759 stops during his 15 NFL seasons (six with Pittsburgh, seven with Tampa Bay and two with Jacksonville), while starting 185 of a possible 209 games, including all 16 contests in five different seasons. He also has registered 12 interceptions, forced 23 fumbles and recovered 12.
Nickerson also is a veteran of seven postseason appearances -three with Pittsburgh and four with Tampa Bay, posting 52 total tackles, including 32 unassisted.
In addition to his Jacksonville records, Nickerson also owns the top two single-season tackle totals in Tampa Bay's history, posting 214 stops in 1993 and 194 in '97.
Also, with five Pro Bowl appearances (1993, 1996-99), he is second in Bucs history only to Pro Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon's six selections.
Originally a fifth-round draft selection of the Steelers, Nickerson spent his first six NFL seasons (1987-92) with Pittsburgh. He later signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent on March 18, 1993, and went on to earn Associated Press first-team All-Pro recognition, thus becoming only the second player in Tampa Bay history to be so honored, following Lee Roy Selmon (1979). He also was named the NFC's starting linebacker in the Pro Bowl, becoming the first Buccaneer since Selmon in 1984 to start.
Following seven seasons in Tampa, Nickerson signed on with Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent on February 22, 2000 and subsequently encountered physical misfortune, playing in only six games before going on injured reserve in December with a knee injury suffered in October. Despite missing 10 games, he finished fifth on the team with 75 tackles (34 solo), also making one sack and one interception and posting 5 passes defensed, 2 tackles for loss and 5 quarterback pressures.
In joining the Packers, Nickerson has been assigned his career-long jersey number, 56.
Earlier also a remarkably productive performer as a collegian, Nickerson broke the University of California school career record for tackles after his junior season, closing out his career with 501 stops (281 solo), plus 8 interceptions, 4.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries and 7 passes defensed. As a prep at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, he helped his team post a 25-game winning streak, a skein which included 13 shutout victories.
Nickerson, who maintains offseason residences in Danville, Calif., and Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is active in the community, having established the Hardy Nickerson Foundation, a charitable organization that designs mentoring and developmental programs for at-risk youth, and, with it, set up a number of community programs, including Hardy's Home Workshops, Education Expedition and a scholarship fund for minorities at Seminole Presbyterian School.
He also has worked with the United Way tutoring inner-city children. His efforts drew national recognition after the 1997 season when he received the NFL Players Association's Byron "Whizzer" White Award, which is awarded each year to one player who shows a deep commitment to his community.
Hardy and his wife, Amy, are the parents of three children, daughter Ashleigh and twins Hardy and Haleigh.