Tyoka Jackson enjoyed the five seasons he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under head coach Tony Dungy and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. But…
"The problem was, I was playing most of the time behind a Hall of Famer, Warren Sapp. I just wanted to get on the field. I wanted to play," Jackson said. "I felt physically and from a skill standpoint that I was coming into my own. But I wasn't able to share it consistently and help my team win just because I'm stuck behind one of the greatest of all time.
"My contract was up and as much as I loved Tampa and the defensive-centric culture we built, I wanted to become what I thought I could become, and that's a consistent contributor on a winning team."
That team was the Rams. The defensive lineman signed with them in 2001 because of the familiarity and trust he had in Lovie Smith, who was also joining them as the new defensive coordinator after coaching the Buccaneers' linebackers for five seasons.
"He called and we had a very short conversation because we knew what the Rams were offensively and what they were defensively and what needed to change. He thought I would be a big part of that," Jackson said.
"He told me what my role was. He told me about what we were going to be from a culture-building defensive standpoint. We needed to bring our defense from Tampa to St. Louis, andthat's what we did."
During Jackson's first season in St. Louis, the Rams posted a 14-2 record, won the NFC Championship, and met New England in Super Bowl XXXVI, coming up short, 20-17.
"I expected to be, honestly, in the Super Bowl," Jackson said. "In that initial conversation, Coach Smith said, 'All they needed was some defense,' and I finished the sentence, 'And we'll be right in the Super Bowl.' And he said, 'Exactly.'
"And that's exactly what happened. It was 'The Greatest Show on Turf,' but I think in 2000, they had become the first team in the history of the game to score 400  and give up 400  (points). They just needed some defense. Well, we brought more than some defense to the team, and we were where I expected us to be, in the Super Bowl. It was a dream ride, but it was a dream that I saw coming."
Granted, he didn't miss any games, but Jackson had torn a meniscus during the 2001 preseason and then tore the other one during the next year's preseason. In 2003, they both stayed intact.
"That was the first time I'd gone through a full offseason and training camp healthy in St. Louis. And so I think that's where it all clicked. The fact that I was healthy the entire year," Jackson said.
That year, Jackson had a career-high 5.5 sacks and collected the only interception of his career during a 48-17 victory over Minnesota, when he picked off Daunte Culpepper and had an 11-yard return.
"The defense, I knew like the back of my hand because I'd studied it in Tampa. I wouldn't even pick up the playbook anymore. We had obviously, some nuances every week, that we would do that were tailored against the offense," Jackson said.
"But I knew it just as well or better than any of the coaches, honestly, from a defensive line standpoint. I played every position on the line and I made all the calls during pass rush. So it was just the combination of me understanding the defense supremely and being healthy."
With the Rams for five seasons, 2001-05, the "best year" of Jackson's career was also the first of three consecutive years when his teammates' respect was demonstrated by them choosing him to be a captain.
"It was an honor for me just because when you look at who wasn't the captain on that team.That's when you really started to go, 'Wow, how was I a captain? My goodness,'" Jackson said. "Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and all of these unbelievable players on that team who were not a captain, Orlando Pace, the list goes on of the great men and great players who weren't a captain. And so that's when I started to realize this is an amazing deal here. And the fact that I wasn't a full-time starter, that's very rare.
"So I took that as a tremendous compliment. And I didn't do anything different. I just was myself after being named captain. All I had to do was just come to work every day, work hard, and be a positive influence on the young players by leading by example.
"And also, being a little bit of an emotional leader, as well. That was my role. I embraced it, and loved it, and it was something I'll never forget. In fact, they named me captain in perpetuity. Again, that was just an honor on top of an honor. I look back at those days with just nothing but fondness."
Retiring in 2007 after a 12-year playing career which began as being an undrafted free agent out of Penn State, Jackson played for the Rams, Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, and Detroit Lions.
These days, the father of three and grandfather of one, lives in Washington, DC, where he's an entrepreneur with the Jackson Investment Company (JIC), a company he founded in 1995 with his father and brother: Clarence Jr. and Clarence III.
Beginning primarily as residential and commercial real estate developers, they now own 54 rental units. And it was shortly after Jackson's NFL days when JIC became involved in another business venture thanks in part to him being an observant driver.
"I came across a sign that said 'Restaurant Pad for Rent' not far from our corporate office. It was a dirt mound in a commercial parking lot area and it had a wooden sign that had been put up by a leasing agent," Jackson said.
"Most people who aren't entrepreneurs see things with their normal two eyes looking forward, but entrepreneurs develop a third eye. Thousands and thousands of people had driven by it, but once I saw it, I saw an opportunity. And that began a year-long process of becoming an IHOP franchisee."
The Jacksons opened an IHOP in Washington's Ward 8 in 2008.
"It was the first sit-down franchise in the history of Ward 8," Jackson said. "We're really, really proud of that because that area generally is known for fast food (restaurants), liquor stores, convenient stores and that sort of thing. In a lot of ways, it was sort of a food desert when it came to having a hot meal prepared and served to you. That just didn't exist."
They opened a second IHOP in the city's Ward 1 in 2010.
Most recently, their businesses like many others, faced huge challenges during the pandemic.
"It had a horrible effect on the financial industry and our two restaurants were no different. We had to fight through that," Jackson said. "Obviously, there was some assistance from the federal government, and I think DC Mayor (Muriel) Bowser did a tremendous job of being a support system to small businesses in the city. We were able to survive, but it's still a struggle.
"The ability to find really good employees is our biggest challenge post-pandemic. But we're just trying to focus on the fundamentals and get better every single day and not complain, because complaining is not going to do anything. And you won't catch me doing that because a lot of restaurants closed during the pandemic, never to open again. So we're fortunate."