When center Jamaal Jackson did not play at the Pro Bowl-caliber level that he is capable of, he knew he would receive a phone call.
On the other end, it would be his brother, Kama, who wouldn't fill his brother's head with puffery. He wouldn't comfort him. He dished out punishment worse than any fan or member of the media could provide. He was his big brother after all.
"He was my biggest critic. If I had a bad game, he wasn't one of the guys who said, 'Hey, don't worry about it.' He was, 'Hey, you played bad.' I'm going to miss those times," Jackson said.
There will be no phone call from Kama this week. In fact, he will never call again. Kama was killed by Carlos Rodriguez in a hit-and-run accident in Miami on Sept. 14. According to published reports, Kama left his home to get gas for his car. On the way back, he was only a few blocks from his home when Rodriguez ran a stop sign and hit Jackson. Rodriguez fled the scene. When his car was discovered, Rodriguez claimed that he was carjacked and that he wasn't behind the wheel. But detectives realized that his story didn't add up. According to the Miami-Dade County Police, Rodriguez was charged with vehicular manslaughter and other charges could follow. The 29-year-old Kama left a wife, Laquardia, and four children.
"The last conversation I had with my brother was, 'I want to come up to the Pittsburgh game,'" Jackson said as he wore a T-shirt dedicated to his brother's memory. "My family is very supportive. They're true football fans. My sister-in-law, my brother's wife, she said go out there and give it your best. We'll help you heal when you get back.
"Right now, I have to be strong for my family. My brother was the oldest. The next in line is me. I don't have any hate towards anybody. It's something that's happened. My brother left four beautiful children. My niece and three nephews, I'm going to give them everything their father would have given them."
Jackson's football career has been filled with twists and turns at every corner. He wasn't recruited by any big-time colleges out of Miami Senior High and enrolled at Delaware State. He wasn't drafted and signed with the Eagles in 2003 as a rookie free agent. He spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad and his second season on injured reserve with a triceps injury. In 2005, he finally got the chance to start when Hank Fraley went down with an injury and parlayed his success into a seven-year contract extension prior to the start of the 2006 training camp.
But Jackson's long road to success on the football field doesn't compare to the hurt that Jackson is dealing with now.
"All that stuff about not getting drafted, going to a small school, that means nothing right now," Jackson said fighting back the hurt. "I lost my brother. I didn't lose a scholarship or a game. It's something that I can't get back. I'm going to do my best, as well as my family, to keep his memory alive and move on."
Jackson's teammates are proud of how he has handled this difficult time in his life.
"It took a lot of strength to come out there and play, especially Monday night after just finding out about his brother," Thomas said. "Coming back from his funeral (Saturday) and coming in and playing, I think he did a great job just stepping in and doing whatever he needs to do for the team. I know, for us, it was a little selfish on our behalf because you understand that he's going through something, but you want him to be here. We did whatever we could on our behalf to just keep him focused on the game and keep his mind off of it."