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Where are they now? TE Keith Jackson

Keith Jackson
Keith Jackson

There were at least a couple of memorable phrases associated with Keith Jackson heard on football broadcasts in the late 1980s and early '90s, like the legendary ABC-TV play-by-play announcer's, "Whoa, Nellie!" and "Touchdown! Keith Jackson!"

The latter was when Philadelphia's tight end found his way to the end zone – which he would do with nearly 10 percent of his 242 receptions as an Eagle.

Selected in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft out of Oklahoma, albeit in pencil, the writing, nevertheless, was on the wall that Jackson would be heading to Philadelphia two months before it happened.

"(Eagles Head Coach) Buddy Ryan walks past me at the Combine and said, '88, if you're there when we pick with the 13th pick, you're going to be an Eagle,'" Jackson says.

"That's all he says. But he has an assumption that I'm going to be gone before the 13th pick. I won't be there."

But he was.

The Associated Press Rookie of the Year, Jackson was named All-Pro and chosen to play in the Pro Bowl in each of his first three of the four seasons he was with the Eagles.

While the recognition was certainly well-deserved, Jackson appreciated what he was able to experience with his teammates and the thousands who filled the Vet every game.

"I think Buddy Ryan brought Jimmie Giles in just to tutor me, actually. And I think we tutored each other," Jackson laughed. "But Jimmie Giles made a huge impact on me learning the NFL, what to do, how to understand defenses, and catch passes. He became a huge mentor of mine.

"And Reggie White became, I would say, my best friend. I think that we talked three times a day. I mean, just talking about life. He was a huge influence on me. I was already part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but Reggie was really impactful to the thought process of how you live life as an NFL football player and a Christian at the same time.

"Those relationships and playing in Philly, where you know the crowd, they go to work with their boots and their hats on. They work hard and they want you to work hard too. You kind of get an appreciation for that. We're going in and we're blue collar, right? We're going in, we're going to put the work in. I kind of liked that."

In 1992, Jackson and a handful of other players became the cornerstone of free agency when they sued the NFL saying that Plan B free agency was a violation of antitrust law, and won. He went on to play three seasons with Miami and two with Green Bay, helping the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI.

Jackson may not have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy while he played for Philadelphia, but…

"My strongest relationships with the guys are my Eagle guys. I played with three different teams, but whether it was in Green Bay, in Miami, or with the Eagles, those ties from those relationships are just something that you never lose," he says.

"There's no place like the locker room. When people ask me, 'What do you miss about the NFL?' I said, 'If I could go in at about seven o'clock in the morning, sit in the locker room, tell all the jokes, drink the coffee, and when they go out to practice, I could go back home, that would be perfect for me.

"That would be the highlight of my day, every day. It is so much fun in the locker room. And the camaraderie, it's just fun."

Making their home in Little Rock, Arkansas, Jackson and his wife, Melanie, have three adult sons: Keith Jr., Kenyon, and Koilan; and six grandkids.

The concept of Jackson's post-playing career actually came to him while he was with the Eagles.

"I get a vision of how to start a program to help kids go to college. I wrote the vision down and came back to Little Rock and started discussing with people here locally, how would this work and all that," Jackson says.

That led to Jackson founding P.A.R.K., which stands for Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids. Now in its 27th year, it's an after-school academic ministry that helps kids go to college.

"I was just trying to make a difference with the advantages that I have to make sure that the other kids have the same opportunity," Jackson says. "It's a holistic approach to change spirit, soul and body. My hope is that they become better human beings, more educated human beings, and then in the end, impact their community the same way. So they feel a sense of giving back the same way they were given to.

"My friends, they talk about my NFL stuff, and I go, 'I'm way more excited about what I'm doing now. It was great to play in the NFL, and it was great to run out in front of so many fans and catch balls, but this is life fulfilling.'

"I think there's a lot of people in the world that don't know their purpose. They go through life and just live it. I know my purpose. I get up every day and I enjoy doing that."

Kids typically begin the program when they are 12 or 13, and it lasts for five years. P.A.R.K.'s main goal is to have them eventually enroll in a two- or four-year college. Some, however, have joined the military. Others have gone straight to the workforce.

What makes Jackson most proud of P.A.R.K.?

"I guess what makes me proud is that I get a vision from God, and that vision comes to fruition," he says. "It's just a level of faith. This is what you need to do and you've got to have a level of faith to do it. And to walk in every day and see that that's what's happening, that's a proud moment.

"I've lived an unbelievably charmed life. And the journey has been impactful. It's been joyful. It's been just more than I could think that it would be."

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