By John R. Schirmer
Keith Jackson seemed to enjoy his second trip to Nashville on Monday more than he did the first one back in October.
The former NFL star came to town Oct. 7 to watch his son Koilan and the Joe T. Robinson Senators play the Scrappers in Nashville’s Homecoming game. Both teams were undefeated in District 7-4A in what was billed as the best game in the state that week.
The game went back and forth before the Scrappers held Robinson scoreless in the fourth quarter to seal a 31-28 victory over the Senators.
“It wasn’t a good time when I came here for football,” Jackson told an appreciative group of Nashville educators Monday morning. He was the guest speaker for the district’s first faculty and staff meeting of the new academic year.
Monday night, he spoke at the Scrapper Showdown sponsored by the Scrapper Booster Club. (More on the Showdown on page 12A and in next week’s News-Leader.)
Things went better for him the second time around.
Jackson’s trip to Nashville was planned earlier this summer at an administrators’ conference at Lake DeGray. Jackson was the speaker, and he mingled with the crowd just as he did Monday in Nashville. Well, almost everybody
The difference – “I was taking pictures and talking with everybody except those wearing orange” he told the teachers.
Jackson talked about football, family and education during his presentation, sharing stories from his Little League playing days up to his role as the founder and board president of PARK (Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids) in Little Rock.
“I was all excited one day when my coach told me I was the anchor of the football team,” Jackson said. “I went home and told my mama that Coach told me I was the anchor. She said, ‘Look the word up before you use it.’ I did. It meant ‘dead weight.’”
Jackson graduated from Little Rock Parkview and attended the University of Oklahoma on a football scholarship as a tight end from 1984-87. He played in the NFL for Philadelphia, Miami and Green Bay and was selected for six Pro Bowls. The Packers won the Super Bowl his final season.
He worked in broadcasting after his football career, including a 17-year stint with the Arkansas Razorback broadcast team where he served as color analyst. He retired from the Razorback position at the end of last season so that he will be able to attend two of his sons’ college football games, Koilan at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and Kenyon at the University of Illinois. His oldest son, Keith Jr., played at Arkansas from 2003-06
Jackson recounted some of his travels with legendary Razorback play-by-play man, the late Paul Eells. “Paul Eells was incredible to work with. He was the nicest buy you’d ever meet.”
The Razorbacks played some memorable overtime games during Jackson’s days on the air with Eells, including road wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss and the Miracle on Markham against LSU.
All three times, the Hogs won on the games’ last play. All three times, Jackson upstaged Eells by hollering that the Hogs had won before Eells had a chance to call the play. All three times, Jackson apologized to Eells. “I said, ‘Paul, I’ve worked for TNT. I’ve worked for Fox. I’m sorry. This will never happen again.’” Then it would happen again, he told the teachers and staff.
Jackson emphasized the role of his coaches and teachers in paving the way for his success in football and after football. “My Little League football coach taught me to be a winner. He reminded me what Vince Lombardi said that losing is not an option.”,
AAU Coach Ron Crawford “told me, ‘You’re going somewhere. When you get where you’re going, make sure to give some chicken back,’” referring to the time when he bought Jackson an extra chicken dinner during a road trip.
“That’s the value of coaches and teachers. We live in a microwave society. We want everything quickly. It’s hard work being a teacher,” Jackson said.
He told of the time when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis for a speech April 3, 1968. “He was feeling sick. He delivered the speech like a conversation with God, then said that if the Almighty ‘will allow me a few more years in the latter half of the 20th Century, I’ll be happy.’ He was assassinated the next day. Time comes to an end.”
He quoted Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”
He defined “understanding” as the “application of wisdom” and related the passage to the teachers’ role with their students. “These are not the same students today as they were 30 years ago,” he said. “They filter things differently and have a different belief system. When I grew up, I had a drug problem. My mama drug me to church every Sunday. Our belief system comes from some moral compass. Coach Lou Holtz called it the Do-Right Rule. If you don’t do right, you’re not going to play.”
Today, society is “going from a belief system to the ‘I heard’ system from the internet. ‘They say.’ Who are they?” Jackson asked.
“My kids quote from our family. ‘No is not an option. Quit is not an option. That’s the Jackson way of doing things. That’s family. They helped build you into the individual you are,” Jackson said.
When Jackson was growing up, parents reinforced what happened at school. “Now, parents say, ‘My kid didn’t do anything wrong.’”
“Understand what you’re dealing with,” he urged the teachers. “Ask kids to produce in the world today. Know their filter system. Understand who you’re working with. If you yell at kids first thing in the morning like they were yelled at at home, they tune you out.”
Jackson said there is “nothing like education to close the gap between the haves and have nots. You [teachers] are the individuals who can make America better.”
Jackson told about one of his English teachers at Parkview, Beth Greenway. “She was a wonderful English teacher. I put her up for Teacher of the Year when I got in the NFL. She came in second. She made us learn Shakespeare. I didn’t want to. She told me, ‘You will not play at Oklahoma if you don’t pass my class.’ I learned Shakespeare.”
From there, Jackson quoted several passages from Shakespeare to the delight of the English teachers in the audience. He said he went on to major in communications at Oklahoma because “a teacher saw something in me.”
Jackson told the educators that he “grew up poor. I didn’t like it. I’m not going back. Poverty is a mindset. It takes a team to get over that.”
He recalled the time when the Green Bay Packers received their Super Bowl rings. Players were called out by position when the rings were distributed. Then team officials received their rings. “They gave the rings out, but we couldn’t open them until everybody had them.”
Eventually the office staff, secretaries, custodians received Super Bowl rings as well. They didn’t score a touchdown or stop a run, but they all contributed, Jackson said. “I saw what team is all about.”
Jackson said that America “has some great minds,” including Arkansas families such as Stephens, Walton, Tyson and Hunt. “They ended up being big because they had some great teachers.”