OP-ED: THE IDLE AMERICAN- Another No. 88
Published 7:55 am Wednesday, February 24, 2021
Dallas Cowboy great Drew Pearson’s candle of hope was down to final flickers. Recently, though, the Pro Football Hall of Fame recognized the greatness of this National Football League star who was named “all-pro” three times. Old number “88”–who set numerous team records in the 1970s-1980s–was named to the 2021 HOF class, unleashing tears from his 70-year-old eyes.
Another number “88”–this one worn by a Beaumont, Texas junior high school football aspirant when Pearson was in diapers–wore the number proudly, if only for a few days. Had his jersey fit him better, he might have stayed out longer. (As my mother said, “The jersey swallowed him whole.”)
Thanks to those “88” numerals, the young man exited football early, choosing more scholarly pursuits as he distinguished himself in a career spent largely in higher education. His “88” number perhaps hastened his decision to drop the sport.
My late friend, Don Jackson, brought laughter when he told the story to friends. While sizes, speeds and weights may be exaggerated, the rest is accurate, or might near.
In the 1940s, Jackson remembered being shorter, thinner and slower than the “average bear,” or so he thought. He mostly warmed the bench, where reserves feared one foe–called “Great Big Gosh-awful”–almost as much as starters. “GBG’s” name made big sports page headlines weekly.
As an aspiring receiver hopeful of snagging passes, Don was a “David” and the big guy was a “Goliath” who made mincemeat of ball carriers each week. That’s what sent shivers down spines of pass receivers. Probably he wouldn’t enter the game, Don thought. But what if he did? This “tackling terror” was rumored to have been a junior high student for several years, and the “man among boys” even had razor nicks on his face. Shaving was not on the radar of Don’s team members.
There’s more. Don rightly thought of himself as “droopy.” After all, his shoes, pads, pants and jersey were several sizes too big. The guy who’d worn the football duds previously perhaps weighed 300 pounds. Don’s untucked jersey nearly reached his knees, but luckily, sartorial etiquette of the day required jerseys to be “tucked in.” He happily complied.
Early in a game that was already out of hand, his coach barked, “Jackson, get out there and try to catch a pass.” On the next play, the ball hit Don squarely on the “88,” and the defensive brute flattened him a split second later. Somehow, the ball remained enshrouded in Don’s jersey, first down yardage was picked up, and he was able to hobble to the sideline without assistance. The public address announcer stumbled, saying the pass was “caught by double-zero, a number not listed in the game program.” There was good reason; only the top half of the “two 8’s” remained visible. The bottom half of the numbers had been knocked further downward into Don’s pants.
He turned in his uniform the next day, getting an early start on a multi-faceted career that included distinction as a biology professor, registrar and academic officer at Howard Payne University. He also was an accomplished artist, furniture maker and taxidermist, granted two patents for “do-it-yourself” taxidermy techniques still used by many individuals, as well as a major Louisiana museum.
Another vignette involved him and his identical twin brother, also a teacher. They both “taught”–nay, endured—a clearly unmotivated student. First, the lad tangled with Thomas Ronald Jackson, Don’s twin, a Beaumont High School teacher. The troubled youngster then lived with his grandparents in LaMarque, where he’d “get a fresh start.” He was assigned to Don Jackson’s biology class there. “Just my luck,” he protested, “Mr. Jackson followed me!”
Don died in 2005 at age 69, and his widow, a retired HPU faculty member, still lives in Brown County. Don’s twin, Thomas Ronald and his wife are Deer Park retirees.
Dozens of other “Jackson stories” will be shared in later columns.
Dr. Newbury is a long-time public speaker and university president who writes weekly. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.
Side note: The “Jackson twins” both married graduates of Port Arthur High School. Don Married Marilynn Bock, class of 1955, and Thomas wed Katie Gilbert, class of 1958. Don and Thomas graduated Beaumont High School in 1953.