GREEN BAY – Packers cornerback Josh Jackson had just come off the practice field on Friday when his brother called with the news no child ever wants to hear.
Their father, Paul, had passed away at 77 after a series of illnesses. While the news was somewhat expected – he recently suffered two strokes and had fallen ill with pneumonia – it still hit Jackson hard regardless.
Jackson considered flying home to Texas to be with his family, but with his father's funeral scheduled for this Thursday, he chose to play Sunday against Washington. That turned out to be key for Green Bay's secondary, with both Kevin King (shoulder) and Tony Brown (heel) ruled out after being listed as questionable.
In their stead, Jackson wound up playing 26 defensive snaps in the dime sub-package.
"Once I found out, it definitely broke my heart," said Jackson on Monday. "It was definitely really tough because we were really close. We talked every day on the phone. He was a big part of my life. Just to lose him was definitely something that was pretty sad. I know he'll be with me, watching over me. Just trying to play for him and stay strong for him. I know that's what he wants me to do."
Paul was diagnosed with cancer when Jackson was in college at Iowa, which he successfully beat. Despite what he was facing, Paul told his son to keep his focus on football.
On the field, Jackson's patience has been tested this season. After starting 10 games as a rookie, Jackson has played mostly special teams this year after a foot injury landed him on the non-football injury list at the start of training camp.
Given an opportunity to play Sunday, Jackson held his own in the secondary. He was hoping Dwayne Haskins would throw one his way, but the Washington quarterback targeted his coverage only once (a 1-yard pass to Chris Thompson).
Jackson said he read the Bible before the game and said a long prayer before taking the field Sunday. He played in memory of his father, who played a role in getting Jackson started with football in fourth grade. Jackson said his dad was involved with all his sports, helping him work out and setting up drills.
"He'd always tell me – don't worry about me. Just make sure you're finishing your season strong and focus on that," Jackson said. "I know he was strong. I know he wanted me to play. So I just tried to go out there and give it my best."
Speaking with reporters Monday, Head Coach Matt LaFleur praised Jackson's performance, adding the former second-round pick has "been coming along well" in a deep secondary and has had a positive impact on special teams.
Jackson will fly home to Texas on Wednesday for the funeral before returning to the team in preparation for Sunday's game against Chicago. As emotional as Sunday was, Jackson said he tried to stay positive and focus "on the good things in life."
"It was pretty emotional. I just tried to hold it all in," Jackson said. "I was really just trying to be thankful for every play I was out there, every snap that I got. More just of gratitude. There's a lot to be thankful for. That's kind of how I felt."