Bill Jackson, a Philly to Lewes sports guy, passes away at age 74

November 24, 2020

Swoosh! Swoosh! Big-time sports friend of mine Bill Jackson, a Philly/Lewes guy like me, passed away Nov. 22 in Florida from prostate cancer at the age of 74. Bill’s Cardinal Dougherty basketball team defeated my Bishop Egan squad 69-59 at the Penn Palestra for the Philadelphia Catholic Championship in front of 9,000 fans. That was 1964, and our lives continued to intersect until he blew out of here a few days ago like Hurricane Andrew over South Florida in 1992. 

Bill was a full-boat Miami Hurricanes fan, which proved a great benefit to me. “I think my boat partner from Philly knows you,” John Miller of Lewes told me over beers three decades and change ago. “His name is Bill Jackson. He said to remind you his Dougherty team beat you guys in the Palestra.”

Bill and I reacquainted and started sports sojourns together; me with a small-time media credential, Bill with big-time tickets. We returned to the refurbished Palestra in 1999 to watch Princeton play Penn. Princeton came back from 27 down with 15 minutes to play to win 50-49 in a game that became known as Black Tuesday.  Penn was coached by Fran Dunphy. It was the fourth-greatest second-half comeback in NCAA history. Jed Ryan of Cathedral Prep, who had starred in the Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament, was on that Penn team. 

Bill and I attended the 1991 Miami at Florida State, college football’s No. 2 versus No. 1 game, in Tallahassee in 1991. The game became known as “Wide Right” after Florida State missed a chip shot field goal and Miami won 17-16. The Canes went on to win the national championship.

John McMahon, an all-league lineman for LaSalle High School in 1964, was our host guide in Florida. John is an affable Philly storyteller who leaves the window open so you can crawl inside and become part of a story you were hearing for the first time.   

At halftime of the FSU game, the wife of the first pilot shot down in Desert Storm – both had graduated from FSU flight school – was presented with the folded flag. There was a jet formation flyover followed by Lee Greenwood singing “Proud to be an American.” Seventy thousand fans who had each been given a little American flag stood and did the tomahawk chop fist over the flagstick. 

In the spring of 1992, Bill and I were at the Spectrum for Duke versus Kentucky in the NCAA East Regional Final. Duke’s Christian Laettner made “the shot,” catching a Grant Hill pass, turning and drilling a jumper from the foul line at the buzzer for a 104-103 win. ESPN ranks the shot as the 17th greatest sports moment of all time. Bill and I knew we were witnessing history and saw no reason it should ever stop. We were compatible, sympatico, blue-collar rowhouse trolley car Catholic guys. 

Back to the Orange Bowl in 1992, we watched Miami beat Florida State 19-16, as Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles unveiled the fast-break offense – now called the spread – behind Charlie Ward, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, then choose NBA over NFL.  

Miami at Penn State in 1999: The new bleachers in Beaver Stadium shook. The Canes emerged from the tunnel through the fog of dry ice, purposely walked over to their fan section before the game and gave a “Thanks for coming” wave. I bought a Canes ballcap. I liked the arrogance of a confident approach to competition. 

I got Bill and me credentials for the Miami at Temple game at Franklin Field in 2002, which was won by Miami 44-21. But two funny things happened. First, a student manager from the Temple side came up to me and said, “Coach Prescott said to get your ass over to the Temple sidelines.” I had been Spencer Prescott's high school coach, plus Tommy Sheehan of Cape was a tight end for the Owls. 

Meanwhile, Bill Jackson was kicking it on the bench with Canes coach Art Kehoe, who was from Conshohocken, Pa., and spent 31 years on the Miami staff – the only coach on all five national championship teams.  

Godspeed, my traveling sports buddy. All our times together were destined to be good times and big times. Swoosh! Swoosh! 


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