Even in Iraq, he stays connected with Colts
Keeping up with team provides Beech Grove native Jackson with reminders of home
By Phillip B. Wilson
It's 4:30 a.m. in Iraq. Game time for John Jackson.
How to follow the Colts from Iraq
Beech Grove native John Jackson, a Department of Defense contractor working at a recreation center near Baghdad, shared his thoughts with Phillip B. Wilson via e-mail as he watched the Colts' 41-10 opening victory over New Orleans on Thursday.
The Beech Grove native, wearing an Indianapolis Colts No. 28 Marlin Jackson jersey -- the last name fits -- will spend the final 21/2 hours of a 12-hour shift juggling duties as a recreation center supervisor with watching his favorite NFL team open its season against the New Orleans Saints.
More than 6,000 miles from home and eight hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, Jackson gets his Colts fix via newspaper Web sites, online audio streams, and, a few games a year -- including this one -- actual television.
"Game days for the Colts are like gold because of the long pregame shows," said Jackson, 56, a private contractor working for the U.S. Department of Defense. "It carries me through the whole day. Then the next day, after game day, I read all the stories and the (IndyStar.com) blog. Basically a Colts game gives me two days of home."
Jackson often is reminded that the Middle East is far from home. His wake-up call one recent morning was mortar fire about 30 meters from what he calls his "hootch," the 8-by-15-foot trailer where he lives.
Jackson is in his 20th month of supervising the East Recreation Center on a U.S. Army base about an hour's drive from Baghdad. About 7,000 troops visit daily.
He is reminded of his Hoosier heritage by one of the center's side streets, named Indiana Avenue. And he loves to enlighten those unaware of his roots. Above his office door is a Colts flag the team sent him before Super Bowl XLI. He was able to watch four Colts games last season, including the Super Bowl, on a 25-foot big-screen TV at the center. The rest were on audio streams.
Jackson doesn't regret taking a lucrative job in a war zone, but Colts games make him long for home. He grew up on Indiana sports, from the Hoosiers to the Pacers. He started out a Dallas Cowboys fan, admiring coach Tom Landry, but then the Colts came to Indy in 1984, and four years later Landry was effectively forced to retire in Dallas. Allegiances changed overnight.
"I'm a home boy and anything I can do to feel close to home, I do it," Jackson said, in a telephone interview.
"I have to admit it was very, very, very difficult for me being over here when the Colts won the Super Bowl. As a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, I know what it meant to the city. To miss the feeling of the city and everything was very difficult. Luckily, I have a lot of friends who sent over the coverage from the TV stations and DVDs. It was very thrilling."
The father of a 25-year-old daughter, Jackson hopes to one day meet Colts coach Tony Dungy, whose work with All-Pro Dads inspired Jackson to help create an Iraq chapter.
"This is a guy who epitomizes everything I think a man should want to be," Jackson said.
When told of Jackson's story, Dungy spoke of the Colts' worldwide fan support.
"We get the letters, the e-mails, the cards, the photographs with the Colts flags flying all over the world, guys saying how much it means to them to watch the games," Dungy said. "I pass those on to the team. It is just a game. We're out there doing what we do, but here's some guys who really appreciate what you do. It's awesome."
As for this season, Jackson was ecstatic about the Colts' 41-10 thumping of the Saints, and predicts the teams will meet again in the Super Bowl.
He says the Colts will finish 11-5. San Diego and New England are formidable foes, he allows, but he foresees the Colts repeating as champs with a 24-21 victory over the Saints in Super Bowl XLII.
"Back in the day when I was a Cowboys fan, you never counted the Cowboys out of a game when (Roger) Staubach was the quarterback," he said. "The same is true with Peyton Manning. You can never count a Manning team out."
Jackson plans to come home next August. He says nearly three years in Iraq will be enough.
He can't wait to see the Colts again in person. The next meeting between fan and team likely will be in Lucas Oil Stadium, scheduled to open for the 2008 season.
"That would be great," he said.
Sure beats audio streams and mortar fire.