Since their days together at the University of Florida, Darrell Jackson and Marquand Manuel have met in the locker room just before taking the field, given each other one sharp...

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MINNEAPOLIS — Since their days together at the University of Florida, Darrell Jackson and Marquand Manuel have met in the locker room just before taking the field, given each other one sharp tap on the chest and said, almost in unison, “Give me what you got.”


But yesterday, Manuel made sure he looked into Jackson’s eyes. Made sure he saw what he knew he would see. No doubt. No misgivings. Nothing but steely concentration.


“When he gave it back to me,” Manuel said, “I knew he was ready to play.”


Just five hours before kickoff, Jackson was told his father, Joe, had died after a painful fight with cancer. And Manuel, who knew Joe Jackson well, understood the hurt his friend was carrying into a football game that, despite the tragedy, remained important to Jackson and his family.


“It’s amazing what he did today,” Manuel said. “I mean, he and his dad, they were real tight. Real tight. And for Darrell to do what he did today, that’s a football player. I mean, that’s a real football player.”


This game was all Jackson had left to give back to his father. All he could do on this last day of his father’s life was make plays that would have made his father proud. Make plays that honored his 68-year-old mentor, friend and father.


And Jackson gave his father’s memory and his teammates probably the best game of his five-year career. Ten catches in memoriam for 135 yards and a touchdown. A 27-23 win over Minnesota that, all of a sudden, put the Hawks in the playoff catbird seat.


Jackson merely didn’t play this one for this father. He played it great for his father.


With Minnesota cornerback Brian Williams practically wrestling with him, Jackson caught a 17-yard pass. Two plays later, he broke open in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown, putting the Hawks ahead 21-20.


“When Darrell’s hurtin’, we’re hurtin’,” Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I just have a tremendous amount of respect for Darrell and the way he played today. And his family should be proud. It had to be tremendously hard for him. I can’t even put myself in his shoes. I just can’t imagine.”


In the third quarter, Jackson made a sliding catch of Hasselbeck’s low fastball of a pass for a 20-yard gain, part of a nine-play drive that led to Josh Brown’s 33-yard field goal. And in the fourth quarter, just after the two-minute warning, on third down, Jackson ran a fly route and got past Derek Ross for a drive-reviving, 37-yard catch.


“It was just an honor to see this guy go out and play the way he did today, just to line up with him, knowing all the adversity he was going through,” said Hawks receiver Jerry Rice, who talked often with Jackson on the sideline during the game. “He gave everything on the football field today, and it was exciting to see. It was like I was sitting at home on the couch watching him. He played a fantastic game.


“I lost my dad during the season, and I know exactly what that feels like. It’s really hard when you lose someone that close, but I’m sure his dad wanted him to come out here and play today. And he put on a show, man.”


Suffering from flu symptoms and migraine headaches, Jackson missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, then left the team Friday, flying home to be at his father’s bedside in Tampa, Fla.


He met the team in their hotel late Saturday night and learned at 7:10 a.m. yesterday his father had died.


“It wasn’t a tough decision for me to play,” Jackson said. “This is what my father would have wanted. He would have wanted me to cowboy up and suck it up and get the job done. You just have to hold your emotions down for the game. It’s easier on the field than off the field. When I get off the field, that’s when it hurts the most.”


As Jackson dressed, the game ball rested on a shelf inside his wooden locker. It’s a ball that will belong to his father.


“It’s a very trying time for me right now, but I’ve got to push on for my family as well as this team,” Jackson said. “I’m in a battle myself personally and I’m in a battle at work. We’re trying to get into the playoffs. I’ve seen a lot of other players go through this on TV, like (Green Bay quarterback) Brett Favre, and I’ve gotten a little inspiration from seeing them.”


Joe Jackson was released from the hospital last week and allowed to die at home. And in his last days, Darrell was able to talk to his father about the game they’ve shared all of Darrell’s life.


“He told me to hold things down, and that’s what I’m trying to do for the Seahawks and for my family as well,” said Jackson, who has eight brothers and sisters. “I call my father and mother after every game. They criticize me and they offer their support.


“And today I know he was watching and thinking, ‘Way to cowboy up. Way to go out there and get the job done. Way to press on.’ I’ve been preparing myself for this for a while. He’s been fighting for a long time. I think he’s happy that I was able to suck it up and put a smile on my mother’s face and ease her pain for a while.”


Less than two hours after the game, Jackson was on another plane back to Tampa, where he will attend his father’s funeral.


And as sad as this day was for him, he can be heartened by the knowledge that he lifted some of the pain from his family, while he carried his football team in a game it absolutely had to win.


Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.