WSU plane crash survivor Randy Jackson dies of cancer

Randy Jackson played in the NFL before returning to Wichita for a career as a teacher and coach.

07/21/2010 12:00 AM

07/21/2010 10:33 PM

Students will remember Randy Jackson as a strict coach and teacher with a sense of humor.

They will remember him for his signature phrase — “We’re still friends” — used by Mr. Jackson to lighten the mood after dishing out discipline.

“The kids were always talking about doing line drills or laps,” said Gayle Jackson, his wife. “Whenever he was finished, he would say ‘Now remember we’re still friends.’ The kids put that all over Facebook.”

There is a lot more to remember about Mr. Jackson (61), a former NFL running back who survived the Wichita State plane crash in 1970. He died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his wife and daughters Amanda (28) and Sesily (19). Services are pending.

“He had a great impact on a lot of kids that would come to East,” said Ron Allen, boys basketball coach at the high school. “A lot of them would say ‘You remind me of Randy Jackson.’ I‘ll take that as a compliment. He touched a lot of lives.”

Mr. Jackson was one of eight Wichita State football players to survive the Oct. 2, 1970 plane crash on Mount Trelease in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.

The plane crash killed 31 people. It was one of two planes flying from Wichita to Logan, Utah, for an Oct. 3 game against Utah State. Both planes had stopped in Denver to refuel. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that the plane was overweight and should not flown into a box canyon and had no way of getting out of it.

Eight players and the co-pilot survived the crash.

Allen said he rarely spoke of the crash. A year ago, Mr. Jackson was one of three survivors who hiked to the site for a KPTS documentary.

“If the conversation came up, it was real brief,” Allen said. “He never really elaborated on it.”

Before and after the crash, Mr. Jackson, from Atlanta, Texas, starred at running back for the Shockers. He set WSU’s single-game rushing record with 212 yards in a 1969 game against Tulsa, a mark that stood until 1983. As a senior, he led the Shockers with 820 yards and eight touchdowns. He was an All-Missouri Valley Conference pick in 1971.

“He was one of the toughest running backs I had ever seen,” Allen said. “He would drop his shoulder on you. He would run right over you.”

Mr. Jackson was drafted in the fourth round of the 1972 NFL Draft by Buffalo and played one season for the Bills. Jackson also played single seasons for the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles.

After a knee injury ended his football career, he started teaching and coaching basketball and track at Robinson Middle School in 1977. He retired in 2008, coaching until his final year at the school.

“He was definitely a disciplinarian,” Gayle Jackson said. “He always knew and understood the art of discipline. He knew with young people, when they deserved a break.”

For such a tough running back, Mr. Jackson demonstrated a light touch with his friends. Allen said Mr. Jackson saw him buying paper plates, and for some reason, it struck him as funny. He turned the moment into a long-running inside joke.

“He thought I shouldn’t buy paper plates,” Allen said. “He would crack a joke on you so quick. If he found something on you, he would ride you on it forever.”

Mr. Jackson met WSU strength coach Kerry Rosenboom in the Cessna Stadium weight room and the two quickly became friends. Mr. Jackson, like many Shocker athletes, was close with former equipment manager Joe Banks. In recent years, Mr. Jackson would drop in to talk with Rosenboom or spend time with Banks. When Rosenboom’s mother died, Mr. Jackson consoled Rosenboom’s father.

“He took time out of his day to make sure everybody else was doing OK,” Rosenboom said. “He always had something positive to say and truly cared about Wichita State.”

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