THERE’S plenty we know about Karl Jacka.
We know he was a loving father and husband.
We know he was a terrific football coach.
We know he was brave in his short-but-public fight against cancer. Bloody brave.
Sadly, at 35, we also know he taken way too soon.
What perhaps you didn’t know, is that the popular Border sporting identity was also a “Christmas nerd”.
Yep, the same bloke who could deliver a piercing spray to his players on the footy field loved nothing more than to nestle up on the couch and watch a cheesy “Chrissy flick”, like Elf, The Santa Clause trilogy or The Night Before.
It’s this, and his passion for American sports, that have inspired “his girls”, wife Cristy and daughter Lucy, to embark on the trip of a lifetime to the US.
Dubbed “Team Jacka’s bucket list adventure”, Cristy and Lucy have flown halfway around the world to live Karl’s dream.
“Karl and I always wanted to go to the States,” Cristy said.
“We thought about doing it for our honeymoon almost 12 years ago but we had so many things we wanted to do and we wanted to do it in comfort and style so we put it off until we had more money behind us because we were only 22 and 24 when we got married. Then life started and we had Lucy so the plan got moved until she was old enough to enjoy and remember it.
“We would talk for hours about all the things we would do whilst there and we soon worked out we would need to be away for at least a month and it absolutely must line up with all of Karl’s sports teams, which meant the December-January school holidays it was to be.”
And like any good coach, Karl had a game plan with strict team rules that Cristy and Lucy must stick to.
Top of the list, official club merchandise must be worn to all sporting fixtures and “we have to make friends with the people around us in the crowd so we could have some banter,” Cristy says.
“As a passionate sports man, Karl wanted the full experience.”
With that front of mind, Cristy and Lucy jetted off to New York.
After starting the morning in“the ugliest of ugly jumpers”, they traded for some blue and orange singlets to see the Knicks play against Ben Simmons’ Philadelphia 76ers at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day – a fixture that has become an institution in the NBA.
“Karl would have loved the basketball, it was everything we thought it would be and more,” Cristy said.
“We had these two blokes sitting behind us and they talked the entire game about stats and trades and other random dribble … I just know Karl would have turned around and added his opinion!”
Then there were the obvious must-see attractions in the Big Apple: Central Park, the Empire State Building, the 9/11 memorial and a show on Broadway. For the record, Lucy loved The Lion King.
“We may have also snuck in a Sex and the City tour and a shop at Tiffany’s as well, which definitely weren’t on his list!” Cristy jokes.
Before leaving New York, Cristy and Lucy left a little piece of Karl on the Brooklyn Bridge in the form of a #TeamJacka wristband.
“I’m hoping it’s still there when a friend of mine goes there in a few weeks,” Cristy said.
Next stop: Baltimore. It’s here where Karl would be most excited as it’s the home of his favourite NFL team – the Ravens.
Cristy’s parents Ian and Lee Paterson, who have joined them on the trip, organised for Cristy and Lucy to go onto the field at M&T Bank Stadium before the Ravens’ match against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cristy was reduced to tears when she was presented with two Ravens jerseys by Baltimore staff, complete with Jacka and No.3 printed on the back.
“It was just amazing – it’s the absolute highlight,” she said.
“Karl would have just loved the football – it was so much more than I could ever have imagined.
“Mum and dad got in contact with Moe from the Ravens to just get a shoutout on the scoreboard and nothing else but he was touched by Karl’s story and organised, by complete surprise, a tour of the field.
“We got to meet the cheerleaders as well which was a huge highlight for Lucy.”
San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles are all to come on the tour diary before Cristy and Lucy return home to the Border in time for the first anniversary of Karl’s death on January 28.
Karl and Cristy, who would’ve been married 12 years on Sunday, had planned to get remarried in Vegas in “full Elvis and trashbag dress-up” for their wedding anniversary.
Instead, Cristy’s parents will now renew their vows in Nevada as the family’s “King” – Karl – watches down from above.
It will be an emotional day but Cristy is determined to soldier on, for Lucy as much as herself. After all, it’s what Karl would’ve wanted and “attitude is a choice”.
“We started 2016 with the goal that we would all be here. That obviously changed but the goal of going to the States stayed,” Cristy said.
“As we worked out what was happening, the conversation changed to I still want you to take Lucy to the States for me and do everything we planned.
“We know he’s here on this adventure with us.”
Cristy and a group of Karl’s friends are in the process of organising a barbecue and casual cricket match to mark the one-year anniversary of his death.
In honour of one of Jacka’s nicknames, the match will be the “Pigs” v the “T-Rexes” and Cristy is determined to make it an upbeat occasion.
“We want something casual that’s a bit competitive but, most importantly, not a sad event,” she said.
“We will all be feeling it but Karl would hate us all moping around.”
No doubt reminding everyone that “attitude is a choice”.