It's the phone calls that Jamaal Jackson misses the most.

"It was real hard to understand at first," the Eagles center said Monday. "I didn't want to believe it. I would get home, and I wouldn't get that call. 'What it is, bro?' He'd start every call like that. The sadness kind of overwhelms everything.

"I just try to put everything inside and focus on what I can, and that's my family."

Those calls from big brother stopped coming during the second week of the Eagles' season. Early Sunday morning, before the Eagles' Sept. 15 Monday night game in Dallas, Kamar Jackson kissed his wife, Laquardia, goodbye, went out to put gas in his car - and never made it back to his Miami home.

He was killed five minutes from his home by a hit-and-run driver who later admitted to police that he had a drinking problem, according to the police report.

After being told about his brother's death, Jamaal Jackson decided to play the following night against the Cowboys in what was a wild 41-37 loss for the Eagles at Texas Stadium.

"All I can remember about the Dallas game was it was high-scoring," Jackson said. "Before the game, and even during the game, there were times I was just totally out of it. Of course, you want to try to block things out, but it's tough when you lose a brother like that. This wasn't my half-brother. This was my older brother. We were real close."

Kamar Jackson, a father of four, was 29. Jamaal is 28.

"We talked frequently, pretty much every week," Jamaal said. "My nephews just started playing football, so he kept sending me pictures of them. He was coming up to the Pittsburgh game the following week."

Instead, it was Jamaal who went to Miami the week of the Pittsburgh game. He buried his brother on Saturday, played in a 16-6 win over the Steelers on Sunday and talked about the loss of his brother in front of his locker after the game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Publicly, the story ended that day. Privately, Jamaal Jackson and his family are still in the early stages of grieving Kamar's death. Today is their first Christmas without their brother, husband, son and father.

Cry every morning

With his older brother gone, Jamaal Jackson has taken on the role of being the leader in his family. In addition to calling signals for the Eagles' offensive line this season, he also has been calling his mother, Sadie, Laquardia and his younger brother, Maurice.

"He's taken over that role my husband was in," Laquardia Jackson said from her home in Miami. "He's making sure everybody is OK. He's been very supportive, very strong. I cry almost every morning, every night. This is new to me, being a single mom."

Jamaal Jackson, who has 2-year-old twin daughters of his own, thinks the world of his sister-in-law and her four children. He has known Laquardia since he was a sophomore in high school.

"In Miami, we stayed . . . in this apartment complex, and she stayed on the third floor," Jamaal said. "We were on the second floor. As the years would go by, we'd move, and they'd move, and we stayed close by them. If she wouldn't have hooked up with my brother, she would have been a sister to the family anyway just because of how long we've known each other."

Jackson said Laquardia has helped him as much as he has helped her during the last 21/2 months.

"We've been leaning on each other," he said. "I know she lost her husband, but I lost a brother, and my mom lost a son. So it has been a lot of support that has gone around. I try to give her a call every day. She's picked up the slack. He used to call me before and after every game, so now she calls me before and after game. He'd be the first to tell you, 'You've got to get that snap up. You've got to pick the blitz up.' She doesn't do all that. She just says, 'Hey bro, just hang in there.' "

Laquardia said Kamar was always a comforting voice for Jamaal.

"From the practice squad until now, Kamar was always the one lifting him up," she said. "Of course I'm not my husband, but I try to do something to make him smile whenever I can. I know Jamaal and Maurice and his mother are missing him just as much as me and the kids are missing him."

Be the strong one

Jamaal said Kamar's death has been particularly difficult for his mother and brother.

"My mom, she's a strong woman," Jamaal said. "But this loss of my brother has been real, real hard for her. I'd always get calls from my mom, but I get three or four calls a day now. She tries not to break down when she's on the phone with me. She knows I have to be the strong one for the family, so I guess she doesn't want to put added pressure on me. She gets into her periods where my aunt or my brother will call me and tell me when she's down. I try to lift her up any way I can. Sometimes, I'll bring her up here."

Jackson said Maurice, 26, and Kamar, who was a longshoreman at the Port of Miami, started a weekend car-detailing business together last year.

"We're still working on [Maurice]," Jamaal said. "He was with my brother every day. Last year, they asked me for some help to start a mobile detailing company, and they started doing that on the weekends. So they became even closer than they already were. He's taking it the hardest. He's hurting. He doesn't have his older brother and his partner."

Laquardia said the detailing business is still operating.

"It was very profitable," she said. "We're trying hard to keep the business going. It has been doing well. The clients [Kamar] established, they still come. They say, 'As long as you guys are washing, we'll come.' It has been a good blessing. I wish my husband could be here to see it."

No feelings

Carlos Alberto Rodriguez is the man charged with killing Kamar Jackson. Police reports said Rodriguez ran a stop sign in a Honda Passport SUV and collided with Jackson's car at high speed. A spokeswoman for the Miami police said yesterday that he has only been charged with leaving the scene of an accident with death involved.

Jamaal Jackson said other charges are expected to eventually be filed, and the case will likely go to court some time in March.

The police report said Rodriguez, 42, initially tried to say he had been carjacked but later confessed that he was driving the car after drinking at a Miami strip club.

"I don't really have any feelings toward him," Jamaal said. "Me hating him isn't going to bring my brother back, and I'll just leave it at that. I'll leave it in God's hands. You pray for understanding."

Laquardia remembers words of advice from her late husband.

"He used to say, 'Being angry is not going to get anything done. It'll just make your muscles frown up,' " she said. "Of course I was angry when it first happened because this guy was drinking and driving crazy in a residential area. But to stay angry, it's not going to help.

"Now sad, I do get sad. But I have to remember all the things my husband taught me."

Great example

There will be a Christmas this morning at Jamaal Jackson's house in Washington Township. His mother flew up from Miami on Tuesday with Kamar's three boys - Chachie, 10, Lacrory, 8, Malik, 6, - and 2-year old daughter Sunshine. Laquardia, a lab technician, said she would come north in time to attend Sunday's game against the Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field. The family will remain here through the New Year.

"My brother was a great father to his kids and a great husband to his wife," Jamaal said. "He was a great example to his kids. They did their homework. They got good grades in school, and they participated in sports. He was one of those parents that when he said something, it got done. His kids listened to him. He gave them everything. . . . But when it was time to do work, they did their work.

"That's what I admired about him. He wasn't a parent who slacked off or didn't care. Of course he had his soft spots, but he was very firm, especially with his boys. The little girl, she got everything she wanted. She could break his favorite mug or anything, and she still got anything."

Jamaal Jackson said he wanted this Christmas to be a special one for his nephews, his niece and his entire family.

"Christmas is about giving," he said. "I want to give my family an opportunity to enjoy Christmas without any worries. My nephews have been dying to see snow. I don't know if it will snow, but it will be cold. This is an opportunity for them to come up here and enjoy something different. This is all about them."

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577