It was the one time that all of Louisiana was rooting for John Curtis Christian School. The Patriots went to Hoover, Alabama, in late September 2006 and whipped the top-ranked Hoover Bucs.
The best player on the field was one of the most talented athletes ever to hail from metro New Orleans. He had 70 rushing yards on five carries. He caught three passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged more than 25 yards a touch.
In the game’s final minute, he intercepted a pass to seal the victory.
Fast forward 10 years and two months. The afternoon of Thursday, Dec. 1, we learned that Joe McKnight was dead – shot in an alleged road rage incident on the West Bank.
We had talked one month before. McKnight was finishing up the season for Saskatchewan of the Canadian Football League. McKnight was the athlete on our Friday Night Football 25th anniversary team. We needed a greeting from Joe to include in our story.
That phone call still haunts me to this day. I was talking to a 28-year-old. When he got back into town, we would surely cross paths.
In January 2007, I was again reminded of the talents of McKnight. As we pulled up at Curtis, USC assistant coach Ken Norton Jr. was standing outside. Inside was offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and head coach Pete Carroll. Only a player of exceptional abilities could get those three on a plane to New Orleans.
One month later, on national TV, McKnight announced that he had signed with the University of Southern California. Years later, McKnight said t
the hoopla of that day should have been avoided.
“Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have done that,” he said, chuckling.
Back then, McKnight was quite unpopular for spurning LSU. Head coach J.T. Curtis took plenty of heat for letting his greatest player ever leave the state.
Fast forward almost 10 years later, and there are many who love purple and gold who are grieving over McKnight’s death. They learned what we knew a long time ago: McKnight was a hard person not to like.
The day after Joe’s death, his younger brother, Jonathan, spoke with near reverence. He tearfully recalled his freshman season at Curtis, when he got to play alongside Joe, who was a senior.
“My only big brother is gone,” said Jonathan.
That same day, Duke Rousse who had trained McKnight for several years, posted videos on his Facebook page. In his tribute, two words stood out: Greatness and selflessness.
Joe McKnight was gone, way too early.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.