With 9 minutes, 31 seconds left in the first quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles' opener at Washington earlier this month, quarterback Michael Vick glanced over to the sideline to get the next play.

While coach Chip Kelly spoke into Vick's headset, assistant R.J. Harvey fanned out a series of colored blades and held them up for Vick and center Jason Kelce to see.

Jill Cakert's phone buzzed and she read a text message from her nephew, Jonathan Cakert, that read, "Signalfan in play."

The Ventnor native looked up at her TV, saw the Eagles' coach brandishing her invention, and screamed.

"We had some people over watching the game with us and when we all saw it, we started hugging and crying," Cakert said in a phone interview. "It was crazy. I've never been so happy. I'm still riding the high."

* * *

Hours earlier, Cakert had been crying for a different reason.

Earlier that morning, the Atlantic City High School graduate had attended the funeral and burial of her mother, Edith Sherman, who passed away Sept. 7 at age 92.

Later that evening, physically and emotionally exhausted, she returned to her Ventnor home, sank onto her couch with her son, Doug, husband, Buck, and other family and friends, and turned on the Eagles' game against the Redskins.

"I was supposed to be at FedEx Field with my cousin (Jonathan), but obviously I couldn't go to the game," Doug Cakert said in a phone interview. "He was sitting up in the cheap seats and noticed that they were using my mom's Signalfan. That's when he sent the text.

"We're not a real emotional family. But when it was shown on TV, we all started screaming. We needed something like that after such a difficult day."

Jill Cakert invented the Signalfan in 2007. A former standout softball player for Atlantic City and Temple University, she was looking for a way to make it easier for batters to see signals from the third-base coach.

She created a device that features six 11-inch blades, which are colored black, blue, green, red, white and yellow. The blades are held together with a screw and unfold like a fan. Baseball and softball coaches could use various combinations of blades to signify different plays such as bunts and steals.

Over the years, it became popular among field hockey and softball coaches. She even sold one to a high school football coach in Texas.

She sent one to Kelly on Aug. 27 after noticing the new Eagles coach was using giant placards with pictures of things like cheesesteaks, Rocky and the Liberty Bell to send signals from the sideline.

"I'm obviously a Philadelphia sports fans and I like the Eagles," Jill Cakert said. "Coach Kelly struck me as someone who is extremely innovative and willing to try different things. I thought the Signalfan would be so much easier for him to handle than those big colored signs, so I sent him one."

On Sept. 7, Cakert collected her mail and noticed an envelope with the official Philadelphia Eagles logo embossed on the front.

Inside was a personal check for $24.99 and a handwritten note.

"Jill, Thank you for the Signalfan. It's been a big hit!! Great Idea!! Chip Kelly."

Kelly politely declined to talk about what he uses it for, but acknowledged that he wrote the note and signed the check personally.

"I sent it to him as a gift," said Cakert, who donates a portion of her proceeds to autism research. "But it was a very nice gesture on his part."

Cakert grabbed the note and rushed over to her mother's house.

Her parents, Edith and Fred Sherman, had always been huge supporters. Edith didn't know much about sports. She didn't see her daughter play softball until one day when she pulled up on a car just in time to see Jill hit a grand slam.

But she regarded Jill's invention as a brilliant idea.

Jill had hoped to get to her mom's house before she had been given her morning dose of morphine, but she got there a few minutes late.

"Her eyes were closed when I got there, but I know she heard me tell her about the note from the Eagles," Jill Cakert said. "There is no way she wouldn't want to hear great news like that."

A few hours later, she passed away.

***

The Eagles used the Signalfan on the sideline for the first three games while their offense was on the field. Kelly's high-energy attack was held in check during Thursday's 26-16 loss to Kansas City, but the Eagles are still among the league's top scoring teams with an average of 26.3 points per game.

Cakert watched the last two games while wearing a special T-shirt. She celebrated her birthday the day after the Eagles' opener. At a party, her husband gave her an Eagles shirt with a Signalfan logo on the back.

The Eagles could get shut out every game for the rest of the season and she would still be a fan.

"That entire week was such a roller coaster of emotions," Cakert said. "I want to thank coach Kelly for giving me joy on one of the worst days of my life. My mother would have been so proud."

Contact David Weinberg:

609-272-7186