Documentary Sheds Light On DeSean Jackson’s Journey

DeSean Jackson grabbed the microphone and asked for a show of hands: Who needs a bottle of water?

A couple minutes later, the Eagles’ wide receiver returned, carrying an old Hewlett Packard printer box filled with sodas, water, chips and refreshments.

This was a different environment for Jackson. He is used to playing in front of big crowds at the Linc. But this was a more intimate gathering in a small theater at the student center on the campus of Saint Joseph’s University. Jackson was there as one of the hosts for an advanced screening of DeSean Jackson: The Making of a Father’s Dream, a fascinating documentary produced by his older brother, Byron.

Jackson has now been with the Eagles for five seasons. He’s made the Pro Bowl twice. He’s third among active receivers in yards per reception. And he provided one of the greatest moments in recent franchise history with a game-winning punt return against the New York Giants in 2010.

But Jackson’s career has many layers. In 2011, he allowed his contract situation to become a major distraction and turned in an uninspiring performance, letting his coaches and teammates down. Earlier this offseason, Jackson parted ways with long-time agent Drew Rosenhaus. According to a Yahoo Sports report, Rosenhaus has filed a grievance alleging that Jackson owes him $400,000.

On the field, the 26-year-old will have to prove himself once again. In what essentially boils down to a contract year, he’ll have to show Chip Kelly and the coaching staff that he’s capable of being one of the game’s biggest playmakers and a key piece of the offense going forward.

The film shows the many sides of Jackson and sheds light on his journey to the NFL, providing hints about his personality and the way his mind works. Byron logged thousands of hours of film from the time Jackson was a little kid playing Pop Warner. The documentary details the key moments in Jackson’s life and focuses on his relationship with his father, Bill Jackson, who passed away of pancreatic cancer in May of 2009.

Below are some things that stood out to me while watching the film.

* Jackson’s journey as a football player really began when Byron’s ended. Byron played college ball at San Jose State (with Jeff Garcia) before trying to make it in the pros. He spent the 1992 season on the Chiefs’ practice squad. Jackson was 6-years-old at the time. Byron was let go by Kansas City and eventually gave up on football to pursue a career in television and film. That’s when he started keeping the camera on his little brother.

“I can remember times I would wake up in the morning, he would have a camera in my face and I would just tell him, ‘Man, stop filming so much,'” Jackson said. “We always went back and forth on that note, but looking back at it, I’m happy that he did capture all the moments he caught because there’s some good moments, there’s some sad moments, some fun moments and the whole nine.”

* DeSean and Byron had different mothers, but grew close through their father. Bill grew up in Pittsburgh as a Steelers fan, and he had a singularly-focused dream of turning DeSean into an NFL player. That meant assembling Team Jackson, a small group of confidants who never made it in the NFL but had football backgrounds. They pushed DeSean from the time he was a little boy and lived vicariously through him as he moved up the football ladder.

“Growing up, I don’t think there were teenagers or young players really doing that stuff, so I was always advanced going into high school, going into college and then going into the NFL,” DeSean said. “At a high school level, I was doing professional routes.

“I was never really handed anything. A lot of people always think I’m so talented and that a lot of things are given to me, but at the end of the day, I had to work so hard for everything that I got.”

* Bill Jackson was a complicated man. When Byron told his Dad that he no longer wanted to pursue a career in the NFL, Bill was beyond furious, waving a gun at his son and throwing him out of the house. The pair didn’t speak for nearly two years.

“Dad was one of those guys where he wanted things his way, and if it wasn’t his way, he would be having a fit or flip off or just be going crazy,” DeSean said.

But there was another side too. “My Dad was one of those guys where if he saw a close friend of mine or of Byron’s that didn’t really have any guidance or any father in their life, he was the one that stepped up and took them on as kids.”

* Bill Jackson and Cal coach Jeff Tedford butted heads often. And Tedford insinuated in the documentary that DeSean sat out the final games during his junior season to avoid injury and make sure he was healthy for the draft. It seemed pretty clear that Tedford was honest about his feelings when NFL coaches asked about DeSean. As Tim pointed out last month, one of the most fascinating parts of the film is when Andy Reid calls DeSean and lets him know the Eagles are taking him with the 49th overall pick.

“I was on the phone with Andy Reid,” DeSean says in the movie. “He said, ‘I don’t want your family to be a problem. I don’t want to deal with your Dad.’ He said some bad things. I just wanted to let you know. That’s kind of messed up, though.”

* The movie will be available on demand through a variety of cable providers starting today. Below is the trailer.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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