Eagles’ Jackson honors dad in breakout season
PHILADELPHIA – As DeSean Jackson(notes) strolls through the locker room from the shower following the Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 16 victory over the Denver Broncos, the confidence is pouring off him the way the water was only a couple of minutes before.
“Everybody needs to make way,” Jackson says, half-grinning, the rest of him fully serious as he walks by a group of reporters crowded around rookie receiver Jeremy Maclin’s(notes) locker. Jackson isn’t yelling, but in a room of behemoths and other alpha males, this whippet of a man is hard to ignore.
The top big-play threat in the NFL and the first man in league history to make the Pro Bowl at two positions (wide receiver and kick returner), the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Jackson is the embodiment of the man he has spent this historic season honoring.
“That is all Bill Jackson,” said Gayle Jackson, DeSean’s mother and Bill’s ex-wife. She chuckles as thoughts of her late ex-husband roll through her head. “If Bill Jackson was in the room, you knew it. You never had to ask anybody if he was there … Bill Jackson never needed a microphone.”
Bill Jackson was many things. Loud, opinionated, sometimes crass and always indefatigable. Above all, he was a good father at a time when absentees are common.
Through his tireless effort, which included driving the highways of California from Chatsworth to Long Beach and all points between to get his son the best training, Bill Jackson helped create one of the most dynamic forces in the NFL. If the Eagles are to overcome the Dallas Cowboys – who swept them in the regular season – on Saturday night in the first round of the NFL playoffs, DeSean Jackson is going to have to be every bit of his dynamic self.
And maybe tap into some of his father’s spirit.
“My dad was something else,” Jackson said. “I mean all out, all the time. He never let up on me. He made me what I am.”
Bill Jackson died May 14 after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed Jan. 11 of last year, the same day his son helped the Eagles beat the New York Giants in the divisional playoffs on the way to the NFC championship game. His decline was quick but his spirit enduring.
Though it has been nearly eight months since Jackson passed away and nearly 17 years since they divorced, Gayle Jackson loses the battle with tears as she talks about him.
“Bill would say things that other people would think but didn’t dare say,” Gayle Jackson said. “He didn’t care. He was passionate and he was honest.”
Bill Jackson was so open, so over the top with whatever was on his mind that the most memorable stories about him are when he was caught without a response. Such as the time when Southern California coach Pete Carroll came to the Jackson home to recruit DeSean.
“My dad was completely behind DeSean going to Cal,” said Byron Jackson, 41, one of DeSean’s four brothers. “But Coach Carroll was very convincing. When he left, we all looked at my dad, waiting to hear what he was going to say about how Cal was still the better place for DeSean. He sat there and said, ‘The man said what he had to say. I can’t argue with it.’ We all just burst out laughing. My dad with nothing say? That didn’t happen much.”
Or there was the time Bill Jackson took his mother down to sit in the audience on “The Price Is Right.” Jackson filled out a questionnaire for the show, which looks for gregarious personalities as participants.
Jackson was a cinch. At least until he got to the stage.
“He got up there to bid on television or whatever and he was speechless,” Gayle said, still as stunned and amused as the day it happened. “He knew how much it cost, but he ended up saying something way more than what it was because he had stage fright.”
DeSean Jackson has suffered no such form of the yips. In general, the bigger the stage, the better he has been so far.
Byron, who played at San Jose State and made the Kansas City Chiefs developmental squad for a season, is doing a documentary on his brother. The more he works on it, however, the more it becomes about Bill Jackson.
“All the tapes we have from DeSean growing up, you just hear my dad over and over and over, talking about what he has to do,” Byron said.
In a way, Jackson is still the same kid performing under his dad’s guidance from years earlier.
“He plays like he’s out in the park just playing, running around as if it was just an everyday game,” said Eagles coach Andy Reid. “There’s only a handful of guys who play like that – effortlessly, like it was natural.”
This season, Jackson tied an NFL record (also held by Elroy Hirsch and Devin Hester(notes)) with eight touchdowns of 50 yards or longer between receptions and returns. The way he did it seemed absurd at times.
“You’d turn on the highlights and he was the only guy in the screen,” said an NFC defensive coordinator. “That’s not supposed to happen in our game. If you really beat somebody, it’s maybe a couple of steps or it’s because somebody fell down or busted a coverage. But you’d see him doing this every week and it’s like, ‘Hey, he’s good, somebody should be covering him.’ ”
What Bill Jackson and his family did with DeSean is take a talented athlete and teach him the finer points. From Saturday workouts at 7 a.m. when he was 10 years old to watching tapes of himself with his dad, brothers and friends.
“It was fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals,” said Byron, who brought all the lessons he learned from working with longtime NFL assistant coach Al Saunders with the Chiefs. “We’d film him from a game and maybe see something and it was, ‘Hey, we have to get back to working on this.’ We went over defenses, schemes, how to set up the cornerback … we had a plan with DeSean to give him every bit of knowledge. Decisions were made, like to send him to Long Beach Poly [in high school], all with the idea of getting him the best chance.
“For all the natural ability DeSean has, it has never been, ‘Hey, just go play.’ He has learned everything he can from everybody we put around him.”
Said Gayle: “We had a very tight inner circle of people who have really paid attention to everything he needed to do. Bill paid a lot of attention to that inner circle. If he didn’t think you were 100 percent behind DeSean, you were out.”
That showed up against Denver on a go route Jackson ran in the second half against Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey(notes). From the beginning of the play, Jackson could tell the timing was going to be slightly off because of the defense the Broncos were running. Jackson initially ran the pattern a little faster than it was supposed to go, breaking away from Bailey quickly.
Jackson also kept the pattern outside the numbers, resisting the temptation to drift inside and allow the safety to close on him. When quarterback Donovan McNabb’s(notes) throw hung up in the air, Jackson then chop-stepped at the end of the route, making sure that Bailey ran through him for a pass interference penalty, something that small receivers often hesitate to do.
Bailey had been so badly beaten on the play that he didn’t have a chance to turn his head around.
“That whole play gives you a look at how complete a player DeSean is,” said Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. “DeSean knows how to play. He has a sense of confidence about him because he knows how to play.”
No question. He has been taught well.