BYRON JACKSON started following his half-brother DeSean around with a camera when DeSean was barely school age, at the start of a football career that would take DeSean to the Eagles and the Pro Bowl.
Right from the start, this was more than just family movie stuff; Byron, now a Fox Sports editor, had just seen his NFL dream die after two practice-squad seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He wanted to chronicle the molding of a star, under the demanding guidance of Bill Jackson, the father Byron and DeSean shared, and four “adopted” sons with football backgrounds, who formed what came to be known as “Team Jackson.”
The fruit of Byron’s labors is “No. 10 DeSean Jackson: The Making of a Father’s Dream,” which debuts appropriately tomorrow, Father’s Day, on iNDemand. It’s a revealing look into DeSean’s upbringing, instructive for any Eagles fan who might puzzle over the loner persona of the superstar wideout. Toward the end it also poignantly captures how DeSean realizes his NFL dream just as his father is dying from pancreatic cancer, Bill Jackson cheering weakly from a hospital bed as DeSean scores a playoff touchdown against the Giants in January 2009.
It’s apparent that the painstaking drills Team Jackson crafted and then required DeSean to devote much of his childhood to helped polish him into an elite talent. “I was never really handed anything,” DeSean, 26, said before a screening of the documentary last night at Saint Joseph’s. “A lot of people think I’m just so talented and a lot of things were given to me, but at the end of the day, I had to work so hard for everything I got.”
It’s also easy to see how somebody who has spent much of his life surrounded by a group of men living vicariously through him, devoting themselves to his development, might come to feel the world does indeed revolve around him.
“Our father had a lot of passion for sports,” Byron Jackson, 45, said yesterday. “His passion kind of sometimes rubbed people the wrong way, but at the end of the day, it was for the right reason – to help his kids become the best.”
The viewer will see DeSean working, striving, focusing, as Bill barks in the background, pushing and prodding.
The viewer will not see even one DeSean teammate interviewed or even mentioned, as the protagonist weaves through football fields wearing the uniforms of a couple of youth teams, then Long Beach Poly High, Cal and the Eagles. That, too is instructive.
But as the screening showed, there is more to DeSean than 4.3 speed, tweets of rap lyrics and a strong desire for accolades. Among his guests yesterday was Tom Seagraves, 53, of Cinnaminson, N.J., who is fighting pancreatic cancer and was very appreciative of DeSean’s efforts in that regard, through the DeSean Jackson Foundation.
“It takes a special individual to open up his life to the world,” Byron said, in thanking DeSean.
The film is about DeSean’s development, but Bill Jackson is the character who dominates the screen. Asked what he thought Bill would think of the finished product, DeSean responded a bit warily.
“He wanted things his way, and if it wasn’t his way, he’d be having a fit . . . just going crazy. But at the end of the day, I think he’d be happy and proud to see his boys doing what we’re doing.”
The documentary has both Byron and Bill on camera giving their slightly differing accounts of how Byron came to not speak with Bill for nearly 2 years, after an incident in which Bill held a gun to Byron’s head during an argument.
Byron includes the footage of the halftime TV interview Bill gave during a Cal game against Louisiana Tech, when Bill questioned why DeSean wasn’t getting the ball. In fact, Bill and Team Jackson seem disillusioned with Cal and then-coach Jeff Tedford almost from the start.
Tedford, in turn, sits in front of Byron’s camera and basically accuses DeSean of bagging the final two games of the 2007 season. Tedford lauds Bill Jackson’s passion but asserts that he “didn’t always go about it the right way.” Tedford has talked several times, including in a 2008 interview with the Daily News after DeSean was drafted, about how he feels too many people had DeSean’s ear. It’s obvious he shared that opinion with NFL coaches and scouts when they came to Cal.
On draft day, Team Jackson is confident it has gone the extra mile and that DeSean will be a first-round pick, probably in the top 20, despite his 5-10, 168-pound stature, and a disappointing junior season at Cal. Instead, the vigil lasts until the 49th overall selection, in the second round. And when DeSean takes the phone for his first conversation with Andy Reid, his new coach tells him he doesn’t want Bill Jackson or anyone else from Team Jackson around the Eagles.
Then DeSean leans on a balcony railing and looks into the distance, obviously reflecting on the tangled threads that brought him to this juncture – he’s been drafted into the NFL at least partly because of Bill and the team. But he has been drafted much lower than he should have, at least partly because of Bill and the team.
DeSean was asked what he would take from his upbringing, should he become a father. He had a two-pronged response:
“If there’s something you want in life, don’t expect somebody else to do it for you,” he said. But then DeSean shifted gears and reflected on how he felt Bill pretty much forced Byron to aim for the NFL, whether that was what Byron wanted or not. “Really not forcing anybody to do anything they don’t want to do” would be his stance, he said.