DeSean Jackson shrugged ever so slightly as the glare from the auditorium lights danced on his designer eyeglasses. Then, the Philadelphia Eagles legend gently lifted his hands off the podium, not in a cocky way, and flashed a knowing smile. You see, he was formulating an answer to an important question.
And Jackson must have rehearsed it because he was ready, firing the perfect salvo to anyone contesting his rightful candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Look at his body of work. It’s really that simple.
“For me, my body of work speaks for itself,” Jackson told reporters. “Breaking records and creating records. There were records that wasn’t even heard of that I actually put in the record book so Canton, Ohio, I know they have some memorabilia and some stuff in them rooms there. So, like I said, I definitely think I’m deserving.”
Jackson stepped out of a black SUV wearing a fuzzy green fleece on Friday before being whisked away by security to ink a ceremonial one-day contract with the Eagles, thus ending the career of one of the greatest receivers in franchise history.
The issue of Canton came at the end of a nearly 23-minute press conference in which the 37-year-old spoke candidly. The former second-round pick laid all his cards on the table during a nostalgic retirement ceremony at the NovaCare Complex in South Philly.
“That’s not for me to answer,” Jackson said of the Hall of Fame. “It’s not for me to vote on, but as far as the body of work, I think it’s there and I’ll definitely be honored [if I get in] because that ring of fame and that honor is special. And I think that’s what we all play for. That gold jacket is the number one thing overall.”
Reflecting on Ex-Eagles Coach Andy Reid: ‘Like Second Father to Me’
Andy Reid’s imprint on the Eagles’ franchise cannot be overstated. Many of his top draft picks went on to leave lasting legacies while building a winning foundation, guys like Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, and yes, DeSean Jackson.
Reid took the speedy receiver out of California with the Eagles’ 49th overall pick in 2008 but the first conversation the two had was a stern one. Jackson shared details of what his former coach told him on draft day, with some of those words not being the most cordial.
“First thing, he called and told me was, ‘Man, I don’t want to have to deal with your father.’ It was a bad rep that was put on my dad, you know, from college and just how enthusiastic my dad was and just how, as a father, he always wanted the best in his sons so sometimes his emotions took over and the first conversation with Coach Reid was like ‘I heard a lot about your dad but I don’t want to deal with him, man.'”
If the story sounds like Jackson was complaining about Reid, he wasn’t. He thanked his one-time head coach profusely for helping him to grow and mature as a professional athlete, calling Reid a “second father to me.” Remember, Bill Jackson passed away in May of 2009 after succumbing to pancreatic cancer. He only got to witness his son’s rookie year in an Eagles uniform.
“It just kind of just really showed, you know, he installed ownership,” Jackson said of Reid. “When I say ownership, he expects the best out of you, whatever you put in that’s what you’re going to get out. And as a young kid growing up and not really knowing what the NFL is going to present he, from day one, he let me know it’s going to take work. If you work, you’re going to get everything out of it that you want.”
Jackson went on to set multiple team and league records, including the best yards-per-score average (52.8) in NFL history among players with at least 10 touchdowns in a season (2009). He was also the first player to earn Pro Bowl honors at two positions (wide receiver, kick returner) while tying an NFL record when he recorded eight touchdowns of 50-plus yards in a single season. Jackson ranks No. 3 all-time in receiving yards (6,512) and N0. 9 in receiving touchdowns (35) for the Eagles.
Greatest Play? The Miracle at the New Meadowlands
Ask someone to pick the one play that best embodied DeSean Jackson’s amazing career in a midnight green jersey and the answer will invariably be the same. His 65-yard punt return helped the Eagles beat the Giants in 2010, otherwise known as the “Miracle at the New Meadowlands.”
Jackson, who spent eight seasons and suited up in 95 games for the Eagles, was quick to pick it as his favorite play, then took everyone on a trip down memory lane:
“I think that goes down in my book as one of the greatest plays ever. To be able to be in that game … I remember going to halftime and everybody’s like this game is over and I think it was like 31-10, 31-3, it was something crazy at halftime, and I remember going in the locker room — Michael Vick, me, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, we all came in there, we was all hyped up, you would have thought we won the game at halftime.
“And I remember Coach Reid looking at us, like he always puts his glasses down and he was like everybody shut up, he told everybody to shut up and we gave him our attention. He made a speech and after that speech was made, we riled up and talked again, and it was just something that turned on, like, ‘Man, we gonna come out there and we’re gonna win this game.'”
Jackson’s walk-off winner gets remembered as pure poetry in motion in hindsight, but in reality, it was an intentional error that made it what it was.
“I purposely fumbled for y’all that don’t know,” Jackson said, with a chuckle. “When I fumbled it made it perfect because when the ball went two or three yards to the right like everybody kind of shifted out of their lanes, so by the time I picked up the ball, I stuck my foot in the ground and just hit that little gap and then Jason Avant de-cleated himself — knocked the dude out, knocked himself out — and everything else was history.”
Jackson may have been joking but his initial miscue did help him break free. Ditto for the way Giants punter Matt Dodge shanked the ball, at least that’s how Jackson saw it from his vantage point at the 35-yard line as the ball came spiraling toward him. Here, let him tell the story:
“I just remember on that punt return I sailed into the end zone just like an eagle picked me up and flew me into the end zone,” Jackson said. “I tell everybody that, but that was special. I honestly didn’t think he was going to punt that ball to me. I’m sitting there, 13 seconds left and I’m like there is no way in the world he’s going to give me an opportunity to catch this punt. So, I could tell when he kicked the ball that he shanked it. I could tell by the way he was trying to line up and kick it out like a directional kick, kick it out of bounds.
“You see, a lot of times, what people don’t know, when punters are trying to purposely kick it out bounds, a lot of times they shank it because they’re trying to purposely do it so hard to get it out of bounds that it was like he shanked it, and it went off his foot and it like curved.”
(Editor’s note: The stadium speakers were blaring the Rocky theme late in the fourth quarter, not long before Jackson’s spectacular punt return for a touchdown. I know because I was there covering the game for Metro. I’ll never why the Giants decided to play that song during the Eagles’ comeback. They tempted fate and lost.)
Jalen Hurts Had People Talking Immediately
The last pass ever caught by DeSean Jackson in the NFL came in hot off the arm of Eagles’ QB Jalen Hurts. He zipped it deep and Jackson hauled it in for an 81-yard touchdown in the first quarter of a late-season game against Dallas. Jackson and Hurts had been developing a nice chemistry before injuries terminated the receiver’s second tour of duty with the Eagles. Oh well, what could have been.
But, Jackson will never forget his brief time sharing a locker room with current Eagles QB, Jalen Hurts. He saw greatness in the young quarterback the minute he met him and expressed no surprise over the success that Hurts is having.
“His mentality was different, just how eager he was to win,” Jackson said. “He had like an older mentality. He was like an uncle or an old father, and the game was never too big because of his persona, his demeanor. He was walking around, flicking the ball, and I’m like there’s something special about him.”
In fact, Jackson predicted Hurts’ ascension up the Eagles’ depth chart to general manager Howie Roseman back in 2020 when the quarterback was backing up Carson Wentz. The veteran receiver saw Hurts shredding the first-team defense at practice and tapped Roseman on the shoulder to let him know.
“Did I think it was possible? You should ask Howie Roseman the same question you asked me,” Jackson said. “I was lobbying for Jalen Hurts back when we had Carson Wentz starting at that time, when everybody was like why would we pick Jalen Hurts in the second round?
“I remember we was at practice and Jalen, he was like the backup behind Wentz, and we was sitting back, like me Howie, I think Alshon Jeffery at the time, and Jalen was actually going against the starting defense because when you’re the backup you go against the ones, so I’m sitting there watching him and I’m just seeing him sling the ball and he was making crazy plays, and I looked back at Howie, I tapped Howie like, I told you that kid’s going to be special, man.”
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire