Jack: Time To Hit The Road
Legendary Birds Deep Threat Retires After 15 Seasons
PHILADELPHIA – A sea of reporters filled the NovaCare Complex on Friday as DeSean Jackson, a lionized figure in Eagles history, officially retired as a member of the franchise.
On his 37th birthday, the former wideout known for being one of the game’s most dangerous deep threats began his roughly 22-minute availability by expressing gratitude and reverence to those who most influenced his 15-year career, which could someday land the slender-framed receiver in Canton.
Jackson then took questions, taking those in attendance on a trip down memory lane paved with growing pains, hardships, enduring moments, and plenty of triumphs.
Also in attendance were those who were around for the Los Angeles native’s first six seasons with the Eagles, who drafted him in the second round in 2008, and observed his growth from being an intractable, wiry 22-year-old to an NFL superstar who was surprisingly released by the Eagles in 2013 only to return via trade six years later.
But even as he ventures into his next phase, Jackson made it a point to reassure those watching and listening that he won’t be going away any time soon.
“It’s not over,” he said with a grin. “Who knows what that next phase brings?”
Jackson, who played 95 of his 183 career games as a member of the Eagles, ranks third all-time in team history in receiving yards (6,512), while slotting in at sixth in receptions (379) and ninth in receiving touchdowns (35).
He was also voted into three Pro Bowls, one (in 2010) in which he became the first player in NFL history to join the roster as a wide receiver and kick returner.
Jackson finished his career with 641 receptions, 11,263 yards and 58 touchdowns while adding another 463 yards and four scores as a runner.
Moonlighting as one of the game’s most electrifying punt returners during his career, Jackson also registered 1,315 yards and four touchdowns on 140 career returns.
But before Jackson even laced up his cleats and turned on his afterburners for the first time, his pro career began with a call from then-Eagles head coach Andy Reid, among the primary brass responsible for selecting Jackson with the No. 49 overall pick in 2008.
With a reputation as a fatherly figure who was known for encouraging the personality of his players to reveal themselves, Reid was also firm and authoritative when needed.
Jackson, over the years, would straddle that line.
Back to the call.
Reid phoned Jackson, in their first-ever phone call, merely to relay his intolerance for any potential interference from his father, who Jackson added, “As a father, he always wanted the best for his son, so sometimes his emotions took over.”
The tone was set from the start, and Jackson hit the ground running, amassing 912 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns on 62 receptions as a rookie. He led all Eagles pass-catchers in 2008 with 120 targets.
Amid a season filled with big-play highlights, perhaps no play was more memorable than Jackson’s volleyballesque touchdown snare against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in the NFC title game.
With the Eagles down five in the final frame of a see-saw game, and a trip to the Super Bowl at stake, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb uncorked a 62-yard deep shot down the right sideline to a streaking Jackson, who had a step on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Jackson tipped the ball multiple times before securing the catch, pulling away, and backing his way into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound wideout was also responsible for one of the most iconic plays in Eagles history, the third installment of the “Miracle At The Meadowlands.”
With 14 seconds remaining against the Giants, Jackson returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown to seal an improbable Eagles comeback win over their division rivals. The Eagles had trailed 24-3 at the break.
Jackson told it best.
“I tell people a lot, I honestly didn’t think [Matt Dodge] was gonna punt that ball to me,” Jackson recalled. “I’m sitting back there, there’s 13 seconds left. I’m like, ‘There’s no way in the world he’s gonna give me an opportunity to catch this punt.’
“So, I could tell, when he kicked the ball, he shanked it. I could tell the way he lined up and tried to directional kick it out of bounds. A lot of times, what people don’t know, when them punters try to purposely kick it out of bounds, a lot of times, they shank it because they’re trying to purposely do it so hard to get it out of bounds.
“So, he almost shanked it and it went off his foot and curved. So, the way the punt came down, it was an unusual punt.
“By the time I’m getting it, it kind of curved in a way where it kind of hit off my arm and went to the right a few steps. But I say this, too, when I fumbled, it made it perfect because when the ball went two, three yards to the right, everybody kind of shifted out of their lanes.
“So, by the time I picked the ball up, I stuck my foot in the ground and hit that little gap. Then [wide receiver] Jason Avant decleated himself, knocked the dude out, knocked himself out – and everything else was history.”
Jackson also served as game’s leading receiver in Week 1 of the 2013 season, marking the dawn of the Chip Kelly era.
With Kelly unveiling what was initially believed to be a revolutionary offense poised to overtake the NFL, Jackson accounted for 104 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.
The offense, at times, operated as a video game, with Jackson serving as the centerpiece.
Jackson departed following the 2013 season, only to return to the team that drafted him in 2019, where he spent two injury riddled seasons, appearing in only eight games.
Jackson did, however, stick around long enough to overlap with current Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts – a rookie in Jackson’s final season in Philadelphia.
Hurts made an impression on Jackson early, traveling to Tampa, Fla., to train with the veteran receiver for a week ahead of the 2020 season.
Jackson’s final touchdown reception as an Eagle – an 81-yarder in 37-17 loss in Dallas – came via the arm of Hurts.
It didn’t take Jackson long to realize Philadelphia had found a superstar, a quintessential leader equipped to aid the franchise back to relevance, akin to Jackson’s heyday with Andy Reid.
“I was lobbying for Jalen Hurts back when we had Carson Wentz starting at that time when everybody was like, ‘Why would we take Jalen Hurts in the second round?’ Jackson recalled.
“I remember we was at practice and Jalen, he was actually the backup behind Wentz. We were sitting back, me, Howie [Roseman], I think Alshon Jeffery at the time … and Jalen was going against the starting defense – ‘cause when you’re the backup, you go against the 1s. So, I’m sitting there watchin’ him, and I’m just seeing him sling the ball and he’s making crazy plays. I looked back at Howie, I tapped Howie … I said, ‘Howie, I told you. That kid is gonna be special.’”
As the time ticked down on his media availability – and before Jackson officially rode off into the proverbial sunset – the former blistering speedster took a moment to reflect on his Hall of Fame candidacy – the final accolade that Jackson covets.
“Honestly, growing up, I think that was a goal for me,” he said. “It was a vision, it was a dream. Realistically, I never really envisioned nothing else but be in the Hall of Fame.
“So, for me, I definitely feel like my body of work speaks for itself. Breaking records and creating records – there was records that were never 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 in there. I definitely think it’s deserving.
“It’s not for me to answer, 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 because that honor is special. I think that’s what we all play for, is to make it to the Hall of Fame.
“Winning Super Bowls, Pro Bowls, all that stuff, All-Pros is great but at the end of the day, I think that gold jacket is the No. 1 thing overall. With that being said, I’m hopeful that I can get in there and I’m blessed if I’m able to get in there.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.