Bob Ford: Jackson's antic a cause célèbre

DeSean Jackson's now infamous flop into the end zone completed a 91-yard Eagles touchdown against the Cowboys, and ignited a controversy.
DeSean Jackson's now infamous flop into the end zone completed a 91-yard Eagles touchdown against the Cowboys, and ignited a controversy.
Posted: December 14, 2010

The official game report from Sunday's win over the Dallas Cowboys dourly notes that Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. This is because the NFL does not yet march off 15 yards for stupidity. If it did, there would be a lot of marching and the games would take an awful long time.

When the penalty was assessed for Jackson's slo-mo plunge into the end zone, backward somersault and monster spike, many wondered how a touchdown celebration could be illegal when the touchdown was still in the process of occurring. It is a little like being arrested for drunk driving while leaving the bar with your car keys in your hand. The thought process might be accurate but a little premature.

The officiating crew, which was clearly making it up as it went along on Sunday, apparently applied something like the old Supreme Court standard for identifying pornography. They can't really define when a player is showboating too much, but they know it when they see it.

That was the last time, however, according to Jackson.

"You won't see that no more," he told sideline reporter Andrea Kremer after the game. And, as we all know, you can cheat on your taxes, lie about your age and take 16 items to the fast checkout lane, but if you don't tell the truth to Andrea Kremer, there might be hell to pay.

What else does Jackson have in store for us during his term with the Eagles, though? The expectation is for the kind of explosive plays he provided in the 30-27 win against Dallas, setting an NFL single-game record for most receiving yards (210) while catching only four passes. An additional, growing expectation is that Jackson will also be the source of some head-scratching moments and perhaps a little frustration, for both the organization and the fans.

You can say the touchdown act was all for fun and that critics should lighten up, but Jackson willfully did something that could not help his team, did hurt his team, and he accepted that tradeoff for his own greater glory. Break it down and it is kind of difficult to defend.

We've been down this road before with flamboyant wide receivers, both of the deluded (Freddie Mitchell) and the flat-out crazy (Terrell Owens) varieties. The difference between those two raging egos was that Freddie wasn't all that good and T.O. is a Hall of Fame talent. You make some exceptions for the latter, and the Eagles handled Owens with the softest of gloves in the 2004 Super Bowl season that became a canvas for both the receiver's greatness and his need to consume the spotlight.

There might never again be a single-season canon like the one compiled by Owens during his celebrations that season. He had ample opportunity to stretch out with 14 touchdown catches, but still. Owens deserved special mention for his imitations of other players' signature moves, and his ripoff of Ray Lewis' Ray-Ray Dance was a particular highlight for everyone except Mr. Lewis himself.

Oh, it was all funny - until it wasn't - and the Eagles eventually paid for enabling T.O.'s excesses. Although, it must be said, he is a little hard to contain.

So we arrive at the blossoming of DeSean Jackson's performance career and find Andy Reid walking the familiar good-cop-bad-cop tightrope once again. Even before Sunday night's swoon into the end zone, it has been an occasionally prickly situation to handle.

For one thing, Jackson would like to be paid right now and the NFL is not set up to fulfill the wishes of 24-year-olds. He has to wait before his eventual payday - if he arrives at it in one piece - and no amount of texting with agent Drew Rosenhaus (nearly constant, by all accounts) is going to change that.

When the Eagles have been unable to get him the football during some stretches this season, that also became a point of contention. All the issues collided in Chicago two games ago when Jackson declined to field punts in warm-ups and then had the poor luck to have his text message alert sound - Drew! - during Reid's postgame anger management failure.

Everyone made up quickly after that one, lest Jackson's funk deepen. Reid said glowing things about the receiver's admirable desire for the football and the win over Houston helped calm the roiled waters. Ten days later, Jackson was the deep target on the first play of the game against Dallas and the record-setting night unfolded apace. If the look-at-me penalty hadn't happened, it might have appeared the Eagles successfully negotiated the earlier road bump. But this one set off Reid again, who still has some red hair mixed in with the gray.

As Jackson collapsed near the Eagles' bench - perhaps hoping his complaints of a sore foot might ameliorate what was coming - Reid shooed away players standing nearby with a wave of his play chart and bent low to speak directly into Jackson's ear.

"It wasn't good," Reid said of the message delivered during that sermon.

Of course, winning helps things look better the next day and Reid returned to praising Jackson's exuberance for the game on Monday. If the Eagles had lost the game, with the penalty playing a role, Reid might not have been so darn jolly about it.

It's all very interesting to watch - and watching Jackson torment defenses is amazing - but there's no telling how it will all turn out. A reasonable guess would be that Jackson won't play his entire career as an Eagle. At some point, he'll want too much money, or too many more receptions, or something. It kind of seems inevitable.

If that is the case, then the test will be - stop me if you heard this before - whether he helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl before leaving. That would put him ahead of Owens in the He's-Work-But-He's-Worth-It standings.

As a bonus, it would also be nice if Jackson learned that the touchdowns are what matter and not what comes after them, but that's probably still asking a lot right now.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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