Documentary follows DeSean Jackson from childhood to NFL

The Eagles' DeSean Jackson and his filmmaker brother Byron (left) do a publicity shot for the documentary "DeSean Jackson: The Making of a Father's Dream." CHARLES FOX / Staff
The Eagles' DeSean Jackson and his filmmaker brother Byron (left) do a publicity shot for the documentary "DeSean Jackson: The Making of a Father's Dream." CHARLES FOX / Staff (CHARLES FOX / Staff)
Posted: June 17, 2013

DeSean Jackson, who has built a career on creating highlights, has lived much of his life in front of a camera. The by-product is a new documentary, DeSean Jackson: The Making of a Father's Dream, compiled from thousands of hours of footage taken by his brother, Byron Jackson, since Jackson was a child.

"At first, being young, I used to always tell him to stop filming me," Jackson said. "But [Bryon] used to tell me, 'One day, this is all going to be needed.' "

Available Sunday for Father's Day on inDemand, the film is ostensibly about DeSean Jackson. But it is as much about his father and the way in which DeSean was raised: trained from a young age to become the type of football player his father and brother were not, with a support system around him conceived to develop Jackson for the NFL.

"Looking back at it, I'm happy that he captured the moments he caught," DeSean Jackson said. "Because there's some good moments, some sad moments, some fun moments. It was a good piece of art and a good piece of film to look back at it."

Jackson's father, Bill, who died at age 64 in 2009, was a Pittsburgh native who loved football and wanted his sons to play in the NFL. Byron Jackson was a practice-squad player on the Kansas City Chiefs before becoming a filmmaker.

DeSean did not realize the gravity of what his brother was shooting until he was in high school.

There's footage of DeSean's speed as a child, running past every youth player amid proclamations even before puberty that DeSean would be a star.

The film shows DeSean visiting the Kansas City Chiefs while still in high school, even lining up to catch passes with NFL receivers. He met Dick Vermeil and received advice from a Chiefs scout.

Bill Jackson was a controversial figure, always pushing DeSean and seldom happy with the coaching he received. The father's displeasure with California coach Jeff Tedford is apparent in the film, especially during DeSean's final season in college.

When the wide receiver picked an agent, Bill Jackson said he needed to make sure that the agent worked for him, not the other way around "because we might not always be around for him."

The film includes stirring footage from Jackson's draft day, when he thought he would be an early first-round pick before slipping to the second round. Once he was picked, the emotions of the moment turned when Andy Reid called and asked that his father not make waves.

"That's kind of messed up," DeSean told Bill Jackson after hanging up the phone.

The latter part of the film shows Bill Jackson's bout with pancreatic cancer, which killed him in five months. His final days were chronicled in the film, a bittersweet concoction of pride in DeSean's coming minutes away from the Super Bowl during his rookie season to Bill's effectively saying goodbye to his family. Bill and DeSean are shown taking a walk at a favorite spot along the beach, and Bill clutches DeSean's jersey while boasting about his son to passersby.

At a screening of the film Friday at St. Joseph's University, DeSean's mother, Gayle, fought back tears while watching those scenes. She remains outspoken about supporting pancreatic cancer research and invited Cinnaminson native Tom Seagraves, 53, who is battling the disease and has been involved with DeSean's foundation.

"There was a time I couldn't watch it all," Gayle said. "But I force myself to watch it. It's like remembering a whole era all over again. It was beautiful, though. It's more important what other people think about it."

Byron Jackson said he was in artist mode during Bill's final months, watching his father die from behind a camera. When he edited the thousands of hours of footage during the last two years, he relived that experience.

"It was kind of my therapy filming it," Byron said. "And through the process of watching it, it was really hard because I feel my dad talking to me."

DeSean Jackson said if his father was able to see the film, he'd probably voice some issues because "he wanted things his way," but that he'd "be happy and proud to see his boys doing what we're doing."

And that's the takeaway from the documentary. Jackson has been both a beloved and controversial figure in Philadelphia, praised for his highlight-reel plays and also criticized for petulance while seeking a contract.

But the film reveals more about Jackson than simply his Pro Bowl career, showing viewers the team of people who were dedicated to Jackson's success and the labor that went into becoming that type of player.

"A lot of people always think I'm so talented and a lot of things were given to me," Jackson said. "But at the end of the day, I had to work so hard for everything that I got."

Contact Zach Berman at Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.