You see the dances, and the struts, and the chest bumps with head coach Andy Reid. You see DeSean Jackson styling after a game, wearing his sunglasses, all California cool, and you wonder. You wonder about a second-year player who is tipping toward stardom, who is attracting all kinds of national (and international) attention and you know how wide receivers are, anyway, and you worry that he is going to become that most dreaded football article, the one what's-his-name was only a few years ago.
Diva wide receiver.
It is an ugly moniker, especially around these parts. We all remember, of course, how Terrell Owens helped ruin a 2005 season and divide a city and, well, send his career on a downward spiral from which he has not recovered.
The Eagles have recovered, in part thanks to the mercurial Jackson. He has become one of the league's best big-play makers, and his exploits are gaining accolades from anyone who turns on a television, who tunes into the Eagles, who appreciates the grace and glamour he brings to the field. Jackson is dynamite in cleats, as unstoppable at this point as any player can be in the NFL. Oh, teams are going to do what they can to take Jackson away from the offense, but he has faced that from the time he put the shoulder pads on. Jackson is the kind of player coaches call "special," and those kinds of players find ways to wriggle free from the coverage and score touchdowns.
Lots and lots of touchdowns.
What's interesting here is how Jackson is dealing with the glare of the national spotlight, and how he is being received in the locker room. He entered this league with a dubious reputation. The word from his college days was that Jackson was too big for his britches, that he was an out-sized ego in a pint-sized body and that his teammates at Cal simply couldn't stand his show-off tendencies around and in the game.
There had to be a reason why Jackson, with all of that talent oozing from his game, lasted until the second round of the 2008 draft. Certainly, teams wondered how a 175-pound wide receiver would fare in a league of heavyweights. No doubt that played into the thinking of some teams that passed him by in the first round. His rep, though, had to play a part, didn't it? All of those pre-draft whispers about Jackson's me-first attitude, his preening, the stories teams gathered from teammates and coaches at Cal ... they couldn't have helped his case.
In the nearly two seasons here, Jackson has been a dream. A model professional football player. He has the playful love of the game that every player should have. Jackson has the mind of a 14-year-old who runs out to the field after school to play a pick-up game with his friends, and then runs circles around them all afternoon until the moms call the kids home for dinner. You can just see Jackson sprinting ahead of his buddies, talking trash the whole time, promising to meet again tomorrow for another show of Try-To-Catch-DeSean.
Jackson was clearly affected by the loss of his father, Bill, who passed away to pancreatic cancer in May. It was a sudden and tragic loss for Jackson, who has been pushed and guided by his father to be a great football player. That is part of Jackson's profile, part of what fuels him every day. He dedicated his career to his father, who no doubt is proud of the steps forward his son has taken this year.
No player works harder behind the scenes. No player wants to be the best more than Jackson, who has not let all of the nagging injuries that players accumulate -- hamstrings, ankles, thighs, assorted bumps and bruises -- keep him from missing a repetition in practice. Jackson is loved in the locker room because he has put the team first in every aspect. Even when he scores he briefly does his thing in the end zone -- against the Giants, Jackson danced what the kids these days call "jerking" -- and then he ran to the sidelines to celebrate with his teammates. Always his teammates. Always.
In a setting with reporters, Jackson clearly displays the scary confidence that made him the best player in his youth days, in his high school days, in his college days and that is moving him quickly up the ladder in this league. But he also conveys humility, repeating the phrase "It's a blessing" for nearly every answer.
"It's a blessing," he says, "to be in a position like this, with all of these great players."
You get the idea. Jackson this week has been all over ESPN, all over Inside The NFL and he has been on the most-frequently-asked list of the California media in anticipation of the game against the 49ers, his hometown team. Jackson has also been readily available at his locker at the NovaCare Complex and is such an open and infectiously-welcoming young man that he has the respect and admiration of the entire contingent of the media in Philadelphia.
That, my friends, is not an easy thing to accomplish.
One thing you know is that everyone is watching Jackson all the time. I remember after he was drafted when the team's rookies traveled to Canton, Ohio to take part in an NFL-mandated day at the Football Hall of Fame. The Eagles rookies were joined by the 2008 rookie class of the Cowboys and both groups were in the same room as former Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent and former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin addressed the players on what to expect in the NFL, how to conduct themselves and what to avoid.
When it was over and as the Eagles boarded a bus to take them to the airport to return to Philadelphia, Jackson hurried up alongside Irvin and exchanged cell phone numbers as if to acquire another source of information in his journey through his career.
"I don't know about that kid," said Vincent. "Sunglasses, all of that. He really thinks he is the real deal, and he hasn't done anything yet."
To that point, Vincent was right. And the warning signs, based solely on Jackson's appearance and his swagger, suggested he might be another young player not fully understanding of the extreme sense of humility the game at this level provides.
But Vincent, like many others who don't know Jackson, saw only part of the picture. Those who question him now see the Hollywood in Jackson. They don't see the hours he puts in studying film, or working out, or refining his body and his routes and his hands and all of the little things that make the greatest players great in the NFL.
Too many people remember Jackson as the rookie who dropped the football on the way to the end zone in Dallas last year. It was his second mistake and it was an error Jackson won't ever repeat. Sometimes, labels like that are hard to shake.
Ask anyone at the Eagles about Jackson and you will get nothing but words of love and praise. When it's time to put on a show, Jackson will be there to do so, and what he does on the football field makes him truly unique. The time Jackson puts in on his own, with coaches and his teammates, makes him a great member of the Philadelphia Eagles. That's the real DeSean Jackson, the one who has blossomed into a respectful, appreciative young receiver making the most of the "blessings" bestowed upon him.