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The Season That Never Was
DeSean Jackson copes with a hard hit
By Dave Spadaro

Photo: Philadelphia Eagles

Seven days after he underwent surgery to repair a core muscle injury, “The Fastest Man On The Football Field” is walking into the NovaCare Complex. Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson looks tired and he looks like he’s in pain. He reaches out his right hand. We shake. We hug.

“This ain’t no fun,” says Jackson, “but it had to be done. I didn’t have any options left.”

Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Who would have thought Jackson would be limping around, his season over, in mid-November after watching the way he lit up the Washington Redskins to open the 2019 season? It was the start of something that would be epic, that would go down in Eagles history, and would put an exclamation point on the career of a player so small, so slight, that when you meet him you can’t help but wonder how in the world he has survived for 12 seasons. At 5’ 10”, 175 pounds (dripping wet), Jackson’s advantage has always been his speed.

The core muscle injury, suffered one week after Jackson’s 8-catch, 154-yard, 2-touchdown performance against Washington, proved to be his Kryptonite.

“It just never improved to the point where I felt I could go out there and be me,” says Jackson, who left that Atlanta game after 11 plays and then had his season ended in a Nov. 3 game against Chicago when he tore his muscle from the bone on only the fourth play of the game, a 5-yard catch from quarterback Carson Wentz on which Jackson stretched out to make the grab and was tackled immediately.

“After I hurt it, I didn’t want to rush anything,” he says. “I wanted to give the injury time and see what would happen. I gave it a shot. I thought I could rest it after I hurt it the first time and that if I gave it enough time, I would be good to go. Man, it sucks. I thought this season was going to be something special.”

Jackson pauses and gets some lunch from the cafeteria. He has a big pile of food on his plate. He’s one of those guys who can eat all day and not gain an ounce. It’s a gift, he knows it. Jackson stops the interview briefly to make a pit stop; he opens the door to the offensive meeting room, surprising his teammates. They clap. “Welcome back! You joining us?” one of his teammates asks. “Nah, not yet. I just wanted to stop by and tell you I love you.”

It was all love when the Eagles traded for Jackson in March, sending a late-round draft pick to Tampa Bay to re-acquire a player they originally selected in the second round (49th overall) of the 2008 National Football League Draft. Jackson was released by then-head coach Chip Kelly in late March of 2014, just a few months after he played in his third Pro Bowl, on the heels of a 2013 season during which Jackson caught a career-best 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. There was never really a viable explanation from Kelly, whose Eagles offense stagnated in the seasons to come.

Meanwhile, Jackson played for five seasons in Washington and then Tampa Bay, delivering to those offenses what he gave to the Eagles: pure, blinding speed. So coming back to Philadelphia was a return home for Jackson, who treasured every minute of his revival in Philadelphia. He was treated to standing ovations everywhere he went in the offseason and through the preseason, and when Jackson’s name was announced over the public-address system prior to the September 8 opener, the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field went bonkers.

“It felt great. It was awesome,” Jackson says. “It was everything I dreamed about, and then to go out and make some plays and help us win, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I was so happy. Now hey, that’s the way the game is. It’s cruel in the NFL. You have to appreciate it while you have it.”

Jackson has two seasons remaining on the contract he signed when the Eagles acquired him, and he’ll remain around the team doing his long, extensive and very difficult rehabilitation work. The Eagles will play through this month with the goal of returning to the NFL’s postseason, even with a wide receiver corps that’s in tatters, only months after it was viewed as one of the strongest groups in the league.

Not all that long ago Jackson was a cocky young player who thought the game of football would last forever. He knows different now. He knows he’s on the back end of his career and he intends to go out the right way, as a winner with the Eagles. Jackson will stay true as he recovers from the first surgery of his life. He is frightened of needles and admits that he was “scared to death. I was panicking. I was so scared” the night before having the core muscle surgery.

Now he’s on the road to recovery with the aim of again running faster than anyone when the Eagles get on the field and start their preparation for the 2020 season. Between now and then, Jackson wants to help in any way.

“The young guys here, I want to be here for them. For all of the guys,” he says. “Anything I can do to help them, I’m gonna be there. I just want this team to win. That would make me so happy.”

And with that, Jackson turns into the athletic training room, where he is going to spend countless hours over the next many months trying to regain his advantage and come back better, just as fast and every bit as dangerous on the football field as he was on September 8, when everything seemed possible, when Jackson was doing forward rolls in the end zone, believing that his return home would be sweet, indeed.

“It’s in God’s hands and I know it’s going to have the kind of ending I want,” Jackson says. “For me, the future is always bright. I’m going to take the positive approach. This time in a year, you’ll see. I’ll be out there doing my thing.”

 


Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro has covered every Eagles game since 1987, and is seen and heard throughout the year on television, radio and Eagles coverage everywhere. You can hear his Eagles Live Podcast on iTunes.

December 2019
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