Whether or not you consider yourself to be a fan of DeSean Jackson or even the Philadelphia Eagles, the documentary “The Making of a Father’s Dream“ is worth a watch for anyone ranging from football fanatics to those who appreciate a compelling family story.
As the tagline of the film, “It takes a village to catch a break,” indicates, the documentary is about so much more than DeSean. It’s about family. Parenthood. Siblings, both by blood and by friendship. It’s about football and the drive and determination to fulfill a dream. It’s a story that portrays a father’s love for his family and vice versa.
Though we now know Jackson as a wideout with a swagger, this film helps you understand where that stance comes from. What is interpreted by some as arrogance is actually an unshakeable confidence that Jackson has in himself and his abilities. The movie introduces you to an entirely different side of the man who refers to himself as “D-Jack”.
Bill Jackson’s overwhelming desire to have a son play in the NFL pushed him away from older son Bryon for a time after an incident where Bill held a gun to Byron’s head after his son told him that, after two years in the NFL on the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad, he was ready to fulfill another dream–to be a filmmaker. But Bill’s determination kept him close with DeSean and allowed him to be “Pops” to several men without father figures who just missed out on achieving their own athletic aspirations but came together to help DeSean fulfill his. This group, comprised of Darrick Davis, Irving Booker, Gary Cablayan and Travis Clark–to this day is known as “Team Jackson.”
The film features DeSean from five years of age, when older brother Byron began pursuing his love of filmmaking through the start of his NFL career. We see a small but talented and energetic DeSean in Pop Warner, showing an ability that put him far above his peers even then. We witness family sacrifice with, mom Gayle moving from Atlanta to LA so that Jackson could attend NFL manufacturing powerhouse Long Beach Polytech High School.
We witness how the desire for independence after DeSean begins attending Cal almost pulls the receiver away from Team Jackson as they develop an intensive summer workout routine for him without his input. But ultimately, he knows that they are all striving towards the same goal and he completes the grueling training schedule.
And that’s what makes this particular story special. With DeSean, it wasn’t just Bill who wanted to see the dream of his son being in the NFL fulfilled. This son’s passion matched the desire of his father. And that’s what made it work.
Bill Jackson is not presented with a soft, fuzzy lens. His positive qualities—his love, humor, strength and drive–are shown right along with those that were not his best –notably, when the pursuit of his son’s dreams became overbearing for others. DeSean had to walk a difficult line at Cal between team and family when his father publicly criticized the lack of playing time his son received. In fact, the Bill factor is why many believe that DeSean, widely believed to be a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, fell to the second round before being selected by Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles.
A particularly interesting scene shows Jackson on the phone with Reid after being drafted and coming back into the room with his family to announce that, although DeSean thought it was rude, Reid told the rookie, “don’t bring your dad around here, we don’t want that kind of trouble.”
But it was a call that had to be made. This was now DeSean’s journey to make.
That didn’t keep Bill from beaming with pride and telling the world about his son’s success. He paraded around Pittsburgh, his hometown, in a #10 Jackson jersey along with a Terrible Towel. When asked about it, he tells Steelers fans that he’s a lifelong fan of the black and yellow, but he’s an Eagles fan now because his son plays for the team. The level of pride Bill has at his son’s accomplishment virtually jumps off the screen.
The combination of Jackson with Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb gave DeSean a stellar rookie year, becoming the leading receiver on the team and helping the Birds make the NFC Championship game his rookie year. But that professional success was bittersweet, as Bill is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early in the season, a particularly lethal and fast-striking form of the disease. The once powerful Bill is transformed into a much thinner, frailer version of himself. Shown lying in his hospital bed, he wears an Eagles knit cap with #10 Jackson jersey draped across his legs, reminded of his son’s success as he tries to fight the disease with what little strength he has left.
Bill passed away in May of 2009 and we witness Pops’ ashes become one with the ocean, spread by the family who knew how much he loved the sea.
Jackson’s second season was also bittersweet against the lens of his father—a tremendous year that led him to become the first player in history to be selected in two positions for the Pro Bowl—both wide receiver and punt returner—but an achievement that his father never witnessed. But Bill was there—the game was played on what would have been his 65th birthday.
Bill’s tragic end inspired Jackson to create the DeSean Jackson Foundation, an organization which seeks to bring awareness and research funding for pancreatic cancer. Hearing Jackson and his mother speak about the Foundation demonstrates that it is a cause that brings the same passion we see from the player on the field into his off -field work.
“The Making of a Father’s Dream” is the ultimate Father’s Day tribute to Bill Jackson. Though he is not here to see the film, his presence and impact loom large in the 18 years of footage that culminated in the creation of the documentary. Check out a preview below.
The film is now available and can be seen on inDemand, Comcast, Verizon Fios, and other cable systems around the country. Please check your local listings for details.