December 13, 2010

DeSean Jackson can dance if he wants to.

"When you see antics like Sunday night's touchdown dive, it makes [DeSean] Jackson look like a me-first player."
-Jerome Bettis
When ex-players preach like this, busting out the "everything was sunshine and rainbows in my day" card, do they ever come off as anything but old and sad? I've come to expect it from aging sportswriters, most of whom act as if they've been given a heavenly mandate to judge the game and its players, but not former NFL stars who know the joy of a big play against a rival team.

DeSean Jackson's fall into the endzone came after a 91-yard touchdown, the longest play from scrimmage in the 2010 season and one that made every Eagles fan leap out of their seats. I was dancing around so wildly that my roommate tried in vain to whip his phone out and take a quick video of the whole embarrassing ordeal.

It put the Eagles up on a hated opponent, a team that Jackson has been extremely vocal about wanting to defeat for almost a year now. It was an adrenaline-fueled celebration of excitement, and the only thing it took away from the Eagles was 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. It had nothing to do with "me-first" football and everything to do with winning the game for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Yes, DeSean Jackson has gotten a lot of publicity lately for wanting to be paid at a level proportional to his talents. And rightfully so; he's a top-10 NFL receiver in a sport where careers can be very short. But at the same time, he hasn't bitched and moaned in public like Terrell Owens, and he hasn't held out like Vincent Jackson. He's earning his money out there on the field, and most of the time, he makes his presence felt with a big, momentum-swinging play.

Has he recently come up short on a few balls across the middle? Yes, but he also did just return from a bone-crushing hit that could have ruined his career and crippled him for the rest of his life. He's not the first player to suffer from alligator arms, but he's also no Todd Pinkston. In fact, you could make the case that the Eagles need to do a better job of keeping him out of harm's way. Don't waste him on all these unnecessary reverses, Andy Reid; there are better ways to get three yards.

But of course, don't tell all this to The Bus. Bettis, taking the easy way out, also decides to play the "this is bad for the league" card. So a guy that hasn't committed any crimes, someone the NFL values enough to feature in its Sunday Night Football opening promo, gets dragged over the coals for celebrating a little after a huge, game-changing play.

Other NFL players, meanwhile, are raping, murdering and murdering some more, being far worse human beings and threatening the lives and livelihoods of people around them. My gut tells me these are the kind of guys Bettis needs to get up on his soapbox about, not DeSean Jackson.

Hell, I'd rather see people trash Michael Vick than DeSean. I'm MV7's number one fan, but the acts he's committed in the past were genuinely awful and illegal. Jackson is just a braggart and a show-off, and last time I checked, that wasn't against the rules.

People always say, "If DeSean Jackson wasn't an Eagle, Philly fans would hate him." Well, obviously. If Michael Irvin was an Eagle, we'd all love him. But he was a Cowboy, so we cheered when he got paralyzed. Philadelphia's often characterized as a "meat and potatoes" sports town, but when a guy brings the sizzle and the steak, you know even the old white people are gonna come around. We can recognize greatness.

Simply put, DeSean Jackson is an eccentric and electric talent. Andy Reid knows all this, and luckily, he seems to love it. Yes, there was that recent blowup, but I think that was more about reorienting DeSean's priorities than criticizing the guy's focus or his work ethic. We all remember the uncharacteristic chest bump; hell, Reid even said after yesterday's game that he "loved [DeSean's] enthusiasm."

When bad players make bad decisions or take stupid penalties -- Jorrick Calvin's idiotic unnecessary roughness call shockingly comes to mind -- they deserve whatever they get. But I get the sense that, as long as DeSean's using that unbelievable speed to haul in record-breaking touchdowns, he'll justifiably be allowed to show a little swagger. And if you think that's unfair, well, you must be a curiously loyal Jerome Bettis reader.

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