BY BRYAN BURWELL Monday, October 4th

In the unusual din of another noisy winning locker room, Steven Jackson stood in front of his stall Sunday afternoon and began the sort of delicate procedure that only gimpy running backs and horror movie mummies are familiar with.

"Look at all of this stuff that kept me together," he bellowed. The Rams' running back began to peel off the many protective layers that had essentially kept him all together during a 20-3 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. A victory that not only put his surprising 2-2 team in a first-place tie for the NFC West lead, but also pushed Jackson up a notch in the Rams' record book.

First he carefully took off the white game pants, then it was the gray compression shorts with the high-tech bubble-wrapped padding. That revealed an odd looking, black corset-like contraption that had a bunch of Velcro straps on it that zig-zagged across his tender right leg and strained groin like wire on a burlap sack.

"They got so many things wrapped on me, I couldn't move my leg in the wrong direction even if I tried," he said, laughing again. "Look at this. Strapped in pretty good. And I have two more pairs of compression shorts on under this too."

And somehow, it all worked out just fine.

Jackson was not even remotely close to 100 percent Sunday, but nursing a badly strained groin muscle, and swaddled in more protective layers than King Tut's corpse, this was perhaps one of the most impressive games of his seven-year NFL career.

For the record, this was the day that Jackson (6,991 yards) moved into second place on the Rams' all-time career rushing list. He passed the legendary Marshall Faulk (6,959 yards) early in the fourth quarter on a 15-yard run that allowed him to close within 354 yards of Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson's club record 7,245 yards. But that wasn't how Jackson made his biggest impression.

This wasn't about records. This was about all those things that lead to records. Heart and soul and effort and will to win. This was about all those things that lead to professional respect like hard-nosed, warrior-like running in a game no one outside the Rams locker room thought was possible after watching him get his groin pulled apart like taffy a week ago against the Washington defense.

The stat line will say he gained only 70 yards on 22 carries, for a 3.2-yard average, plus 54 yards receiving. But the stat sheet doesn't begin to tell the full story of what Jackson accomplished.

Though he lacked the ability to open it up and truly run at full speed, and all the protection wrapped him up so tight he couldn't make any abrupt change of direction, Jackson put on a gutsy show that was a highlight of competitive toughness.

Remember the fourth-and-1 play in the second quarter when Jackson slammed into the Seattle defense, ran into a wall of defenders, kept pumping his feet and somehow popped out for a 5-yard gain?

"Steven's a warrior," said head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

Remember the 49-yard screen pass in the third quarter, when he burst through so many reaching, groping, flailing Seahawks defenders, running just hard enough to shed those tacklers like so many pesky flies, but not quite hard enough to cause that tender muscle to tear?

"He's a competitor," said offensive lineman Adam Goldberg.

Remember the two 15-yard runs in the fourth quarter that were simply the power of Jackson's burning will to lead his team to victory?

"I was not able to run full speed," said Jackson. "But as a leader, you can't preach one thing and do something else."

So he strapped it up, put on his big boy pants and played as fine a game as he has ever played in his football life, even if the stat sheet will never properly reflect it, which seems to be typical of Jackson's life here as a Ram.

It's taken Jackson seven long years to push past Faulk perhaps the most celebrated St. Louis Ram of them all on the franchise's all-time career rushing list. When his career is all done, Jackson will be on top of that career list by a country mile, because all he does is carry that rock like a big man should. He carries it with a violent urgency, just like all the other great NFL big backs before him did. And when he is all done, there is little doubt that people will remember Steven Jackson as one of the best to ever play the game.

But because he has played for so many awful teams in those seven years and factor in a lot of ancillary, ignorant nonsense that was never, ever about football Jackson's popularity in this town has always come in begrudgingly stingy doses. Jackson's part of that special, under-appreciated fraternity in St. Louis sports with the likes of Tony La Russa, who could never be Whitey Herzog, Marc Bulger, who could never be Kurt Warner and probably Edgar Renteria, who wasn't Ozzie Smith. Every last one of them was cursed with the unfortunate burden of following a legend, and never knowing how to step out of the impossible shadows cast by those fan favorites.

So Jackson's cardinal sin was that he wasn't Faulk, which sadly prevented a lot of folks from developing a full appreciation for all the hard work and athletic excellence that Jackson kept producing every football Sunday.

Jackson kept running hard, kept banging away, kept sacrificing his body, gobbling up yards and earning professional respect all around the league.

And now there is a change in the mood around here. This is not such a bad looking football team any more. And if the victories do begin piling up, perhaps that will provide Jackson with the universal respect he should have earned around here a long time ago.