Jackson Closing in on History
By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer

Nearly from the moment he was drafted by the Rams on April 24, 2004, Steven Jackson has had a working knowledge of the legacy of running backs the franchise has employed.

Jackson quickly became well aware of old timers like Dick Bass and Lawrence McCutcheon. And of course, his knowledge of Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (who was also his new teammate) ran deep.

Long a student of the game, Jackson figured out early on that to leave his mark on the game he’d first have to leave an imprint on the franchise.

“I am well aware of the history,” Jackson said. “But first things first is establishing yourself within the organization and I have had quite a task.”

The task of catching and surpassing players of that magnitude has built up until now. On Sunday, when the Rams travel to take on Tampa Bay, Jackson needs just 32 yards to etch his name at the top of the record books and become the franchise’s all time leading rusher.

Jackson currently sits at 7,214 rushing yards, trailing only Dickerson in that category after he surpassed Faulk in the team’s win against Seattle on Oct. 3.

For a player who has done so much and has rarely been left without the means to come up with a pithy quote, the thought of reaching the summit of the Rams’ rushing annals actually leaves him almost speechless.

“It will mean a lot,” Jackson said. “Now I am at the point where I just want to achieve it. I will probably be able to give a better quote afterwards.”

For the past few weeks, Jackson has discussed the possibility of passing Dickerson but he also made it clear he would have preferred to do it in front of the home fans in St. Louis. Barring something unforeseen, Jackson will have to settle for doing it on the road and sharing the record with his teammates.

That’s something Jackson will have no problem doing as he has been quick to give credit to all of those who have blocked for him in his six-plus years with the Rams.

“It’s history but I don’t only share it with (the offensive line),” Jackson said. “I share it with so many that has come within these seven years of my career so each one of them has a little part of this. So it’s going to be special. Eric Dickerson means so much to this organization and to the league. He has a record that still stands 20 or 30 years down the line so it’s going to be pretty special when we do break it.”

And Jackson was not hesitant to identify the player with which he’ll first share it. Fullback Mike Karney was brought aboard in part at Jackson’s behest during the 2009 free agent period.

Jackson had posted his best season in 2006 with fullback Madison Hedgecock blocking for him and had not had another true road grader in front of him since Hedgecock was let go.

In their first year working together, Jackson and Karney quickly forged a bond and Karney helped pave the way for Jackson’s 1,416 rushing yards and Pro Bowl berth in 2009.

“He’s my best friend,” Jackson said. “He’s the guy I am closest with off the field. He means a lot. And I am not just saying this but I don’t think a lot of these yards would have happened, especially last year if I didn’t have Mike and once that record is set and broken, he will probably be the first guy I embrace and give a hug. I have that much respect for Mike.”

Of course, the respect Jackson has for Karney and all of those who have helped him sit at the ledge of franchise history has only been given back to him by all of those who have played with him.

Entering the league at just 20 with a chip on his shoulder for not going as early in the draft as projected, by his own admission Jackson has done a lot of maturing and growing since he arrived in St. Louis.

The Rams drafted cornerback Ron Bartell just one year after Jackson and Bartell has been around to see that maturation process right before his eyes.

“I have so much respect for Steve,” Bartell said. “He fights through injuries. I've seen him grow from when I first came here. He's a man now. He's mature. He's a leader. We look to him for inspiration. He's the epitome of what a professional's all about…To see him on top of the rushing list for the Rams, you got Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, to be in a position where you can pass guys like that, that's a great accomplishment.”

Indeed, Jackson’s ascent to the top of the Rams record book hasn’t come without plenty of trials and tribulations. As he’s grown and matured, though, Jackson has forged a better understanding of what it takes to be a leader and thus a better reputation and respect from the fans in St. Louis.

Jackson has found ways to better prepare himself for the pounding he takes on Sundays and has also created opportunities to play through injury, important factors in having the longevity to break such lofty career records.

“He’s one of the premiere runners in this league,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He’s obviously done it over a long period of time and that’s why it’s no surprise he’s about ready to do that…he’s on the verge of it and if in fact he does become the all time leading rusher I’ll be very happy and proud for him.”

Jackson’s longevity is even more impressive considering that he’s become a bit of a rarity in today’s NFL.

Most teams have transitioned to a two-back system where they alternate running backs to save wear and tear and presumably extend careers.

Yet Jackson has remained as the Rams’ best and main option in the running game and takes great pride in being the workhorse that he’s become.

“He's a monster,” Bartell said. “In a league where it's more of a two-back system now, he's the guy. He's one of the few running backs left that actually does it on his own. Like I said, I've just gained so much respect for him throughout the years, seeing him fight through injuries, dealing with the media and stuff he's been through, he's just grown. He's the leader of this football team without a question.”

Should there somehow be any lingering doubt about Jackson’s status as team leader, one need only to see how he responded when initially asked about the record.

While Jackson has never denied setting individual goals for himself, goals that he believes will ultimately help the team win; he’s not allowing his mind to wander to the record this week.

“More important, I just want to go out and get a win,” Jackson said. “It’s very important for us to go out and get a win on the road. The three games we have had a chance to win have been at home. For us to really turn this thing around and be in playoff contention and winning our division, we have to be competitive on the road. So hopefully that ties in with the record.”

Of course, when the franchise record falls and he has nobody left in Rams history to chase, Jackson does admit he will recalibrate his goals with even bigger fish to fry.

“Emmitt (Smith) is at like 18,” Jackson said. “I have had two Hall of Famers to go after and to be able to eclipse them means a lot about the body of work that I have put in. But I am not satisfied with it.”