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Burwell: Rams Fans Finally Can Appreciate Steven Jackson

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  • Burwell: Rams Fans Finally Can Appreciate Steven Jackson

    Rams fans finally can appreciate Steven Jackson

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell

    On Tuesday afternoon as he went rummaging through the bottom of his locker room stall to find his shoes and socks, Steven Jackson really didn't look any different from how the big Pro Bowl running back has for most of his six years as a Ram: same long, flowing dreadlocks, same toothy smile, same oversized middle linebacker's body that has been tenderizing defenses on a weekly basis since he became this team's go-to offensive weapon.

    But there was something different.

    At long last, Steven Jackson seems to be accepted.

    "I think (the public) has had a chance to get to know me and I have had a chance to get to know them," Jackson said. "Some of the things I may say now might not take them aback as much as it would have in the past. I'm growing up too."

    The folks who used to hate him, who used to think he was either too flamboyant or too brash or too outspoken — but mostly just too ... too ... something — finally are on his side.

    The silly "trade him" talks have diminished to a whisper. They no longer want to measure him against Marshall Faulk. They don't want to pick him apart for not running hard enough (he always ran hard), or for holding out (he was justified), or for complaining about the bad music in the Dome (he was right) or the lukewarm support of the fans (right again). They have put all that aside.

    And all it took was a monster game against the Detroit Lions to finally close the deal and open their hesistant eyes and hearts.

    In one of the worst and most difficult years in Rams history — in a game that was considered to be potentially one of the most embarrassing to the franchise — Jackson was an intimidating, dominating force of nature in that 17-10 victory that ended a 17-game losing streak. It was his most impressive performance as a Ram, and not just because of the numbers — 149 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. It was the style and substance of what Jackson did that seems to have finally connected him to a public that has been reluctant to embrace him for any number of reasons.

    Jackson didn't talk his way into their hearts and minds.

    He ran his way in there.

    What made him so stunning on Sunday?

    For all those Jackson haters who kept saying he wasn't a tough inside runner, how's this for destroying that silly notion? After a lengthy film review of Sunday's game, it was determined that Jackson gained a staggering 125 yards after contact (the first hit by a defender). That means that Jackson averaged 5.6 yards rushing against the Lions after the first Detroit defender made contact with him.

    He kept slamming into people, pushing them back, stiff-arming them or just flat out running right over, around or through them.

    That's what is making this Jackson's most outstanding and compelling season. He is making it impossible for anyone to criticize him now, because if you can't see what sort of tough-guy runner he is now, well, you're either blind or a fool. Unofficially, he leads the NFL in yards after contact with 509 of his 784 rushing yards coming after that first hit from defenders. That means that every time he touches the ball, 3.08 yards of tough yardage will come after he collides with a defender, which clearly dispells the nonsense that he tiptoes through the hole.

    "And the funny thing is, all game long (the Lions) were still talking junk to him, too," said center Jason Brown. "But it was like they were talking smack to overcompensate because they'd watched that film all week and saw how Steven's willing to give it to whoever is willing to come his way. They keep talking smack even though they just got trucked, even though they just got run over."

    And the more trash they talked, the angrier and more determined Jackson became. He kept getting stronger and stronger. In the first quarter, he gained only 7 yards after contact. In the second quarter, it was 29 yards, then 31 yards in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Jackson stomped through the Lions for 59 yards after contact.

    And then Brown laughed out loud.

    "Steven is like that character in Scarface," Brown said. "'Say goodbye to the Bad Guy. You need people like me so you have someone to talk about.' He has to be the bad guy, but we love that he's on our side. But to them, he puts fear in people's hearts because they watch film of him all week long and they think, 'Ohh my gawd.'"

    As he stood in front of his locker stall surrounded by reporters, the "new" Steven Jackson said that the playing field is the only place you will find him talking these days. No more commentary about the stadium atmosphere. No more bold predictions about individual goals. No more critiques of home-field attendance. "I'm just going to continue to let my pads do the talking," he said. "And at this point, if you don't like me, it's only because you just don't like me."

    And those numbers are clearly dwindling.

  • #2
    Re: Burwell: Rams Fans Finally Can Appreciate Steven Jackson

    amazing article.


    • #3
      Re: Burwell: Rams Fans Finally Can Appreciate Steven Jackson

      great game jackson, in the game on sunday it was so cool to see jackson out run defenders or carry them on his runs, what a speical athlete that is only getting better as our team does. imagine how well he does with a good passing attack or a more solid o line


      • #4
        Re: Burwell: Rams Fans Finally Can Appreciate Steven Jackson

        Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell
        You're only about 4 years late to the party, you tool.

        P.S. 29 days since your libelous comments and still no apology.
        The more things change, the more they stay the same.


        • #5
          Re: Burwell: Rams Fans Finally Can Appreciate Steven Jackson

          I've never had a problem with Jackson, so I don't know what Burwell is talking about. Coincidentally, neither does he most of the time.


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            Coming off a frustrating, injury-marred '07 campaign and approaching a contract year that could trigger his becoming the NFL's highest-paid runner, Jackson learned last month that agent Gary Uberstine had fired him . Upon reading an email from Uberstine informing him that their representation agreement was being terminated, Jackson says, "I was in a state of shock. Where was the loyalty? The crazy thing is, I'm not a high-maintenance guy. Gary's done a lot of good in my life, and I at least thanked him for doing it before I started negotiating with the Rams. But I didn't see that coming at all."

            Players switch agents all the time, but because they're almost invariably the ones initiating the breakups, Uberstine's 'Dear Steven' letter took on a man-bites-dog novelty. Throw in the fact that Jackson, whose breakout 2006 season stamped him as one of the league's brightest offensive stars, stands to land a lucrative long-term deal that will likely carry a seven-figure commission, and the whole thing seems downright stunning.

            What prompted the move? Jackson says Uberstine was upset about the player's decision to use a former associate of Uberstine's as his marketing representative, among things. "It was a power move," says Jackson, who has since signed with Eugene Parker. "It was his way of saying that I need him more than he needs me."

            Uberstine, in a telephone conversation on Thursday, declined to discuss the situation in specific terms, saying of Jackson, "I wish him and his sister Rhonda (an informal business adviser to the halfback) the very best, and I really don't want to go into the factors that went into my decision. I have no doubt that he will soon be the highest-paid running back in football."

            To Jackson, such an eventuality is no sure thing. After St. Louis's disastrous 2007 season, in which the Rams lost their first eight games (four of which Jackson missed with a partially torn left groin) and sputtered to a 3-13 record that put second-year coach Scott Linehan's job in jeopardy, he sees his and his team's futures as shrouded in uncertainty.

            "It's a one-year bid for everybody," Jackson says. "It could be Scott's last year, and my last year, and even the franchise is in jeopardy – the team could get sold and leave St. Louis. There's a lot riding on this year, and we all know that. Just as much as the Rams need me, I need them."

            A 6-2, 231-pound specimen who runs with speed, power and elusiveness, Jackson took over the offense formerly known as the Greatest Show on Turf in '06 after future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk went on injured reserve with what turned out to be a career-ending knee injury. Jackson responded by gaining 2,334 yards from scrimmage, the fifth-highest total in NFL history, with 90 receptions,...
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          • r8rh8rmike
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            “Our response to an offense determines our future.” – Author John Bevere, “The Bait of Satan.”

            Right there in black and white for his eyes to see, Steven Jackson constantly goes back to this book. It’s one of his favorites though if you ask him to name them it might take a while because he’s constantly diving into a new one.

            On the surface, passages like the one above might seem simple. Then again, on the surface, a person might be viewed the same way.

            What you don’t know is how complicated something or someone can be when you dig a littler deeper. In the case of Steven Jackson, a little closer look can reveal something you never would have guessed or even attempted to try.

            A BORN LEADER

            At the conclusion of nearly every Rams practice, a few players always lag behind the group on the long walk back to the locker room. Some stay behind and catch passes, others work on footwork. They all do it by choice but some undoubtedly do it because that’s what Jackson does.

            Jackson is the one who will quickly peel off his pads and run extra gassers, not because he’s out of shape but because it sets the right example of what it takes to be successful.

            The Rams have the fourth-youngest team in the NFL with an average age of right around 26. Coincidentally, Jackson is the same age. But because he entered the league when he was only 20, Jackson’s ascent to a leadership role has happened quicker than most.

            As he’s grown and developed as a player, he’s seen players come and go and just now, in 2009, has he taken it upon himself to become the leader of this young group.

            “I have seen nothing but great things,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “His greatness in that regard, in the leadership regard is shining right now when it’s not the best of times and the results haven’t been what we want. I’m not going to share with you one other thing but there was something he did that meant the world to me and I appreciated him and how he’s gone about things right now.”

            Growing up in Las Vegas, Jackson’s lessons in leadership began at an early age. His father, Steve, practically majored in the subject as a Marine veteran in the Vietnam War.

            That meant plenty of “yes, sir” and “no, sir” in the Jackson household but it also began a cultivation process in the planting of those seeds of leadership.

            Jackson learned a lot of the details from his father, things like always being on time, keeping your word and being dressed presentably for every occasion. Those little things that can determine one’s character.

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            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.

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            Lying on an operating table following back surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back in early April, Steven Jackson couldn’t help but let his mind drift to the idea of football mortality.

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            It was then and there that Jackson decided to cut it loose and take a different approach to how he’d spend his summer vacation.

            “I had uncertainty in my health for the majority of the offseason and was not really enjoying myself,” Jackson said. “It allowed me to really think about the NFL and sometimes you think you can play this game forever. It was a reality check, one that I was probably taking for granted because I have always been healthy for the most part. This time I had to rehab, go through the operation. I was constantly working and not enjoying myself in my down time. Once the back was feeling good and I was feeling physically fit, I wanted to take advantage of my opportunities to enjoy myself.”


            Each offseason, Jackson makes it a point to try to see at least one new country, if not more. Long before the surgery, Jackson had already planned to venture to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup.

            In addition to South Africa, he’d also planned to make stops in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. Along the way, Jackson initially figured he’d see the historical sites, tour the land and sample the local food.

            At some point during the back issues, Jackson morphed into the Vinnie Chase character from Entourage who used a back injury of his own to develop a desire for thrill seeking adventures.

            So Jackson called his travel agent and added shark diving, three safaris and sand dune hikes to his itinerary.

            “I just kind of wanted to go into overcoming fears and living outside the lines and boundaries,” Jackson said. “You hear people all the time say that your mind traps you in fear. I kind of tried to step outside of myself and mimic somewhat of a daredevil. This year, I told my travel agent ‘let’s walk on the wild side a little bit.’”

            Of all of the heart pounding exploits on his trip, it was the first one that really set the tone.

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            EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Unless you're a diehard Rams fans, you probably aren't aware of the season -- or career -- that Steven Jackson is having. Other than "SJ39," there hasn't been much reason to watch this team.

            As the Rams have piled up loss after loss after loss -- 17 in a row before they knocked off Detroit in Week 8 -- Jackson quietly has been putting together his best NFL season. Midway through the year, he's on pace for 1,568 yards, which would surpass his career-best of 1,528 set in 2006. He's 3 yards behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson for the league lead in yards from scrimmage with 970.

            Jackson is averaging 4.8 yards per carry despite being the focus of defenses. (Getty Images)
            "I just wish we were winning more games so the whole league and country could see how great a player he is," quarterback Marc Bulger said of the Rams, who are 1-7. "Everyone knows it, but he flies under the radar because of that. If we can start winning some games I think he'll start getting the recognition he deserves."

            If Jackson keeps putting up consistently strong numbers, he will be impossible to overlook. Consider:

            Jackson, 26, has started 57 games in his career (he has missed nine games to injury and was a backup to Marshall Faulk most of his rookie season). In the history of the NFL, among players who have started 57 or fewer games before turning 27, Jackson is No. 1 in career rushing yards, with 6,075 -- and he has eight more games before turning 27 in July.

            Take out the games-started criteria, and Jackson is 18th all-time in rushing yards through his age-26 season, again with eight games to go.

            If he were to match his first half of 784 yards in the second half, he would climb to 10th on that list, bumping Faulk. The top 10 is a who's who of NFL backs: Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Jim Brown, Jerome Bettis, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson and Faulk.

            Select company, indeed.

            "Historians will have to evaluate all that," said first-year Rams running backs coach Sylvester Croom, who was the offensive coordinator at Detroit in 1997 when Sanders ran for a career-high 2,053 yards. "With the ball in his hands there's not much better than Barry and a guy like Gale Sayers.

            "I've talked to Steven about being more of a Walter Payton type. Walter could do anything, and so can Steven. It's rare to find a man Steven's size (6-feet-2, 235 pounds) who can line up wide and run routes. We try to get him the ball out in space. Steven's developed into a complete player."

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