Diplomatic Jackson tries to hide frustration at St Louis Rams and ponders his legacy
21:58 GMT, 15 July 2012
Running away: Jackson could be a target for a trade
Time shreds a man's reputation once the talent erodes and he becomes just another ballplayer.
Steven Jackson is not there just yet. But he knows he is at an intersection in his career.
As the lone star in a sea of mediocrity that goes by the name of the St Louis Rams enters his ninth season in the NFL, the veteran running back is mindful of what his legacy will be.
While uncertainty clouds his mind, he's still sure of one thing: change is an inevitable consequence of playing for such a team.
The 2011 season was a debacle, underlined by a 2-14 record.
Since he was drafted from Oregon State University in 2004, the Rams have not managed a winning season.
For almost a decade, the Rams have been generally hopeless and
apathetic, and Jackson does not want – or deserve – to eventually be
dragged down to their level.
He is about to play for his sixth head coach since being drafted by the Rams.
Fisher arrives after 16-plus years at the helm in Tennessee, where he
preached the value of running the ball, turning Eddie George and Chris
Johnson into stars.
Other new faces include offensive
coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, another run-first advocate, while his
position coach is Ben Sirmens, a neophyte in his first season in the NFL
after coaching at Rutgers.
Throw in 10 rookies from the Draft and you have a team seemingly stuck in a perennial rebuilding mode.
Jackson had his diplomatic helmet on in London this week, representing
the Rams in a promotional drive ahead of their Week 8 (October 28) clash
New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium.
He was trying to say the right things, at least.
'So far so good,' said Jackson. 'They [Fisher and Schottenheimer] are both huge advocates of running the football.
They have had successful runners in the past. So I'm looking forward the opportunity to play for those two.
New ball game: Jackson (left) will play for his sixth head coach, Jeff Fisher (right), since being drafted
'We just got to build our nucleus we have. We have a very young team. We've had to hit the reset button once again. The grey hairs are growing in!'
But even the British press, whose eyes have long since glazed over by the drawn-out build-up to the London Olympic Games, could see Jackson is far from content.
He's not prepared to be an old handyman pro picking up a pay-cheque and filling in wherever it is most convenient.
The Rams, too, have a decision to make. The NFL system is such that, at some point, players become cost-prohibitive, and the potential production won't match the pay.
If you don't look at age, and instead concentrate upon the level of play, Jackson's seven successive 1,000-plus yards seasons – on a team that has gone a combined 29-73 in that span – warrants every cent of the $7 million he's due to earn over the next two seasons.
But the years on players do matter. The wear and tear always wins.
Three to four years is an average career for most NFL running backs. So for Jackson, the ticking clock is almost deafening.
'The only thing I'm really concerned with now is winning,' he adds.
History repeating itself: Jackson (right) reminds may of Ollie Matson (left), who was a lone star on a bad team
'That's the goal – to be part of a winning organisation. Hopefully it can be with the Rams. It would be a shame for me to uproot my family after nine or ten years and go and look somewhere else for something at I'm hoping to achieve in St Louis.'
Spoken in hope, his words are laced with frustration.
For while he insists 'my contract is not really an issue', the years of mismanagement, turnover and draft lunacy in St Louis has led to a sad reality: Jackson is in danger of being cast as the modern-day Ollie Matson.
In the fifties, Matson was the lone star on a woeful Chicago Cardinals team for six years before he was traded, in an unheard of blockbuster deal at the time, to the Los Angeles Rams for nine players.
The Rams gambled that a 29-year-old running back would compensate for the decimation of their roster.
Matson suffered over the next two seasons with a lack of talent surrounding him.
The 2012 Rams are also gambling on a back who turns 29 on July 22, when they could have taken Alabama's sure-thing running back Trent Richardson with the third pick in this season's Draft.
Health key: Keeping quarterback Sam Bradford upright and on the field is vital for Rams' progress
Jackson half winces at the mention of comparisons with Matson, who epitomised the old football clich that a man's only as good as the guys he's playing with.
'I've achieved a lot individually,' said Jackson. 'At this point I'm thinking about what my legacy will really be. How will it read out No-one really remembers a loser.
'It's hard. You see some players who don't have such individual talent, but they are on good teams. They get noticed and you get overlooked, so you have to deal with that.'
The Rams begin their pre-season schedule on August 12 at Indianapolis, and open the regular season with a road trip to the Detroit Lions on September 9.
With a slate that sees the Rams facing the NFC North and AFC East this season, the youngest team in the NFL with an average age of 25.38 years will have to grow up quickly.
'Losing definitely becomes a habit,' says Jackson. 'But it's not an issue in our locker room because we have so much turnover.
'The things in the past have been washed away. We have a whole new team, pretty much – apart from one or two old faces. So that's refreshing.
'We have a very young offensive line; young, athletic guys up front, and we're hoping and banking on those guys to perform and gel together to be very productive for years to come.
'We have a very young team, one with players who have the potential to grow together and be very potent.
'The biggest thing our success lies upon is how we keep guys healthy.
'We've had a rash of injuries the last few seasons and that is preventing guys from actually getting the game-time experience they need to mature.
'So if we can keep guys healthy, especially our quarterback Sam Bradford, I think we have a good chance in our division to be competitive.
'But the big question is: Am I going to be part of it I don't have a crystal ball. I hope so, I really do – I've carried a lot of days. But I just don't have an answer to that.'
While that may not sound like a direct plea for a trade, the underlying sentiment suggests such a deal would suit both parties. Watch this space.
Pro Bowl plea: Jackson wants the NFL to keep the all-star game at Aloha Stadium, in Honolulu
Keep the Pro Bowl in Hawaii
The Pro Bowl is the NFL's end-of-season all-star game, matching the top players in the American Football Conference (AFC) against those in the National Football Conference (NFC).
Currently, players are voted into the Pro Bowl by the coaches, the players themselves, and the fans.
Each group's ballots count for one third of the votes.
Being a Pro Bowler is considered to be a badge of honour, and players who are accepted into the Pro Bowl are considered to be elite.
Steven Jackson has been voted to the Pro Bowl on three occasions but there was a strong possibility that it would be scrapped because of the uninspired play of this year's 59-41 AFC victory.
Bowl blunder: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (left) has moved the date of the Pro Bowl, which has infuriated fans and players like Jackson (right)
The Pro Bowl was held in Hawaii from 1980 to 2009. In 2010, the NFL moved the game to the week before the Super Bowl – rather than the traditional week after the Super Bowl – for the first time, and it was held in Miami, site of the Super Bowl that year.
It meant that the players involved in the Super Bowl could not play. This angered the fans and players.
The Pro Bowl returned to Hawaii for the 2011 and 2012 games but remained one week before the Super Bowl, which still needs revising.
Jackson is pleased that the NFL have decided to keep the Pro Bowl in Hawaii – for the time being at least – and said: 'The Pro Bowl is a huge honour.
'It's football tradition and that's what makes the NFL special, because we have so many traditions we hold on to. And we, as players, want to be acknowledged as being the best.
'While it works if you are playing the Pro Bowl in a Super Bowl city, it's not as meaningful, not as special as going to Honolulu and taking your family and friends away for a vacation, and celebrating what you have accomplished. You can go to Miami any time!
'So without question, I'd like to see the Pro Bowl remain in the Islands. And I think I speak for the majority of players when I say keep it in Hawaii.'