Maybe it’s no surprise then, that Rams running back Steven Jackson did everything he humanly could to be on the field Sunday for his team’s game against the Seattle Seahawks despite the partially torn groin he had suffered the week before against the Washington Redskins.
His team. Jackson is one of several veteran leaders on a very young football team, and as he peeled off three layers of protective padding following the surprisingly easy 20-3 win, he stated simply, "I was not able to run full speed. But as a leader, you can't preach one thing and do something else."
What he did was gut out a 70-yard rushing effort, adding 54 receiving yards, the bulk of which came on a 49-yard run with a screen pass that led to a third-quarter touchdown and a 17-3 lead.
Asked if the injury affected him, Jackson said, “Absolutely,” then laughed and added, “Did you see that run?”
He admitted to consciously thinking on that run not to try and run too fast and “overextend myself, taking smaller steps,” minimizing the chance of aggravating the injury.
But he simply wasn’t going to miss this game.
"I knew I had enough to give what coach would need out of me," Jackson said. "I wanted to come out and be a part of something. I felt that this team is going in the right direction, and I just wanted to be a part of it today.
During the week, Jackson did very little on the field. Off the field was another story. There was still a pocket of blood in his groin area on Thursday, “so there was quite a bit of swelling,” he said. “Just continued to work hard. I would literally ... I would take a stim (muscle stimulation) machine home with me. I was doing acupuncture; I was doing everything. I was literally stimming myself at four in the morning trying to make sure that I could get whatever edge, whatever I could do to get back on the field. All I can say is, I just thank God it worked out.”
Then, there was the work of the training and medical staff to protect him as much as possible.
“Look at all of this stuff that kept me together,” he said after the game. "They got so many things wrapped on me, I couldn't move my leg in the wrong direction even if I tried. Look at this. Strapped in pretty good. And I have two more pairs of compression shorts on under this too."
The compression shorts had what looked like the bubble-wrap used in packing boxes. He had tape going in several directions with straps, criss-crossing his upper and lower thigh and waist.
He said, "It is just to lock the groin in and make sure I do not get overextended, kind of what happened last week. At the same time, you give away the lack of opening up and being able to run fast. But luckily,” he said with a smile, “I'm 240, right?"
His effort wasn’t lost on his teammates. Said quarterback Sam Bradford, when asked if he thought Jackson would play as much as he did, “Yeah, I did. Just knowing Jack and knowing the type of competitor he is. I think he understood how important this game was for this football team. I never doubted that he would be out there today. I think that’s a huge credit to him and the type of player and the type of competitor he is, because I know he was battling out there. He wasn’t a hundred percent, but to come out and play the way he did, it really helped this football team.”
Coach Steve Spagnuolo said he “really didn’t know” whether Jackson would play, but then acknowledged, “My guess would have been that there’s no way he keeps himself out of the game – that would have been my guess. Steven’s a warrior and we left it on him. He went out and warmed up; didn’t have to do very much. He was ready to go. I think his mindset was that he was going to go. I just asked him to be sure that it wasn’t going to set him back at all. He knows his body. I’ve said this before, he deserves that privilege of deciding whether or not he can go or not.”
The day began ominously on the first play of the game with a run by Jackson for minus-3 yards. Of his 22 carries, four were for minus yardage and another seven were for two yards or less. Those 11 attempts totaled minus-7 yards. But, his other 11 went for 77, and as a testament to his staying power, Jackson had 12 rushes for 42 yards in the final 15 minutes as the Rams owned a 17-3 lead for most of the fourth quarter.
Jackson’s presence certainly was instrumental in the victory. Asked about the lift the team received by having Jackson on the field, Bradford said, “It’s huge. He’s a huge part of this offense. A lot of what we do goes through him. Even in the passing game with him in the backfield, defenses will have to respect the run. So any time he’s in the huddle, there’s no doubt that it boosts the spirits of everyone in the huddle.”
Jackson also became the second-leading rusher in franchise history on a 15-yard run with just under 12 minutes to play in the game, passing Marshall Faulk. Jackson finished the game with 6,991 career yards, 254 behind Eric Dickerson. The officials stopped the game, and exchanged balls so Jackson could have the ball he carried to pass Faulk.
“That’s special,” Spagnuolo said of Jackson. “He deserves it. He worked for it. I thought that was a great thing. I really thought what the officials did too, that’s a little thing, but I mean, I thought that was pretty classy that they stopped and made sure that he got the football for that.”
Saying it felt good to pass Faulk against Seattle, Jackson said, “Day one when I stepped into this organization, I set a tone that I want to leave here setting a presence, putting my footprint on this organization. Hats off to my offensive line, all the guys over the years that I’ve played with, to help me get to this point. It’s very meaningful, but I’m eyeing first place. Today, more importantly, two wins in a row is what I’m really proud of.”