Steven Jackson isn’t normal.
Your definition of what that means could be different than mine, but that doesn't matter. Because Steven Jackson does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants. Neither you nor I will tell him any different. And when his career ends, the epitaph will tell the tale of a man that may never be completely figured out.
Steven Jackson grew up in Las Vegas, in a time when the city was trying to become more family friendly, Cirque du Soleil was still in its embryonic stage, and the hottest ticket in town was UNLV Basketball.
Many of the kids at El Dorado High School wanted to be like their idols and play hoops, ball like Grandma-ma, but Mr. Jackson took it upon himself to make his middling high school football team into a state power. No small undertaking, even for one of the better athletes NV had seen in decades. By his senior year, El Dorado had reached the championship game.
But it was just a start on a life filled with more than its fair share of WTF, SJ39 moments.
Steven Jackson is: an aspiring architect, the first player to ever leave Oregon State with eligibility left, still awaiting word if he’ll be civilly charged for allegedly assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, rehabbing from back surgery, the best player on a terrible professional football team, an film auteur, a millionaire, a poet, outspoken, painfully shy… and more.
But as the Rams stand on the precipice of 2010, it can also be said that this is the most important year of Jackson’s enigmatic career.
His team was 1-15 last season, but he was a Pro Bowler and second team All-Pro. His offense averaged barely over 10 points per game, but he somehow managed to get nearly 1800 all-purpose yards.
And this is the story of Steven Jackson in St. Louis. A tremendous talent that seems to have little to no impact on the game in which he appears to thoroughly dominate. A charitable man with high brow interests that was investigated for assault on a pregnant woman. A loyal Ram that chastised the fans for not supporting an awful product better.
Hard to figure.
Football, more than many sports, can’t be won or lost by one player. It takes 22 men, some special teams magic and a dash of luck to come out of NFL game with a win. But it’s also a league where the big stars make the big plays that deal the death blow to the other side. You can argue that his teammates didn’t put him in position to make those plays the past 3 seasons. You could also argue that he didn’t make the plays, so how do we know someone else wouldn’t have made them?
Steven Jackson is 26, soon to be 27. And as that mythical wall of 30 that has demolished other running backs looms in the not too distant future, the St. Louis Rams are still in full-on rebuilding mode. He’s only been to the playoffs once, his rookie year in 2004. Without question SJ39 is the best player on the team, but the team has been just dreadful to watch the since 2004. What do we make of this career? Of this player?
The answers won’t come easily. Expectations for the Rams season are once again low. But if Rams fans are to expect 2 to 3 more seasons of incremental growth, then Steven Jackson will be looking over his shoulder at his imminent 22 year old replacement in the final year of his contract, waiting for the sausage factory called the NFL to spit him out on the other side. In other words—if Steven Jackson doesn’t somehow make this Rams team better than it should be this season, we can all be pretty certain that he’ll never be a Pro Bowl-caliber back on a playoff team.
And what that means is as baffling as the man himself. Do we judge him as an individual? Do we put him in the same realm as Marshall Faulk? Is he merely a statistical monster lacking a killer instinct and motivational skills? A product of the worst front office management ever?
We get it. He’s been dealt a junk hand. He’s had some hard luck. But Steven Jackson has one season to prove to his fans and his naysayers that Steven Jackson is what he can be. A completely unfair edict, yes. But the NFL isn’t fair. It’s a cruel place. A very cruel place.
We can analyze all we want. Steven Jackson is the one that decides what the Rams fate will be this season.
He probably likes it like that. But will we?