FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran running back Steven Jackson hasn’t played in the NFL playoffs since his rookie season in 2004. When he signed with the New England Patriots on Dec. 22, it ensured a long-awaited return trip to the postseason before he even played a game.
Now he wants to make the most of it.
“It helps me close a chapter on my terms,” Jackson, 32, said this week. “That’s what I always stressed -- if I went back to the NFL it had to be for a team that had a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl.”
Jackson said performing well in the playoffs would help answer one of the “question marks” some might have about his career. After knocking off some rust over the last two games from having not played football since the 2014 season, Jackson has positioned himself as the Patriots’ lead option as a power back in the playoffs.
As Patriots followers get to know him better, Jackson shared his “football journey” as part of ESPN.com’s weekly feature:
When he first started playing football: “When I was 7. My oldest cousin, he was a running back at the local high school and I thought that was the coolest thing. I wanted to be like my oldest cousin. On top of that, guys in the neighborhood, they all played. Coincidentally, I was the youngest guy in my area and it was the thing to do.”
Favorite players and teams growing up: “Being from Las Vegas, you really don’t have a team. But the very first team I ever played for was the Buffaloes, and I wore No. 34. Thurman Thomas. It was a coincidence, but he became my guy. Then from there, I started watching [highlights of] Walter Payton, Bo Jackson, Ricky Watters; I loved the way [Watters] caught the screen pass out of the backfield, the high knees. It was a flashy, pizzazz type thing at that position.”
Top memories playing football at Eldorado High: “Great times. I remember eating together. We used to go to a local buffet Thursday night with the team, and those were some of the best times. I had a high school job, so I would go in and work for a couple hours, get off early, come bearing gifts and we would have a buffet table together. And then the next day, the camaraderie of high school football that you felt, from the students, the pep rallies, it was just the pride of the school.”
Enrolling at Oregon State: “A lot of teams east of the Mississippi wanted me to play linebacker or defensive end; you see my stature and you understand. West of the Mississippi, a lot of teams gave me a chance to play running back, so that actually cut the country in half for me. From there, a lot of the schools I was particularly interested in already had established running backs. Oregon State had a senior running back at the time and had just beat up on Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Dennis Erickson was the first head coach to recruit me. So out of his interest, and out of what they were doing in the early 2000s, it just made sense.”
Top memories playing football at Oregon State: “I think I have two. The first one is beating Oregon in the Civil War my sophomore year. That same year, I was able to run for 1,600 yards and was going into my junior year as a Doak Walker candidate and Heisman Trophy candidate, and I realized all the hard work prior to Oregon State -- dedicating to the sport, dodging peer pressure, all those things that young athletes, boys and girls go through, I had made the right decisions -- started to bear fruit.”
Expectations entering the NFL Draft in 2004: “I didn’t get invited to New York, but they knew I was on the fringe of being a top 10 pick, so we allowed ESPN cameras in the house. I’d never do that again! Every year someone slides. You go in the first round and people say, ‘Great, you went in the first round.’ But when you have such high expectations and you slide, it’s disappointing. The very next year, it happened to Aaron Rodgers. And we both went 24th. So it was a very stressful day. But after you receive the phone call, it makes it all worth it.”
Playing with the St. Louis Rams from 2004-12: “I learned to appreciate things in the present. After so many disappointing years, it’s kind of hard. You always say, ‘next year is the year’ but when you’re constantly going through changes in the front office, you’re always hitting the reset button. So I taught myself to live in the present; even in the football games, I would challenge myself to 25 yards a quarter. You learn to mentally challenge yourself to kind of escape some of the things that are happening on the outside. I also began to understand the legacy of running backs that wore that uniform -- Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, a young Jerome Bettis. I made it a point that if I was going to be there a number of years that I would set the new benchmark.”
Based on his ties to the team, thoughts on the Rams possibly relocating: “I just think all major cities should at least have a chance to have an NFL team.”
As a free agent, joining the Falcons from 2013-2014: “I looked at things on paper and I didn’t evaluate what it meant for me personally. When you see how loaded a team is talent-wise, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and you see a void [at running back], you think it only makes sense. But sometimes it doesn’t make sense. You’re only going to thrive in a situation that best suits the player or the person, rather than what has already been established there. I think I jumped at it without really looking at how it would benefit me and match my style of play.”
What he loves about football: “To compete against the best athletes in the world. You can’t duplicate it. I just learned that over the last 4-5 months. There is no way to get that rush, that adrenaline, of competing against someone that is just as good or better than you.”
Using football to make a difference: “I’ve always tried to be a spotlight in the communities that I played in. I think it’s important for young people to feel like players are tangible -- you can talk to them, you can touch them, realize that they are real people.”
Summing up his football journey: “Never getting too high, never getting too low, just staying consistent.”
Plans after retirement: “I will definitely go into an array of businesses, mostly family business, small communities. I always like to see the underdog win. It goes back to my career. I’ve always kind of played with teams -- the ups and downs -- but you try to be the sunshine. I’ll try to do that in community business as well.”