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Rams’ Jackson remains rooted despite success

Three yards off right guard.

How appropriate.

It was better this way. Some long, cutting, winding, sprint-to-the-house 50-yard run wouldn’t have defined Steven Jackson’s journey in near the same manner. It wouldn’t have appropriately identified the struggles endured to reach history. It wouldn’t have made as much sense.

“It symbolizes the long road I’ve had to walk to get to this point,” Jackson said. “There hasn’t been much glitz and glamour. Just hard-nosed football. A short, tough run.

“It is how I have tried to define my career — a blue-collar guy, team oriented, always looking to maximize my capabilities for the betterment of the group.”

He hated that the record came on the road, hated more that it came on the afternoon of yet another loss, hated he couldn’t celebrate becoming the all-time rushing leader in St. Louis Rams history with his teammates and fans in victory.

Jackson on Sunday at Tampa Bay ran past Eric Dickerson in the record books and has 7,324 career rushing yards, having bumped a Hall of Famer to second place among all those who have carried the ball for the franchise.

The Rams lost to the Buccaneers, 18-17.

You might have guessed as much.

Jackson is in his seventh season with the team that in 2004 drafted him 24th overall out of Oregon State, a Rams side that is 31-72 in that time and yet has won as many games (three) this season as it did in 2008 and ’09 combined. He is 383 yards shy of a sixth straight 1,000-yard season. He just keeps going.

Funny how things work out. Jackson for years — beginning across Pop Warner fields in Las Vegas and through Eldorado High School and college — always had to prove he was big enough to be a great back. Today, he is a dying breed in a league where most at his position hit age 30 and a brick wall simultaneously.

He is 27 but has a back and knees and groin that have endured their share of injuries. He had surgery on a broken finger this week but still is expected to play when St. Louis hosts Carolina on Sunday. You knew he would.

It’s getting tougher and tougher to find the workhorse NFL running back, the every-down player capable of staying healthy long enough to consistently produce against defenders getting bigger and stronger and faster all the time.

Jackson is one. He didn’t arrive in St. Louis shy of stating lofty goals, eyeing the marks of players such as Dickerson and Marshall Faulk as those he wanted to surpass.

He knew that to be remembered in the future, he had to be special in the present. He was the kid who watched and dreamed of emulating Walter Payton, of being a guy whose team could count on to carry the ball hundreds of times year after year after year.

Jackson is averaging close to 262 carries per season.

“I wanted to come here and leave my imprint on the organization,” he said. “I always knew I would break (Dickerson’s record). Maybe not exactly when, but that it would happen. The only way to do it was perform at this level for a long time.

“I don’t feel pressed for time, and yet I know the sand in the hourglass on my career is moving. I just want to win so badly. (Losing) has been hard. Records and making Pro Bowls and all the individual honors I have received don’t mean as much without winning games. You play this game to win the Super Bowl. When you don’t win, you’re always left with an empty feeling.”

His website (www.sj39.com) offers a unique and detailed look at Jackson through short video clips, from his love of fashion and art to his relationship with his parents to his mentoring of children in Las Vegas. He will come home upon retirement, unsure yet how he wants to spend his days after football.

His favorite artist is Michael Kalish, and if the pop sculptor was commissioned to create a piece defining Jackson’s career, the player has a fairly uncomplicated vision of what it would represent:

“Strong in character, always has his head up, having become stronger through losing, hoping for greatness and needing help to achieve it.”

Jackson’s highest achievement came against the Buccaneers, and his parents and other family members and friends flew to Tampa to watch history.

Three yards off right guard.

No glitz. No glamour. No taking it 50 yards to the house.

How appropriate.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM.

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