Last Sunday Fred Jackson accomplished a feat that only two other Buffalo Bills running backs had ever accomplished; he ran for 5,000 yards as a Bill. Jackson has been a mainstay in Buffalo’s backfield since 2007, but his path to the NFL was far from ordinary.
After being undrafted out of Coe College in 2003, Jackson turned to indoor football. Jackson made a name for himself on the Sioux City Bandits for two seasons, winning co-MVP of the United Indoor Football League in 2005. His performance led to him getting a workout with the Bills in 2006. Jackson impressed the team and Buffalo sent him to NFL Europe to play with the Rhein Fire. After leading the Fire in rushing yards in 2006, Jackson joined the Bills’ practice squad. In 2007, at the age of 26, Jackson received his opportunity with the Bills and the rest is history.
Jackson’s career has been personified by resiliency. Being resilient is a known trait of Bills fans over the last 16 seasons.
Fred Jackson has been with the Bills for seven seasons and has shown an infinite amount of resiliency battling through injuries, lost seasons and even competition. Much like Bills fans who have battled a stigmata of rooting for a lost franchise that’s destined for mediocrity, Jackson has taken whatever criticism he has been given and turned it into fuel. He has often put the franchise on his back and carried them to wins they may not have deserved.
Through all of the Bills’ struggles Jackson has always maintained a good soldier status. Jackson never felt slighted despite the organization drafting C.J. Spiller in the first round to replace him. Jackson looked beyond what he couldn’t control, and focused on what he could. In 2011, Jackson was discussed as an MVP candidate before breaking his right leg. At the time, he was third in the league in rushing and second in yardage from scrimmage to only Matt Forte.
Although he has only rushed for over 1,000 yards once in his seven years, you can always count on Jackson producing on the ground or in the receiving game. For his career, Jackson averages 4.5 yards per carry and he’s never had fewer than 30 catches in a season since he took a full-time role in 2008.
After the Bills selected C.J. Spiller with the ninth overall pick in 2009, some predicted it was the end of Jackson in Buffalo. Instead Marshawn Lynch was the odd man out and Jackson flourished as the top back. Along the way, Jackson embraced Spiller as the speed back to his hammering style. Both backs have battled injuries this season, but when healthy they’re a deadly duo. On and off the field, the two backs seem extremely close. It speaks to Jackson’s humble background and sense of team that he was able to foster a unified front instead of an uneasy environment in the locker room.
Jackson’s performances and toughness has created a grassroots affinity between himself and fans. Fans have gotten behind Jackson and everything he does because he’s one of us. Jackson is blue-collar, just like most Bills fans. His story is inspiring. He came out of nowhere to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
Bills fans want the organization to do the same, and rise up despite their recent history of losing seasons. With only one more year left on his contract it would be apropos if Jackson can lead the team to the playoffs in 2014. Only then will things come full circle for Jackson and for the Bills.
Even if it doesn’t happen the fans will still love Fred Jackson, and Jackson will love the fans in return.