The magic number is 1,000. That's the numeric benchmark that separates transcendent running backs from serviceable rushers in the National Football League.
Before he left his old haunt in St. Louis, the indefatigable Steven Jackson rushed for 10,135 yards and 56 touchdowns and beasted his way to eight straight 1,000-yard seasons for the Rams – fitting, because when he ran dreadlocked out of the backfield, he punched through defensive backs like a battering ram.
Last year, the 31-year-old, all-around, every-down back migrated South, signing a three-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons. But his inaugural season in red and black was derailed by a hamstring injury that caused him to miss four games and limited his effectiveness. Combine that with erratic blocking from the offensive line and a rash of injuries, and it's not surprising that the three-time Pro Bowler logged less than 1,000 yards for the first time since his rookie year.
Rolling Stone caught up with Jackson in Los Angeles, where he was a featured presenter at Gatorade's Player of the Year awards. After revealing a wicked tattoo of the Rolling Stones' lips-and-tongue logo on his left forearm, the Las Vegas native spoke about his first photography exhibit, "Looking Forward: Running Back," filming HBO's Hard Knocks and not changing a damn thing as he prepares for his 11th NFL season.
The Falcons will be featured on the upcoming season of Hard Knocks. Do you feel like that's invasive as your team prepares for the season?
I think maybe 10 or 15 years ago it was invasive, but nowadays you got social media. The cameras and the phones are everywhere. I think it's good for the fans. It shows the actual hard work that goes into the season and forming a team, and the stress that a coach is under, as well as the camaraderie that's built over that six-week period.
How will the show benefit the team?
I think it will bring a lot of recognition and knowledge to the team for those not familiar with the Atlanta Falcons. It also helps us come together as a team. When you have this kind of stage, a lot of people want to see great things out of you. So when you have this opportunity you've got to take advantage of it.
Sounds like you're looking forward to it.
I think a lot of people are going to get to know who I am. I'm looking forward to telling my story. A lot of people don't know my story because of all the years I spent in St. Louis. Opportunities like this don't come up in a smaller market.
Last year was the first time you logged less than 1,000 yards since your rookie year. What have you done during the offseason to change that?
Nothing. I haven't done anything differently. I believe in what I've done over the years to be successful. I just need Lady Luck on my side. It's just staying healthy, which is out of my control. I haven't changed anything. My mindset and my preparation are sharp as ever.
So how do you get back to your normal 1,000-plus production?
I need to just stay within myself. I know when to turn it on and I know when to turn it off. But more importantly, I know how to be a leader. So if the opportunity comes for me to return to the 1,000-yard mark, I'm more than ready to do that. But as you get older mentally, things become challenging; you have to be known to be the stud of the team, but you also have to be the captain of the team. I believe I've hit the point in my career where I'm able to balance the two.
You just had your first photography exhibit in West Hollywood. When did you become interested in photography?
I started maybe eight years ago. I've traveled the world time and time again and I've been to every continent except Antarctica, so I'm very versed in my travels. I've documented them over the years and a good friend of mine, Michael Kalish, a world-renowned artist, he saw my work and asked me if I ever thought about sharing it and I said no, because I just thought it was for personal documentation. But as he continued to foster the idea, I began to entertain it. Fast forward to July 17th and I'm debuting as an artist.
So is this the real Steven Jackson?
No, I'm a football player at heart. But I've always been artistic. I studied architecture, so it's always been a love of mine, but I never really shared it with the world.
Looks like you're all set for your post-NFL career.
I will pursue it full-time when I'm done playing football. My artistic expressions will show people that all football players don't have to walk one or two paths after you retire. The capabilities are endless as long as you foster them.