He admits he never thought it was possible even after the Bills pulled him up to their 53-man roster for the second half of the 2006 season. Knowing the next time he takes the field this season will be his 100th game does fill Fred Jackson with a sense of pride, but if you ask him to reflect on some of his greatest moments in a Bills uniform he prefers to look ahead. For the veteran back there is too much left to accomplish to even consider what his age might tell the masses about NFL running backs.
"I still see a lot for me left to do," Jackson told Buffalobills.com. "I still feel like I can compete at a high level. I still feel like I can bring a lot to this team. I don't see it drawing to an end so to speak. I still see that I have a lot left in the tank."
Still putting up numbers
Jackson's recent numbers serve as strong indication that his personal assessment is on the mark. Coming off a 2013 season in which he produced a team-high 1,277 yards from scrimmage he was one of just eight players in the league last year to have at least 850 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards.
This season he's fourth among NFL running backs in receptions with 33 in just seven games, and is sixth in receiving yards. His rushing production this season is right on par with that of past seasons at 4.3 yards per carry. He's continued to deliver clutch plays with his 38-yard run in overtime to the one-yard line in Week 1 that led to the game-winning kick in the victory over Chicago the topper thus far this season.
For years Jackson dealt with the doubters who held his small school college career against him. Playing at Division III Coe College in Iowa he had extraordinary production his senior season with more than 1,700 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns and was a two-time conference MVP. But opportunities to try out for NFL clubs were few and far between.
Even after he was allocated to NFL Europe by Buffalo he was the second to last pick in the NFL Europe draft and the seventh-string running back on the Rhein Fire roster. Of course after his only season with Rhein was complete he was named the team's Offensive MVP.
From Division III to the NFL, Fred Jackson has seen it all in his football career. Congrats on a remarkable career.
Now those who doubt him no longer cite the number three that identifies the division of college athletics he played, but rather the pair of threes that are listed under his name next to the subheading of age.
"I get that I'm 33 and I'm not supposed to be playing a lot longer, but I think as long as I can continue to come out here and work and produce and continue to keep my body fresh and ready to go I'll be productive," Jackson said.
The consistency of Jackson's production is no surprise to the man who has known him longer than anyone. For his twin brother Patrick the doubters have always proven to be the best fuel for his brother's career.
"The way I see it, whenever he hears that he's too old and I see Fred smile at that, I think of that quote that fits him. Fred always says, 'Tell me that I can't, and I'll do it,'" said Patrick. "For him to hear about his age, the age is nothing for him. His body is in great shape. He takes very good care of himself and being in a facility where he has a training staff to keep him in great shape the age is not a barrier for him. It's just the opportunity.
"As long as he gets the opportunity he's going to produce. That's all that he's known how to do and that's all he can do is produce for his team. He wants to help his team reach any goal or overcome any obstacle. For him to hear now, 'Okay well you're 33.' He's like, 'Okay well I heard I'm 30, 31, 32 and now hear I'm 33, but I'm still going to produce as long as I get the opportunity.' As long as he's able to tote the rock he will."
"When I talk to him obviously about the age thing and everybody says he's nearing retirement he doesn't feel that way at all," said his wife Danielle Jackson. "He definitely thinks that he can keep playing for several more years. He's always said he wants to play long enough for our kids to really remember and we have a one-year old now so that means at least three or four more years so she's able to remember."
Goals to be reached, legacy to be left
In addition to the naysayers there are some personal and team goals that are always spurring Jackson to achieve more in his against-the-odds career.
"As far as what he wants to achieve I know the playoffs and Super Bowl push is huge on any football player's list," said his wife. "They are at the top of his list as well."
"The postseason is something we all want a taste of in this locker room," said Jackson at the outset of the season. "We've put a lot of work in to get there and we know there's a lot more work to do between now and the end of the season. I know I'm going to do everything in my power every week to help my team get there."
As tight as Jackson is with his football family at One Bills Drive, Jackson's family at home is even tighter. His wife and four children are as heavily invested in his career as he is. They attend all his home games and on occasion road games as well. That family support also stretches far beyond his immediate family.
When the Bills played the Cowboys in Dallas a couple of seasons ago his mother and sisters were in attendance. When Buffalo played at Detroit earlier this year his brother Patrick and his family traveled in from Iowa to see him play against the Lions. They are the ones who were unyielding in their support of his dream to play in the NFL. Even when he was three years removed from college and interest in a skinny kid playing in the National Indoor Football League was minimal they backed him.
Jackson is intensely loyal to those who always believed in him. That's why now even eight years into his NFL career he wants to do right by those who were his most fervent supporters. It compels him to give his best every time he steps on the field because giving less than that makes Jackson feel like he's letting down those who have backed him the most.
"The thing that drives him is his family backs him 100 percent and we're all proud of him," Patrick said. "He just wants to leave his legacy where it's something we can all be proud of for years to come. He wants to do the best he can for his family and his kids are always at the games and they always have people come up to watch the game."
Jackson's oldest child and only son Braeden plays little league football, among other sports, and the father in Jackson wants to leave something for his son to shoot for if Braeden ever has an opportunity at some of the same successes in football that he has enjoyed.
"His son looks up to him. His son idolizes him," said Patrick Jackson. "He wants his son to one day surpass him so obviously he wants to do the best he can. So if and when his son aspires to pass him he takes it to a whole new level."
Jackson has also played his entire career with the Bills. Over his eight seasons he has come to appreciate the significance the franchise holds in the hearts and minds of the fans that support the team through thick and thin. A blue collar player is something that is always easy for the fans of Buffalo to get behind, but to have one who has talent that supersedes that label makes Jackson an irresistible package for Bills fans.
"Passion and determination are part of what makes Fred successful, but he's also really good," said his agent Ron Raccuia. "We talk about his heart and his toughness and all that, but he's very talented."
Jackson wants to squeeze every last ounce out of his talent to leave behind a career that comes close to being mentioned with the greats in franchise history at his position. He's unlikely to reach the lofty status of a pair of Hall of Famers in O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas, but he's already third in franchise history in rushing yards and 100-yard rushing games.
"He makes it his personal responsibility to make a legacy for his name and his family's name," said his brother. "I know he wants to be known as one of the greatest running backs in Buffalo history knowing there are already those two all-time greats in O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas. That's a personal goal for him and again coming from a small Division III college to be able to say, this kid came from nowhere and made something of himself. He wants to make his name known."
Jackson also wants to develop a collective legacy for Division III college athletes. While he plays in the NFL he wants to raise the profile of those athletes that few outside of their campus community and athletic conference recognize.
He sees the network television publicity that big time college programs enjoy. He's watched the friendly, but heated exchanges that fire back and forth across the Buffalo locker room between players who played at different SEC schools. They belong to something that is massive in scale. Something that Jackson could never be a part of coming from a Division III school that most of his teammates couldn't find on a map even if they had a smart phone.
"You see when guys' schools are playing against each other. You have Ole Miss playing LSU. Last week it was Mississippi State and Alabama and we had guys in the locker room walking around talking about it. You don't have that in Division III," Jackson said. "Very rarely do you have two guys on the same team that play against each other like that. I've never heard of it."
So Jackson came up with a movement for Division III athletes that give them something to be a part of. The idea was first spawned in college with his brother, who was also his teammate at Coe.
"When we were in college, we adopted the name, 'D-3 Boyz' and we wanted to put 'D-3 Boyz' on the map," said Patrick. "That just wasn't myself and my brother and our teammates that was everybody because we knew it's one of those stereotypes where the prevailing thought is it's a small school and there's not much talent there, maybe a handful of talent. We knew that wasn't the case, so we knew if we could break that barrier of D-III can play in the NFL we wanted to make sure that once Fred got in some type of spot that he could open the door for other people."
Jackson said there are about a dozen Division III athletes currently playing in the NFL, including Washington WR Pierre Garcon and Jacksonville WR Cecil Shorts. Bills kickoff specialist Jordan Gay is another. Jackson makes sure to maintain contact with all of them.
"They're all people that I've reached out to about the D-III nation thing," said Jackson. "They've been very receptive. Jordan Gay is D-III and he was excited. I stuck a shirt in his locker and he was excited about it. So there's definitely some camaraderie there. All the Division III athletes we definitely stick together."
But Jackson wants it to go far beyond just football.
"His goal is to let the light shine on D-III athletes and the whole fraternity of Division III sports," said his brother. "He just wants to put that out there and let people know that it's not just something that we just do for fun. It's a commitment and there are a lot of athletes who can really play, but that we're also a family. He's just looking out for his Division III family and he would like it to be something that's really recognized."
That's partly why Jackson on his bye weekend went to Cincinnati to attend the Division III basketball game between Mount St. Joseph and Hiram college that was a showcase for a Mount St. Joseph player Lauren Hill, who has a form of inoperable brain cancer, and has been given a prognosis of less than two years to live. Her courage has helped to raise awareness. Jackson was in attendance for the game with his family and pledged to help support the Layup-for-Lauren cause through his D-3 Nation Foundation.
"We want to put the spotlight out there, but we also want to help at the same time," said Patrick. "We want to make it something that's beneficial for everybody. There are scholarships to get off the ground and if there are charities to promote we want to do that. We want it to grow and be something where you can say, 'I'm a part of D-III nation,' And then hear people say, 'Wow that's a wonderful project, a wonderful family, a wonderful aspiration.' We want it to be something that's recognized for doing great things for good people."
"I hope it expands. That's the hope for it," Jackson said. "I want to get it out there to all Division III athletes. I want them to have a symbol that we can all say, 'Hey I played in Division III,' and be proud of it. All the guys that know me know I'm proud to come from Division III. I think everybody who plays at Division III should be (proud) because I think that's truly where you play for the love of the sport."
Something that Jackson seems to embody even now in his eighth NFL season.
"He has a will to play," said Raccuia. "He'll play until they rip the clothes and equipment off of him. That's just how he is. He loves it that much."