Fred Jackson walked casually into Buffalo's locker room Monday morning. As he made his way to his locker his jersey from the day before hung on a hanger wearing the marks and wear that one would expect to see on a running back's uniform. Jackson had no intention of washing the jersey. He wanted to remember the hits he took in that game and all the ones before it en route to eclipsing the 5,000-yard rushing barrier.
"That's the one that I went over 5,000 yards with so I'm going to get that framed," said Jackson. "It's going in the basement."
With his 111-yard rushing effort Sunday including a touchdown, Jackson became just the third player in team history to rush for 5,000 yards or more in a Bills uniform. Hall of Famers O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas are the others.
Five-thousand yards might not seem like much to some, but for a back that needed five years just to reach the NFL, and then still often had to fight for playing time, it's a milestone Jackson is proud to mark.
"It's definitely something to be proud of," said Jackson. "To be mentioned in the same category of two great running backs like that. It's something I'll definitely keep and give to the kids as I get older."
However, the numbers Jackson has accumulated in his seven seasons are not what make him so revered in his locker room. It's his willingness to put his body on the line every week no matter what state it might be in.
On Sunday he played hurt again with injured ribs.
"That kind of just sums up Fred as a person and a player," said Eric Wood. "A team first guy who is going to lay it on the line every week, and a guy that I would never want to play against. How would you feel going against a guy like Fred Jackson? He can run you over, beat you with quickness, picks up the blitz, just a great guy to have in our locker room."
Jackson, who has also played several games with a sprained MCL this season, points to his captaincy as the reason for his refusal to come out of the lineup.
"I still want to play and do everything I can to help them win football games," he said. "Being a captain you want to earn that. That was one of the ways that I wanted to earn that. Those guys looking up to me and voting me a captain is saying that I'm going to play hurt whenever I get that opportunity."
"He just continues to amaze me," said Doug Marrone. "The way he goes about his business, I give him credit. Everyone knows we took him out during this week to rest him a little bit. He's taken some good shots along the year. Early on, I think maybe some other players that have had what he has—I'm not sure they can go out and perform like that. I give him a lot of credit and I admire him for that."
Part of it might also be the fact that Jackson's career started late. Running backs over the age of 30 only have a finite amount of time left in the league. Missing games now when he never had a chance to play in any from age 21-25 in the NFL may just not compute for him.
"We're all playing beat up this time of year," said Jackson. "I'm just another guy in that category. I just want to go out there and play with my teammates and do whatever I could to get a win."
When Jackson plays production is practically a given. He has produced 100 or more yards from scrimmage in 29 of his 91 career games (32%). That's almost once every three games, despite sharing the ball with the likes of first-round draft choices like Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller.
Jackson has never been the quickest back, but he's shifty and uncommonly strong for a player his size. It's due mainly to his elite balance. It enables him to duck and dodge would-be tacklers in the hole as well as carry defenders with him for extra yards.
"It's one of the things that I've been naturally blessed with, the balance that I have," he said. "It's been evident since I was little. I'm not the fastest guy in the league and I know that, but one of the things I wanted to be able to do was break tackles. When you can break tackles and have balance after coming out of a tackle it allows you to get those two or three extra yards. That's what I try and pride myself on, being able to get those yards after contact, shedding tacklers and keeping the sticks moving."
But Jackson has done more than keep the offense on the field. He's helped convince players in a locker room that hasn't experienced playoff success to keep pushing to reach that goal even if it's not going to come to fruition this season.
That's why when he was asked if shutting it down for the season finale was a possibility knowing his physical condition Jackson scoffed.
"Not at all," he said. "I want to be out there with my teammates and finish the season strong."