In less than a month, Steven Jackson will begin his seventh season in the NFL jungle.
But during this offseason, No. 39 spent some time up close and personal with some of the world's other predators.
In an article for Yahoo! Sports, Michael Silver details Steven's summer adventure series, which put him face-to-face with, sharks, lions and massive elephants:
"The vicious predator was closing in, and Steven Jackson's heart felt like the bass drum in a Parliament-Funkadelic concert. The St. Louis Rams' Pro Bowl halfback was breathing so rapidly, he feared he might lose consciousness.
Jackson, the best player on the NFL's worst team in 2009, is used to bracing himself for fierce hits from All-Pro defenders like 49ers middle linebacker Patrick Willis and Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson. This, however, was a different level of apprehension.
Last month in South Africa, during a trip that included World Cup watching and a perilous staredown with a wild elephant, Jackson and a friend went on a shark dive that could have served as a metaphor for the relentless runner's 2009 season – really, his past three seasons, during which the Rams have lost 42 of 48 games."
Unlike his battles with the Rams, which Steven has committed himself to 110 percent, S-Jax had some second thoughts about his open-water adventure, as he told Silver:
"A giant shark jumped out of the water right next to us with its jaws wide open, like a scene out of National Geographic. I was like, ‘Do I really want to do this?'"
Minutes later, Jackson and his friend were inside a cage with breathing hoses connected to oxygen tanks on the boat. The two of them were lowered 10 feet into the water and left there for 20 minutes.
"I was freaking out all the way down," Jackson said. "I had a lot of trouble with the air at first; I was breathing really fast and [screwing] up the oxygen tank.
"Eventually, by getting control of my breathing, I calmed myself down, but it was still pretty insane. Like I told my mom when I got back, the scariest part isn't when first see the shark or when he eats the bait right in front of you – it's when he disappears into the murky water and you're like, ‘Where the hell did he go?'"
Steven made it out without an unexpected encounter with Jaws, but he was far from finished exploring the wild, as Silver notes:
On safaris, Jackson saw lions, wild dogs and elephants, and he experienced his share of heart-thumping excitement.
"We were in a truck in the savannah in Botswana, and an elephant saw us and started flapping his ears and stomping his feet," Jackson said. "Our guide stopped the car immediately and said, ‘We have to be very still. If we make a sudden noise he'll charge us.'
"He was about 10 yards away – three to four elephant strides – and I'm looking around thinking, ‘If he rushes this truck, where am I gonna run to?' It was flat except for one tree, and the elephant went over and knocked it down. I was in trouble. I told the guide, ‘He has no chance of catching me.' Eventually he walked away, and the guide said, ‘He's just trying to prove a point.'"
THE WILL TO WIN
After spending all season last year fighting off defenses, sometimes by his lonesome, No. 39 has proven his own point and gained some appreciation from his peers as one of the NFL's elite predators.
"I think a lot of guys knew I was fighting an uphill battle and respected my ability to go out and perform weekly," he said. "Every game, someone of stature from the other team would come up and say, ‘I admire your effort.' It didn't get me any special consideration, but it was cool to hear."
With a young franchise quarterback, Sam Bradford, by his side, Steven doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon either, as he told Silver.
"I understand I'm taking a huge amount of abuse right now, but it's funny, I don't feel like my career's wasting away," Jackson said. "I find inspiration from Thomas Jones. To see him still putting up 1,400 yards rushing at 31 [for the Jets last season], that's tremendous. So I'm not in panic mode."
So far, S-Jax has been thrilled with what he has seen out of Bradford. He is hopeful that if Bradford fits the bill, the Rams won't be afraid to throw him to the wolves and let him help Steven lead the team back to promise. The sooner the better.
"I'm more interested to see him take a hit from a blitzing linebacker or safety – not only his [surgically repaired] shoulder, but to see how he reacts as a leader and as a quarterback," Steven said. "I could see why they'd want to protect their $50 million investment and wait until the offensive line has jelled.
"But I'm going to be selfish right now, with me being in year seven. If he's the best guy, he needs to play now. I don't want to wait four years like the Packers did with Aaron Rodgers. I don't know if he'll be the best guy, but if he is, I want him in there now."
Steven will be in there for sure, facing the NFL's greatest predators for 16 weeks and doing his best to turn the Rams from the hunted into the hunter.
Jackson jumps headfirst into Rams shark tank (Yahoo! Sports, July 15, 2010)