- Oct 28, 2003
- Reaction score
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
A Star Shines in Buffalo
I'm going to make a confession. I like the Buffalo Bills. I’ve always liked the Buffalo Bills. In fact, I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like the Buffalo Bills. First and foremost, any team whose official name is “Bill” is a winner in my book. While it works as intended in the context of the city they’re in, I've always wondered what would happen if they moved. Would their mascot become the dollar bill? A duck bill? Would they choose another generic team name? Who wouldn’t want to see the “Los Angeles Teds?”
All joking aside, you can draw a lot of parallels between the journeys of the Buffalo Bills and the New Orleans Saints, with the only real difference being that the Bills lost four Superbowls, and the Saints have never been in one. I'm not sure which of those is worse. But the bottom line is that both teams have been consistently inconsistent, near-perennial .500 clubs that can never seem to establish themselves as "here to stay" competitors outside of a few occasional flashes in the pan. Both teams are looking to change that. For the Saints, the arrival of Sean Payton, Drew Brees, and Reggie Bush heralded the birth of a prolific offense and a clear change in the state of the franchise. Katrina happened, 2006 happened, and the rest is history. But for the Bills, their glimmer of hope hasn't been quite as dramatic. But boy...is it ever glimmering.
That glimmer—that star—is running back Fred Jackson. Not Trent Edwards. Not Terrell Owens. Not Marshawn Lynch. Fred Jackson. In the words of the collective NFL...who? As Saints fans, we should be familiar with this. Who ever heard of Marques Colston before 2006? Pierre Thomas before he beat out Antonio Pittman? Reggie Bush before he...okay, so maybe Reggie doesn't fall in that category. But the point is, we citizens of Who Dat Nation have seen our fair share of hidden gems. That's why, despite the obvious fact that he's our opponent, Saints fans should take an interest in Fred Jackson. For us, his rise is refreshingly familiar.
In trying to learn a little bit about Jackson, who he is and where he came from, my search brought me not to Florida State, or USC, or any other university you've ever heard of, but to a small Presbyterian school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, named Coe College (population 1,300, give or take). It's the home of the Kohawks, a football team that competes in NCAA Division-III. It's where Fred Jackson's unlikely journey began.
Kohawks assistant coach and defensive coordinator Larry Atwater was there when Jackson emerged. In a telephone interview, Coach Atwater helped shed some light on the Buffalo Bills' new star.
Larry Atwater is entering his 19th
season as part of the Kohawks' coaching staff.
"Probably the guy who was most responsible for Fred and his twin brother, Patrick, being at Coe was Wayne Phillips," explained Atwater. "Wayne was our former head coach back in the 70's. Afterward, he was coaching high school football in Texas and was Fred's junior high track coach." According to Atwater, Coach Phillips was so enthusiastic about the prospect of Fred and Patrick being successful Kohawk players that he personally drove the two boys to Cedar Rapids. "They came up to visit, and the next thing we knew, they were there."
Had it not been for Phillip's intervention, the Jackson twins' football talents might have gone undiscovered. "They came from Lamar high school in Fort Worth, and one day I heard that neither Fred nor Patrick had ever even started. I asked Fred about it, and he told me it was true. I said, 'are you kidding me?' The running back who started in front of him got a full ride to TCU, along with some twenty-two other teammates who went on to play college football. According to Patrick, Fred hardly played a lick."
In Coach Atwater's own words, the Jackson twins began to "set the world on fire" during their sophomore year, with Patrick emerging as a defensive back as his brother, Fred, pounded the rock. During both Fred's junior and senior years, he was named Iowa conference MVP, ending his tenure at Coe College by helping the Kohawks win the Iowa Conference Championship. Afterward, he hit the arena league. "Fred toiled in Sioux City football for a few years, rushing for quite a few yards, which is impressive since rushing is kind of nonexistent in arena football." Impressive enough that Jackson's jersey has since been retired in Sioux City.
The story could have ended there, had it once again not been for Coach Wayne Phillips, and one other Coe College alum—someone that we in football land are a little more familiar with. "Wayne Phillips and Marv Levy were good friends," Atwater explained. "Marv was not a GM of the Bills yet, but Coach Phillips was always asking him what it would take to give Fred a chance. When Marv went back to the Bills to GM, he looked at some tape and encouraged Fred to go to NFL Europe, which Fred did. He came back from that, made the practice squad for the Bills, and the rest is history."
No. 22 Fred Jackson breaks a tackle against New England.
So what kind of running back did the Bills discover in Jackson? "He's very fast, a slasher, and very powerful," said Atwater. "Literally, he could put his shoulder down and hurt one of our defensive guys. Back when it's occurring, you don't think of anything, but now when you look back, you think, 'son of a gun.' Back then, I just thought he was one of our teammates, and that he was pretty fast." Jackson's versatility, Atwater explained, also makes him a threat. "He'd have been great in the spread option, he can whip that ball about seventy yards. He'd be deadly in the Wildcat formation."
In addition to his football contributions, Jackson was held in high esteem by his teammates off the field. "He wasn't a trouble-maker. He started dating a girl from here in Iowa, and they dated for about two or three years while he was here, so he kind of had a steady girlfriend. Everyone really respected him. I think you'd lose that respect if you were in trouble, but I never heard of him ever being in any kind of difficulty. People knew he was good." According to Atwater, Jackson often returns to Coe College during the winter to visit. "From our standpoint, that he still comes to visit us is kind of nice, now that he's made it big. Maybe that tells you what kind of a person he is."
Jackson's starting opportunity came after the
three-game suspension of teammate Marshawn Lynch.
Fred Jackson's impact on the Buffalo Bills is still in its infancy, but if the impression he left on Coe College is any indication, Bills fans have nothing but good things to look forward to. This weekend, we in Who Dat Nation will don our black and gold jerseys, gather around our televisions, and cheer every time Jackson is stuffed for no gain. We'll shout for Roman Harper to knock his head off. We'll chant for Jonathan Vilma to strip the ball from his hands. We're Saints fans, and he plays for the enemy—that's what we're supposed to do. But when the dust settles and the Saints are boarding that plane back to the Big Easy, I hope we can leave a little bit of ourselves back in Buffalo for a man in their locker room—a true diamond in the rough—who can serve as an inspiration for us all. Who never cracked the starting lineup in high school. Who went undrafted and unnoticed in the 2003 draft.
Who gave the Bills a running back controversy they wouldn't trade for the world.
"Fred means quite a bit to us up here. You know what those Fatheads are? We just got one of Freddie in his Buffalo Bills uniform, right outside of our football office. This doesn't happen often to a Division-III school. For me, I was here when Freddie was here, so it's so cool. It's so cool to see him performing well in the NFL."
1. (no change) Whoever is Playing the Detroit Lions (2-0) – Winners of their last 18 games, the team playing the Detroit Lions looks pretty unstoppable.
2. (+1) Baltimore Ravens (2-0) – The disconcerting part about their 2-0 start has been the performance of their defense. The loss of Rex Ryan might be starting to show. One big hit at the end of a ballgame doesn’t make up for the ballgame being that high-scoring in the first place.
3. (+4) New Orleans Saints (2-0) – In the case of the Saints, defensive statistics are deceiving. Huge leads and prevent defenses equals inflated garbage-time passing yards for the opposing team. You’re on notice, NFL. The Saints are a complete team.
4. (+1) Atlanta Falcons (2-0) – The NFC South looks like a two-team race. Though you could make a case for either the Saints or Falcons being number three on this list, Drew Brees gives New Orleans the edge. But Matt Ryan is for real, and these Falcons are good.
5. (+1) Indianapolis Colts (2-0) – The Colts aren’t winning pretty, but they’re still winning. Just the same, this isn’t the same team that has traditionally lit up the scoreboard. Though I guess when you only get the ball for fifteen minutes, it comes with the territory.
6. (under 11) New York Jets (2-0) – Huge leap for the Jets, who basically punched the New England Patriots square in the mouth, after telling the New England Patriots they were going to be punched square in the mouth.
7. (-3) Minnesota Vikings (2-0) – Their fall in the rankings isn’t necessarily due to their failures so much as other teams’ successes. The Vikings are winning, yes, but they haven’t exactly looked like the NFC’s team to beat.
8. (under 11) Chicago Bears (1-1) – Now that’s the team we thought we’d see come week one. If Cutler pulls it together consistently, watch out.
9. (+2) New York Giants (2-0) – Seriously, what is the media drinking to have this team ranked number one in half of the power rankings out there? Beating a pitiful Redskins team by less than a touchdown then squeaking past the Cowboys at the last possible second is not that impressive.
10. (-8) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) – Huge fall for the Steelers, who look very beatable right now.
11. (under 11) San Francisco 49ers (2-0) – Back-to-back victories against their closest competitors in the NFC West? Way to kick off a football season.
I went 11-5 for two weeks straight, for an overall 22-10 record. Some risky calls this coming week might make or break me.
PHI over KC – After a 48-22 woodshed beating, the Eagles are going to be mad.
BAL over CLE – Does this game even need to be played?
NYG over TB – Blow someone out, Giants. Make me believe.
NE over ATL – Atlanta is the better team, but the Patriots will be furious.
TEN over NYJ – For the life of me, I can’t see the Titans starting 0-3.
GB over STL – Who saw that one coming? Referring to Bengals over Packers.
SF over MIN – You know what? If the 49ers win, it might not be an upset.
HOU over JAX – I don’t know what to make of the Texans right now.
DET over WAS – I’m calling it. The Lions break the streak right here. Washington stinks.
CHI over SEA – I have no confidence in the Seahawks to do anything good.
NO over BUF – The Bills are ranked 31st against the pass. After this week, 32nd.
SD over MIA – Crushing loss for the Dolphins. I don’t know if they can recover.
DEN over OAK – Stop the presses…the Broncos could start 3-0!
PIT over CIN – The Steelers are just the better team, here.
IND over ARI – A 1-2 start looks inevitable for Arizona.
CAR over DAL – The Panthers pull it together in week three.
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In addition to sports satire, Lee Stephen (TheBayouBullet) is the author of a science-fiction novel series. Learn more about it at www.epicuniverse.com or check it out on Amazon.