This Christmas was particularly meaningful for Fred Jackson.
Santa Claus came early this year for the Seahawks’ 34-year-old running back, the third-down specialist in what’s become a backfield full of fill-ins after injuries to Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls.
First, Jackson’s family came out from Buffalo. That’s where he played for nine seasons until the Bills released their former lead running back on Sept. 7.
Danielle, his wife of nine years, and their children — Braeden (9 years old), Kaelen (7), Jaeden (5) and Maecen (3) — are reuniting with Jackson for the next two weeks in the Seattle area while on holiday break from school.
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“It’s the first (Christmas) that they’ve been a part of where there’s not snow on the ground. That’s one of the things they did have a gripe about,” Jackson joked before he spent Friday morning with them prior to the Seahawks’ afternoon practice.
His family was in town last weekend when Jackson made a dazzling, one-handed catch out of the backfield during Seattle’s victory over Cleveland. The win clinched a playoff spot. That was Jackson’s second early Christmas gift: the first postseason appearance of his 10-year career.
“My son (Braeden) is ecstatic. He still can’t believe it,” Jackson said. “He told me, ‘I’ve waited all my life for this.’
“He’s 9 years old now.
“Yeah, it was well-played by him,” Jackson said, smiling. “I cracked up when I heard that. It’s a lot of fun to joke around about it — and then go do it.”
Jackson remains hugely popular around Buffalo. Fans and friends from there flooded him this week with congratulations on making the playoffs.
This season has been one adjustment after another for Jackson. None of them merry like his Christmas, either.
He averaged 158 touches per season with the Bills. He’s had 50 touches (24 rushes for 89 yards, plus 26 receptions for 208 yards and two touchdowns) through 14 games with the Seahawks. His new team has decided to keep him in his limited, third-down role of pass catching and blocking while turning to Christine Michael and Bryce Brown as the lead runners, replacing Lynch and Rawls.
The silver lining to being used less often than he ever has: Jackson is fresher for the end of this regular season and his first postseason.
“Oh, yeah, without a doubt,” he said. “We’ve had some tremendous running backs do some things here, and my role has been limited because of that. One of the things that, going into this playoff run, if my number’s called, I’ll be ready with the limited amount of touches that I’ve gotten.”
His kids stayed behind in Buffalo most of this season — minus some breaks — because when the Seahawks signed him during training camp, schools in the Seattle suburbs had been in session for two weeks and the kids’ school in the Buffalo area was still three days from starting. The Jacksons chose familiarity and their kids’ friends over starting late at a new school so they could see dad every day in his new NFL home.
It’s the real life of being a father, one that gets overlooked in the big-bucks world of professional sports. Jackson signed with Seattle for $900,000 for this season.
“We just thought it would be easier just to send them to school in Buffalo and let them continue to do that, and not trying to uproot them just like we got uprooted out of Buffalo,” Jackson said. “It was just the best thing for them.”
Being 2,600 miles from his family and the low numbers on the field have made this the most challenging season of his NFL career. In the first weeks after Seattle signed him, Jackson was waking up at 4:30 a.m. so he could Skype with his kids before they started school each day back in upstate New York.
“I mean, that’s the hardest thing about it, not being able to go home each day and have them there to welcome me home and things like that. It’s been an adjustment,” Jackson said. “My oldest daughter, who’s 7, tells me she hates it. So to hear that, you know that’s part of the process. You try to explain it, but you know she’s not listening … It’s definitely the hardest thing about it.
“Being able to get into the playoffs and have a chance to go win a championship definitely makes it better. Makes it — not worth it — but ‘worth it.’ That’s what we’ve got to do, is to go out there and try the best I can to go win a championship.”
The Seahawks listed WR Doug Baldwin (hamstring), DE Michael Bennett (toe), SS Kam Chancellor (pelvis) and LT Russell Okung (calf) as questionable to play against the Rams. But Baldwin and Bennett practiced fully Friday, adding to the belief that they will play Sunday. … Chancellor and Okung seem less likely. Alvin Bailey would start for Okung, and Kelcie McCray would replace Chancellor. McCray, acquired at the end of training camp in a trade with Kansas City to be a special-team mainstay, made his first career start last week against Cleveland, subbing for Chancellor. Though McCray thought he could have played better, especially against the pass, coach Pete Carroll said he thought McCray played well, especially tackling in run support. The Rams will be running 1,000-yard rookie rusher Todd Gurley right at the Seahawks.