Braeden Jackson had the perfect line for his dad after the Seahawks clinched a playoff berth with a Week 15 win over the Cleveland Browns.
"I've waited all my life for this," he said.
And at 9 years old, Braeden Jackson has indeed gone his entire life without seeing his father, Seahawks running back Fred Jackson, appear in the postseason.
"My son is ecstatic," Jackson said. "He still can't believe it. He told me, 'I've waited all my life for this.' He's 9 years old, so it was well-played by him. I cracked up when I heard that."
Jackson later made light of the accomplishment by Tweeting a clip of then Colts coach Jim Mora's famous "Playoffs" rant.
Jackson, a beloved player in Buffalo, where until this season he had spent his entire NFL career, had a tough choice to make when the Bills release him on Aug. 31. By signing with Seattle a week later, Jackson set up what has been both one of the most trying and rewarding seasons of his career.
Because he and his wife, Danielle, didn't want to uproot Braeden and their three daughters, Kaelen, 7, Jaeden, 5, and Maecen, 2, just before the start of the school year, Jackson moved across the country alone, leaving behind his family, as well as the city he had called home for nearly a decade since signing with Buffalo's practice squad in 2006.
But one of the main reasons Jackson signed with Seattle was that, at 34, he was eager to finally get a taste of the postseason, something that is now a reality after the Seahawks clinched a fourth straight playoff berth last week.
Before this year, Jackson had only been a part of one winning season, going 9-7 last season. But now he has a chance to pursue a Lombardi Trophy, something that has eluded him in a career full of individual accomplishments, which include leading the NFL with 2,516 all-purpose yards in 2009, the fifth highest total in NFL history.
"That's here for me," Jackson said of chasing a title. "To help this team in any way I can to go out there and get that championship. We've still got a lot of work ahead of us, the road's not going to be easy, but it's something I'm excited to be a part of.
"It was one of the main focuses when I had the opportunity to pick where to go. These guys have done tremendous things over the past years. Having an opportunity to come here and help compete and try to win a championship is something I wanted to do."
While Jackson obviously would have liked to make the playoffs before this season, it is in a way fitting that he has had to take a long road to get there. Undrafted out of Division III Coe College, Jackson had to spend two seasons playing in two different now-defunct indoor leagues with the Sioux City Bandits, then in NFL Europe with the Rheine Fire before getting a shot with the Bills in training camp. After one year on the practice squad, Jackson enjoyed a long and successful run in Buffalo that included a lot of big numbers and great memories, but only one winning season. Jackson's history means he not only makes sure he is appreciating this season, but that his teammates, many of whom have been to four of five postseasons and two Super Bowls, understand how rare that kind of success is in the NFL.
"It's one of those things I try to tell guys all the time," Jackson said. "This being my 10th season and the first time in the playoffs, it's something I try to pass on to the guys. Relish it, because it's not always a given."
Teammates and coaches have made a point of congratulating both Jackson and Ahtyba Rubin this week, as both are going to the playoffs for the first time in their long careers.
"It was the first thing we talked about today," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday. "To make the point that those guys, Freddie and Rube get their first shot at going to the playoffs, and to point out to the young guys where it's their first year, to realize that it doesn't always come right away. It doesn't come along with being an NFL football player, being in the playoffs. Those guys really respect it and regard it highly that they have this opportunity. The young guys, they don't know any better. We have guys in our program that have been with us for a long time. I mentioned to Earl and Russell and those guys that have been there for years, this is what we've come to expect. This is what we've come to anticipate, that this is going to happen by our hard work and the effort and our commitment to things. We take it a little bit differently than the first time guys, on either end of the spectrum."
But while Jackson is certainly a feel-good story this time of year, don't mistake that for him just being some "old" guy playing out the string in order to chase a title. Jackson doesn't have big numbers this season, but he has been vital to Seattle's offensive success as the team's third-down back. While the Seahawks aren't leaning on Jackson to put up big numbers in the rushing game—he has not carried more than seven times in a game this season—he has provided a ton of value as a pass catcher, a blocker and perhaps just as valuable, a leader in the locker room. A perfect example of Jackson making an impact with limited playing time was his two-catch stat line against Cleveland. While Jackson had only two catches and no carries, both of those catches allowed the Seahawks to convert on third down, including one that was an impressive one-handed effort.
"He has been a really good asset," Carroll said. "He has been really solid for us, and he's a playmaker. He's got a great calm about him that helps the young guys, he's a very good leader too. So he has given us a lot of good stuff and made a lot of good plays too."
But as much as Jackson is enjoying this ride, pursuing a championship has come at a personal cost. Coming home to his family every day has been replaced by phone calls and FaceTime appointments, some as early as 4:30 a.m. PT to catch the kids before they head off to school three time zones away.
"That's the hardest thing about it, not being able to go home every day and have them there to welcome me home," Jackson said. "It's an adjustment. My oldest daughter who's 7, she tells me she hates it. To hear that and know that it's part of the process, and try to explain it to her, and she's not trying to listen to what you have to say about it, it's definitely the toughest thing about it. Being able to get to 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."
Fortunately for Jackson and the rest of his family, they have been able to make several trips to Seattle, as well as to Seahawks road games, and they were in town last week to see him clinch the first trip to the postseason in his career. Having his family around while also knowing his season will extend beyond Week 17 will make this a very special Christmas for Jackson, who at 34 can finally talk about playoffs.
"It will (be special)," Jackson said. "They're excited about it. It's the first Christmas they'll be a part of without snow on the ground though, so that's one thing they'll gripe about. We don't see each other like we always have throughout the years, so for them to be here for Christmas will definitely make a special moment we'll enjoy a little bit more."