by Alan Grant
October 27, 02012
My interest in Reggie Bush was an extension of my interest in USC tailbacks. See, I grew up in Southern California in the 70’s when student body right was the greatest one-dimensional scheme in ‘ball. The tailback was both star and beast of burden.
There was Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell, Marcus Allen, and my favorite, Charles White. Marcus Allen was smooth, a long striding glider who slashed through gaps, who stealthily amassed 200 yard games. Charles White didn’t have “long” speed, the kind that takes you eighty yards in a clip. He traveled in brief, practical bursts and was the toughest guy I had ever seen. After forty carries he would still hit the hole with a vengeance.
At U.S.C. Bush was one of the most electrifying players in the history of college football.
Reggie Bush was different. He was a sprinter, a bundle of nerves who seemed to never stop moving. He was frantic with the ball, cutting like a cornered rabbit. The run against Fresno State, where he tucked the ball behind his back is still one of the greatest runs I’ve ever witnessed.
I’ve spoken to Reggie Bush a couple of times. In each meeting he made the same point: “I’m still learning how to play this game,” he said. That much was obvious. Bush’s problem was always patience. He had none. He couldn’t wait for a guard to pull, or a tackle to reach, or kick out an end. Once he got the ball, he went wild, running to open spaces that weren’t there.
Andrew Luck recently said it’s the quickness of the linebackers that separates the pro game from the college game. He’s right. This was the thing that haunted Bush, that arrested his development. He couldn’t outrun his pursuers. Reggie Bush was never the guy we saw in college.
The last time I saw him was in 2008, at a mini camp. His failure to fulfill expectation was wearing on him. He was guarded, edgy, and aloof. His smile didn’t come as easily as it had as a rookie and his posture was defiant. The fruits of his weight room labor were readily apparent as his neck, chest, and deltoids were obviously thicker. As he got dressed, his face was wiped clean of emotion and the rather large chip on his shoulder was visible to the naked eye.
When I reminded of a confession he’d made two years earlier, about how he was “still learning how to play,” Bush seemed defensive. “Yeah, I guess I am,” he said. “But it’s a game of learning. That’s what this is all about, right? About learning from the past.”
When asked if he was going to be more patient, he got… impatient. He looked away before saying, “I just want to work on my overall game.” When asked if there had been a particular game in the last two years that had set the standard for where he wants to be, he wouldn’t even ponder the question. “No, I just want to improve my overall game,” he muttered.
But before I could ask my final question, Bush answered it for me. It was the thing I knew bothered him most. “Of course I want to make big plays,” he conceded. “But I know they won’t always be there.” He seemed momentarily deflated by the reality of it.
I realized then that I was interested in Bush because in some ways his football career was very similar to my writing career. I could identify with him. Like Bush I had been impatient. I was ambitious, hungry, and I too wanted to make things happen in a hurry.
Like Bush, I was part of a team. And all of my coaches, editors in this case, looked for places to use me. Like Bush, I obliged because I was just happy to be playing. But my coaches, like Bush coaches weren’t convinced that I could be happy as just “one of the guys.” So they ended my contract.
I had a friend, a writer named Luke. We had many discussions about many things. He told me, in so many words, that there were things about the game that I still needed to learn. He wasn’t talking about football. He was talking about the sports writing industry. He never explicitly told me I needed to be more hateful towards athletes, but I knew that’s what he meant.
In order to be considered credible, or worse, “objective” a former athlete has to be overtly disapproving—to the point of contentious—towards all current athletes. But it’s wearisome to consistently say things you don’t mean and to write things you know aren’t true. That’s why I don’t do it. Instead I say exactly what I think.
For instance, I don’t hate Reggie Bush.
A lot of people do hate him, for different reasons. He’s not as good on Sundays as he was on Saturdays. He fumbles too often. He gets injured a lot. His investment in the Kardashian brand demonstrated not only a lack of taste, but a willingness to be distracted.
But very few people live up to the first or second pick status. All running backs, including Adrian Peterson, put it on the ground. Brian Urlacher is often injured, you want to question his toughness? And what twenty-something man with sight wouldn’t be willingly distracted by the goods put forth by Ms. Kardashian?
But the main reason for contempt is what happened at U.S.C.
I know what happened at U.S.C. Well, I know what didn’t happen, and how history was altered because of it. I know that Bush was very interested in going to Notre Dame. I know that the Notre Dame assistant coach who recruited him said things were going extremely well until “that step daddy got on the phone.”
LaMar Griffin said something like, “Here’s a list of the people I want at the home visit.” The assistant coach replied, “I think the only people who should be present are the head coach, the young man, and his parents.” He said that because Notre Dame’s head coach was a meticulous sort who did everything by the book. The assistant coach said when he hung up the phone he knew they had lost Reggie Bush.
In obvious hindsight of the scandal that cost Bush his statue the best thing would have been for Bush to pay the money he owed Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels. Sure it would have been the final step in a cavalcade of unethical happenings, but those involved in shady dealings should still honor their debts.
I know his actions were against the rules, but in the long-winded aftermath Bush’s protection of Griffin was commendable. Though Griffin had offered him unsavory counsel, Bush remained loyal to the man who raised him. You take the hit for your family.
Reggie Bush has learned some things. He’s learned to be patient running off tackle and he’s learned to run a little lower. It’s paying off. He’s not the bruising force that Adrian Peterson is, few are. But he’s made himself a good, solid running back.
Despite his recent growth, Bush has been called a “bust” more often than he’s been called a playmaker. (Of course, in my opinion, a bust is properly defined by JaMarcus Russell who is no longer a quarterback in any universe) After seven years in the league Bush is still being called a bust by some, but he’s also still, you know... playing.
Before the season Bush flatly stated that his goal was to lead the league in rushing. Conventional wisdom dictates that a guy who has never played an entire season and who has never been a rough and tumble inside runner should not even entertain thoughts of leading the league in rushing, let alone publicly state his intentions of becoming elite. But he did just that.
I’m intrigued by Bush’s latest stance. This current episode is neither dramatic nor consequential, it’s actually quite silly. But it does speak to the young man’s resolve. It started with Rex Ryan’s carnival-barking pregame fare. Last month, while speaking about Reggie Bush Ryan said he wanted to" put some hot sauce on him," meaning the Dolphins running back was going to get a lot of attention from the Jets defenders.
Bush, like all offensive players who are hypersensitive to the language of bounties, took that to mean the Jets would be trying to purposely hurt him. So after Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was injured, Bush said it was the work of Karmic forces. “What comes around goes around,” were his exact words.
Rex Ryan is waiting for an apology from Bush that Bush says isn’t coming. And Jets safety LaRon Landry has thrown the word “headhunting” in Bush’s general direction. For those who know something about safety play, Landry is cast in the mold of a guy named Lawyer Milloy—a guy who hit people with a certain joy. In his defiance, Bush has raised the ire of a Jets defense that quite frankly doesn’t have much to lose.
Through the many struggles and controversies that have led to the eve of this contentious rematch, Reggie Bush has continued to pursue his craft with an earnest tenacity. More than that he’s refused to hide.
I don't hate anything about that.
Follow Alan Grant on twitter @ AlanGrant_NFL