One of my favorite ads during the holidays has to be the one where a husband gives to his wife a set of car keys, presumably to a Lexus waiting outside under a bow. The wife seems genuinely surprised with her hubby’s gift, and everyone is left with a warm feeling. I have never received such a present. The reception of the shiny set of keys, however, is something that me and every other Saints fan have experienced.
When Reggie Bush came to the New Orleans Saints via the 2006 NFL Draft, the feeling around town was extremely foreign. Instant success was immediately attached to the former Heisman winner from Southern California. Draft success? And the Saints? The same team that inexplicably traded the entire 1999 Draft (not to mention a 1st and 3rd in 2000) to get another Heisman winning running back in Ricky Williams, passing up such names as Champ Bailey and Jevon Kearse?
(Cut to every Saints fan looking for a fork to stick into an electrical socket).
Perhaps we should have been skeptical, that a flashy, scat-back type who split time with Lendale White in college, would hold up in the ultra violent, 16 game marathon known as the NFL. But the euphoria was too hazy for a very possible reality, as visions of Gayle Sayers and a pre-white Ford Bronco O.J. Simpson danced in our heads. The Saints never had a marquee player with national recognition quite like Bush. The set of keys handed to New Orleans certainly looked promising.
Fast forward to present day. Reggiemania in New Orleans is over. Ironically shipped to Miami (the same destination as Williams), Bush is now remembered for occasional brilliance and constant frustration. The 2010 NFC Division Playoff against the Arizona Cardinals provided a glimmer of what Saints fans and personnel alike were expecting: 84 rushing yards (highlighted by a ridiculous, 46-yard weaving scamper for a touchdown), as well as a returned punt for a touchdown to cap off perhaps the best professional game of his career.
In reality, Bush’s time in New Orleans will be remember by untimely fumbles, unnecessary showboating (just ask Brian Urlacher), the seeming inability to run forward, and an unbelievable ability to find/create controversy (cheating allegations at USC, returning of Heisman, Twitter snafu after 2011 Draft, just to name a few).
Did we put too much stock into Reggie Bush? In hindsight, yes. As we should have learned with Ricky Williams, one player does not make or break a team. Football is a game that requires eleven moving parts on both sides of the ball, and those parts compliment each other in a variety of ways. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Running backs, as unfortunate as it may be, are a depreciating investment. The violence of the position is unrivaled, with the exception of fullbacks and linebackers. The human body simply isn’t designed to take that type of punishment. Deuce McAllister, the most beloved Saint in recent memory not named Archie Manning, disappeared after getting hurt one too many times. Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, and Priest Holmes are also in the same boat.
The running back has become a replaceable part, no matter what his 40 yard dash time is, or how many jaw-dropping runs he made in college. Reggie Bush is arguably the most dynamic player college football has ever seen. This doesn’t negate the fact that he, like every other back before him and every back to come after him, will eventually break down.
This past spring, the New Orleans Saints selected Mark Ingram with the 28th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. A former Heisman trophy winner, like his predecessors in New Orleans, Ingram will factor heavily into the Saints rushing attack for this year, and hopefully will continue to for years to come. Three games into the preseason schedule, some national analysts are picking him to win this year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Ingram, like Williams and Bush, comes into New Orleans with a ton of hype. Will he live up to it? I hope so. But I won’t be surprised when the Saints draft a Heisman winning running back in 2016. New Orleans doesn’t need a fancy Lexus to win football games, but a dependable truck that simply moves forward.