As I stood on the sidelines watching New Orleans “running back” Reggie Bush taunt a rookie punter during his return for a touchdown this past weekend, I almost felt bad for the guy.
Here’s an athlete who was seemingly on top of the world when he elected to forgo his senior season at USC. He was a Heisman Trophy winner and the biggest name on the biggest program in college football, and yet, today he’s forced to grand-stand and pose for personal accomplishments while playing on a winless underachiever.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. At least, that’s what the overall consensus was when the 2006 NFL Draft rolled around and everyone just knew the Houston Texans were going to select Bush with the top pick. Sure, there were some rumblings that Bush and his family might have accepted gifts, cash and other illegal benefits, but so did Shaquille O’Neal, and he went on to become one of the greatest of all time. If Bush went on to accomplish half of what Shaq did, then it would have been a wise investment.
But a funny thing happened along the way – Texans general manager Charlie Casserly met with Bush and decided it was best for his franchise to go another direction. He never said why, but some suggested it was because of the salary demands by Bush and his representatives or possibly even character issues. While no one knows Casserly’s reasoning for sure, the Texans passed on Bush and selected North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams. Bush went second to the Saints.
From there, things went from bad to worse for the Texans – with Casserly being crucified for the pick and Williams seemingly blamed for events that were out of his control, simply being drafted ahead of “Saint Reggie.” Some morons even suggested the move was one of the biggest blunders in the history of the NFL Draft.
And while Williams has gone on to have a solid career, Casserly is no longer with the Texans. He resigned as general manager and now does work as a television analyst, with the “blunder” tag still hanging over his head, even if history shows that wasn’t really the case.
The talking heads who ripped Casserly over the years claimed that Williams was a reach, and that the logical pick should have been Bush or maybe even University of Texas quarterback Vince Young (who is a story for another day with his problems of depression and retirement talk in just his third pro season).
That’s because Bush looked NFL ready the very first time he stepped onto a football field at Southern Cal. Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between the quality of play at the NFL level versus the collegiate level.
Those days, Bush’s combination of elusiveness and speed made people miss (and look foolish in the process). At times people swore they were watching Hall of Famer Barry Sanders all over again. Today, not so much.
Against faster and smarter defenses, Bush is simply a guy with no desire to go up the middle or fight for tough yards. He’s a running back who wants to rush around the edge and blow by defenders. Only problem is, they’re as fast as he is. So in a league where running backs are expected to rush for at least four yards per carry, Saints fans are “treated” to games like this past Sunday, when Bush rushed for 28 yards on 10 carries (for a sparkling 2.8 yards per carry) against the Washington Redskins.
In hopes of getting some kind of production, the Saints also utilize Bush as a receiver and a punt returner. He’s much better in either of these roles than he’ll ever be as a running back, but even that comes at a price. Take, for example, this past weekend. The Redskins rookie punter booted a wounded duck of an offering, which Bush easily returned 55 yards for a touchdown to give the Saints a 24-15 lead in the fourth quarter. But instead of acting like he’s been there before, Bush spun around, pointed and taunted his opponent en route to the endzone.
Because the football gods hate this kind of bad karma, the Redskins immediately got their act together and went on to defeat Reggie and friends, much like the last time Bush tried to show up an opponent.
In 2006, during the NFC championship game Bush a similar stunt against the Chicago Bears, when he turned around and taunted his opponent while scoring an 88-yard touchdown. The move pissed off the Bears, who scored the game’s last 23 points in a 39-14 blowout. So the recap, in the rare times Bush actually lives up to the hype, he tries to show up his opponent and ends up looking like an ass in the end while the other team gets the last laugh.
But can we really blame Bush for his childish antics? I mean, he’s never going to live up to the expectations. He’s never going to be the second coming of Barry Sanders or any other NFL great. He’s a solid punt returner, a halfway decent receiver and a below average running back. That’s great if you’re picked at the end of the second round, like Devin Hester. Not so much if you’re a Heisman Trophy winner whose been collecting a paycheck to play football since college. He’s just acting out to remind folks he’s still around. Otherwise, we’d only think of him when his worthless girlfriend, Kim Kardashian, releases her quarterly sex tape.
And one final note on the 2006 NFL Draft – if you want to be mad at Casserly for botching the Texans’ draft by reaching for Williams, that’s fine. Just be sure to say Houston should have taken LSU running back Joseph Addai with the top pick. Not Reggie.
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.