Friday, December 14, 2007


So… you hate your quarterback.

You don’t know why the team didn’t draft a running back two years ago.

You’re still ticked off that the team passed up on a franchise player in order to sign a career backup.

Yep. You have to love the NFL.

Sports are the world’s greatest unifiers. And dividers. Despite being able to congregate around a television or attend a live game, we may have a bigger love affair with debating. Who should have been traded, who should have ended up here or there, what if Michael Jordan didn’t make Craig Ehlo his personal yo-yo years ago? Those are the questions that keep sports the most consistently strong and entertaining artform out there. There are millions of questions that we have – because of those questions, sports media has exploded – and even more opinions and rationales to try to answer them. The questions that never seem to have answers are those pondered in hindsight.

It used to be that our reflections would grow over a longer period of time than in the current day. With the increased media and availability of games at our disposal, careers come and go much quickly than they used to. That includes careers that have just gotten underway.

Case in point, deciding between Mario Williams or Reggie Bush as the number one pick in the 2006 Draft.

After recording 3 ½ sacks last night against a usually strong Denver Broncos offensive line, Williams may have cinched his first Pro Bowl appearance of what could be a very productive career. Could be. The defensive end from NC State seemed quite overwhelmed much of last season, despite burst of excellence that had been expected of him after being chosen over Bush. In college, Williams made his name as a three-year starting defensive end, notching 25.5 sacks and 175 tackles. Because the Houston Texans’ defensive line hadn’t found success in pressuring quarterbacks, Williams was rather high on the draft board, though there were two college superstars available for the taking. When the Texans secured the top pick in 2006, there was increased noise from fans and media as they practically begged former GM Charley Casserly to select either Bush or Houston native and Texas QB Vince Young. With Young’s great performance over Bush’s USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl, the city wanted someone to latch onto as their own in the aftermath of the Oilers’ move to Tennessee and the drama of the David Carr era. They also dreamed of having Bush, an electric playmaker from the backfield, a player touted as an once-in-a-lifetime talent.

Chronicling Bush’s career on Scribe could be pointless if you didn’t hear about him amidst the tremendous hype generated coming out of college (see this instead). Reggie Bush has the blend of receiving and rushing skills, the talented offense to work with and an early edge on playoff experience. He is also the subject for a potentially great discussion in any marketing class in college. He adopted the post-Katrina New Orleans and has appeared in numerous charitable campaigns since kick-returning himself into the NFL scene last season. He is also embroiled in a controversy involving alleged broken promises to a would-be marketing agent and improper gifts for his parents while in Southern California. When the Texans passed on drafting him because of apparent signability issues, it was looked upon as one of the dumbest moves in sports history. The Saints’ success with the combination of Bush, Deuce McAlister, fellow rookie Marques Colston and MVP contender Drew Brees exasperated the talk. Bush was the future of the league, even though Colston’s Rookie of the Year performance as a seventh round choice deserved a little spotlight. This season, however, New Orleans has been an inconsistent team (albeit, heavily affected by injuries) with a 6-7 record and scant chances at making the playoffs. Between questionable playcalling, the fading story of reviving the city’s spirit and the increase in workload with McAlister’s season-ending injury, Bush did not have the chance to build upon the strong momentum of last season. Now, between Thursday’s career game for Williams and Bush’s season-ending injury recently, ESPN and others have asked which player would be drafted number one right now.

While it is still fairly early to condemn or praise guys who just started their careers about twenty months ago, it seems as if both Houston and New Orleans are pleased thus far with their signature players. The Texans didn’t have a ton of issues running the ball so much as it was protecting Carr. They also were not having enough impact from the defense. The losing attitude seemingly consumed Carr, despite flashes of skill, and it seemed that management, coaches and fans just wanted a new start with the best offensive player available. Even if Williams turned out to be one of the premier defensive players in the game, he would have been compared to a player of a completely different position and circumstance. What Williams has brought to the Texans is not only a strong pass rush, but overlooked skills in stopping opposing running backs. Unfortunately for him, defense is only recognized when it’s extremely porous or extremely suffocating.

The Saints had similar personnel problems and were hoping to essentially replace QB Aaron Brooks with a player that could help the team shutter its helter-skelter play over the years. Despite already having a running game, Bush fell into their lap unexpectedly and it was hard to not only pass up the talent, but the increased boost in sponsorships and ticket sales while returning from a season in San Antonio. What could be pondered is who would have been selected if Houston did select the former Trojan. Having signed Brees as a free agent six weeks before the Draft, New Orleans may have looked at upgrading the defense with Williams, despite his lack of hype in NC State or even A.J. Hawk, the middle linebacker from Ohio State that was selected by Green Bay with the fifth pick. Houston would have been lambasted still, but not for a while as Bush would have taken just as many hits as Carr or incumbent running back Dominick Davis (now Williams).

Sports are about more than numbers and highlights, no matter how much we throw them in the air. The games are about movement, timing and cohesion; all necessary to make those stats and video clips possible for our enjoyment. New Orleans was given a clean slate when they came back to the Superdome with new leadership (head coach Sean Payton along with Brees) and new impetus on winning for their home city. Now that it has been just about two seasons in the post-Katrina era, the question that may linger for the team is not if they can return to contention, but if Bush is as advertised on and off the field. As Houston builds their team around QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson, Williams may look to not only become the team’s first true defensive star, but to prove to everyone – even the home crowd – that he was worth the drama.

Say What?!?!: There is still time for these players to make their impact - for better or worse – yet, it seems after four years and one combined playoff victory, the verdict is essentially out on 2004 draft picks Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers. That delectable treat is for tomorrow.
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