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Friday, July 29, 2011

On Reggie Bush, South Beach and "talent"

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2011 at 3:31 PM

Reggie Bush rushes the football against the Detroit Lions during the Saints 2009 Super Bowl Season

As Alex Woodward mentioned yesterday, the departure of Reggie Bush to Miami was greeted with overwhelming (and apparently surprising) rationality on the part of Saints fans — not to mention plenty of Facebook love.

But seemingly just as quickly as Bush was gone, the Saints had signed Darren Sproles, the dynamic and diminutive running back who spent the past five seasons accumulating highlight reels as a backup in San Diego. The consensus seems to be that the Saints have made a shrewd personnel move, shedding an overpaid situation player for a cheaper one to fill the same role.

By any other objective measure, this story starts and ends with Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton making smart moves through trades and free agency. But this isn't an objective topic, this is Reggie Bush.

For better or worse, Bush's last five seasons — like Payton, Loomis and Drew Brees — will be inexorably tied with the story of the Saints and New Orleans' recovery. But unlike his teammates and coaches, Bush came to this team with a mountain of expectations based on his college career and purple prose that was already being written in his name (anyone remember "Jesus in Cleats"?).

Where Payton and Brees were known merely as quiet, competent and capable, Bush was glitz, excitement and Hollywood. Bush was a superstar before even stepping on the field and, when the critics were proven right and he struggled to adapt to the speed of the NFL, his whole career then became a game of catchup to impossibly high expectations.

At the same time, Who Dats everywhere adored Bush. He had one of the most popular jerseys and every time he stepped back to receive a punt, people chanted "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" This despite the media never making up its mind to revere or deride him, and always questioning his worth.

No, Bush's game in the pros never matched the level of excitement and dominance he achieved in college, but it's not like he was completely useless, or worse, a complete malcontent. Bush was never controversial in the press and, despite the Hollywood lifestyle he grew accustomed to while playing in Southern California, it's hard to make the case that his off-the-field actions ever affected his play.

And yet, his trade to South Beach has been met with a slew of references to that other overhyped superstar in Miami and this headline:

NOLA.coms headline in response to the Bush trade to Miami

Bush, it seems, is now the victim of his own desires to once again be the great, sought-after player he once was. This storyline is no different from hundreds of other players in the NFL at any moment in time. But because of his celebrity, we think Bush is somehow different and his motives somehow insincere. As if he betrayed us by making us think he alone could carry the franchise to greatness and that he's a fool to think he can do it now, as opposed to just being a cog in a great team who fails to work when parts around him go missing.

Yes, Bush was overpaid. Yes, it was maddening to see him dance in the backfield instead of running downhill. And yes, it appears that he overvalues his talents as an every-down back on a football field. But that doesn't erase all of the great moments he provided for the Saints, or the fact that he was integral to their Super Bowl run or the fact that he did it all with class and a smile.

In a few seasons, it may turn out that Sproles is not nearly as capable as Bush and that Bush is more of an every down back than the Saints had us believe. More than likely though, Bush and Sproles will just prove that they are dynamic play-makers that are best used to spark exciting moments games, rather than burn and grind consistently throughout.

But to look at Bush as a regular football player is to ignore the fact that much of his life's narrative wasn't actually written by him. After all, it was the Texans that passed up on Bush that led to the Saints drafting him. It was Sports Illustrated that wrote about "Jesus in Cleats". It was Payton that installed an offense where it's virtually impossible to be a featured running back. It was the Saints that decided to renegotiate Bush's contract to give him more money back in 2008 and now it was the Saints that decided to trade him to Miami.

Bush couldn't even control the narrative of his own personal life and, while it was his decision to date a woman who's famous for being on television, it was also his decision to leave her. (OK, he had to do it twice, but still). Really, are we going to begrudge a millionaire athlete for enjoying the spoils of his labor while NOT getting into trouble or being a distraction to his team? (It's telling that Bush has already had to deny that he will be spending his time partying in South Beach rather than studying playbooks. When did he become Jeremy Shockey?).

In the end, Bush's greatest fault seems to be the perceived notion that he lived the life of a superstar athlete that changed the course of every game he played when, in reality, he could only do it every fourth or fifth game. That's a pretty small sin considering those games still helped his team win a Super Bowl and, in the games he didn't impact, the Saints still found ways to win more often than not.

All things considered, it's hard to look back on Bush's tenure in New Orleans with anything but fondness. He may never have turned into the next coming of Marshall Faulk while he was here, but he certainly wasn't Terrell Owens. Anyone who thinks negatively of Bush is likely just disappointed that their expectations of who Bush should have been didn't match up with who Bush really was.

Whose fault is that?

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