Bush's Rookie Season Wonderful, The Following Years Disappointing
If the New Orleans Saints had it all over the do again, I can argue they should do the exact same thing. Take Reggie Bush with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. The Saints franchise at the time was wounded, wobbly and simply not a trendy or exciting place to be.
The arrival of Bush changed that perception and actually generated more initial excitement for the city than getting Drew Brees. Brees had been solid before his dreadful 2005 injury with the San Diego Chargers, but hardly appeared worlds ahead of the inconsistent, suddenly turned dreadful Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks. No one could really envision Brees becoming the superstar he is now, especially after that career-threatening mishap. Reggie Bush was the one destined to be a phenom.
The Saints sold out the Louisiana Superdome before the season even began...a feat never accomplished by the franchise. Because of NFL rules for running backs, Bush couldn't wear the #5 he sported at USC. However, that didn't really matter, as fans were gobbling up his new #25 jerseys like crawfish in the spring.
Bush was good looking and a household name that transcended sports into popular culture. And, no one seemed to mind his voluptuous girlfriend Kim Kardashian showing up in the stadium suites either. A city brutally ravished by Hurricane Katrina just months before was being envied a little by others around the league. It was a small window to escape the region's constant grief and pity. New Orleans now had a piece of Hollywood.
As Saints head coach Sean Payton, Brees and star linebacker Johnathan Vilma have all echoed...no one has ever entered the NFL with more expectations than Reggie Bush. Bush, however, did nothing to shy away from the spotlight. It seemed he had more endorsement deals than Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods before his first professional carry. His face was everywhere. He was like Anakin Skywalker, "the chosen one."
The truth is, Reggie Bush would've never been traded, had he played every season like his rookie campaign. With popular, hammer back Deuce McAllister in the backfield, Bush thrived during the magical 2006 run. In his first NFL contest, he rushed 15 times for 67 yards and hauled in another seven receptions for 52 yards in a 19-14 road win against the Cleveland Browns.
It took Bush five games before he scored his first NFL touchdown, but it was worth the wait. His electric 65-yard punt return for a score proved to be the winning points in a 24-21 win against Tampa Bay. A team that was an awful 3-13 the season before was winning and marching towards the playoffs. His games got bigger as the season wore on. Later in the year, Bush broke out some West Coast magic at the expense of the "City by the Bay." The San Francisco 49ers had no answer for Bush, as he scored four touchdowns and had 9 catches for 131 yards in a 34-10 Saints rout.
The very next week, the chants of "Regg-ie! Regg-ie! Regg-ie!" kept coming in a nationally televised Sunday night demolition of "America's Team" in Dallas. The Saints thrashed Bill Parcells' Cowboys 42-17 and Bush was a big reason why, hauling in 6 passes for 125 yards. One of those receptions was a brilliant screen pass he took in from Brees, before dancing (north and south) his way through the Dallas D for a 61-yard score.
Even as the Saints season ended on that dreadful, miserably cold evening in Chicago during an NFC Championship loss to the Bears, Bush was exciting Saints fans with glimpses of what was surely a tremendous career ahead. He flew and beat the Bears' defense down the sideline, made a catch on a Brees toss in stride and then delivered an ankle-breaking cutback for an exhilarating 88-yard touchdown reception. However, Bush couldn't resist the urge to turn, point at and taunt All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher the final 25 yards or so. He then cut a summersault into the endzone and broke into a prolonged dance. That hotdogging would wake the Bears from their hibernation, as they roared to a 39-14 victory. And, Bush's sassy antics would certainly rise it's ugly, collective head again.
After that rookie season, no one could argue Bush had made a mark in the NFL. He piled up over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and scored 10 touchdowns total. Bush's most valuable asset for the Saints was always his ability to catch the football, which he did especially well during that year, snatching a whopping 88 passes for 742 yards. And perhaps worth mentioning more than anything else...he played in every single game and remained healthy all season. A star was being born.
But, Reggie Bush's anticipated upward climb into the true elite of the league simply has not transpired. He's had his share of breath-taking moments and significant contributions to the Saints championship efforts. But, the 1,000 yard seasons (rushing or receiving) and the Pro Bowl appearances have not come. Like Mike Tyson towards the end of his career, we keep waiting, waiting, waiting for Reggie to explode again. Unfortunately, for the most part, we've wound up being disappointed.
McAllister went down with another brutal knee injury in 2007 and Bush did not excel as the feature back. I distinctly remember covering the Saints nauseating 23-10 loss at the Houston Texans that season, a defeat that dropped the team into a 4-6 hole. What made the loss more embarrassing was the Texans' Mario Williams whipping the Saints offensive line all day. Williams, of course, was the man taken before Bush in that 2006 NFL Draft. It was a move everyone scoffed at, as Houston was a made a national joke for passing on Reggie for an obscure defensive lineman. Well, it was the Texans who were laughing on this occasion. Bush was held to a measly 34 yards rushing on 15 carries and quietly had 70 yards receiving. When I asked Payton and Brees about not being able to get Reggie in space like they did during those huge plays the year before, both basically said the Saints HAD gotten him into that space and he just wasn't making the plays.
Bush would miss the final four games of the 2007 season with a knee injury. After a promising start in 2008, he would also miss another 5-game chunk, with yet another knee injury. The Saints would miss the playoffs in both seasons, finishing 7-9 and 8-8.
However, Bush's place in the Saints' Super Bowl championship year is secure. His performance in the team's 45-14 destruction of the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL divisional playoffs will go down as the highlight of his Saints career. He did his jaw-dropping "Matrix" impression, somehow spinning away from the pile of Cardinal defenders for an incredible 46-yard touchdown jaunt. Later, Bush would send the Dome into delirium with an 83-yard punt return for another score. All was forgiven. Reggie was loved and a star again.
A year later, the Saints would really need a playoff performance like that from Bush again. The defending Super Bowl champions were heavily favored in the opening round of the postseason at 7-9 Seattle, but still the Saints were in a pickle. Running backs Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and several others were injured and out of the game. Reggie Bush was needed. The team needed him to carry the load, to be "the man."
Despite yet another injury during the regular season (His worst ever, a broken leg that caused him to miss 8 games) and despite only scoring one stinking touchdown the entire season, much could be forgiven, again. All this talk about wanting more opportunities and to be the feature back? Well Reggie, here's your chance. It ended with 5 carries for 12 yards, 5 catches for 37 yards in a 41-36 loss. A dropped potential touchdown on a crucial 3rd & 2 inside the Seahawks 10-yard line on the Saints opening drive of the game.
Bye bye Bush.
That was enough. That was it. Enough already. No animosity buddy, no problems, no hard feelings. But enough chances have been given, enough defenses for you have been made. Everyone here needs a fresh start.
As you probably know, this isn't the first time in recent memory the Saints have shipped a Heisman Trophy running back to the Miami Dolphins. In early 2002 (yes, it's been that long), New Orleans sent Ricky Williams to South Beach and that really worked out well for all parties involved. Deuce McAllister went on to shatter Saints rushing records across the board and became one of the most popular players in franchise history in Williams' absence. In the meantime, "Wacky Ricky" soared with Miami, rushing for a staggering 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns during his first season with the Dolphins. Even after all his well-documented issues, the former Texas star had 1,121 yards rushing and another 11 TDs during the 2009 season.
So now, this present situation with Reggie Bush has that same potential. The Dolphins are in the AFC and aren't scheduled to play the Saints again anytime soon. Saints fans won't have to worry about being burned again by a former player, unless they meet in the Super Bowl, which is highly unlikely. Bush can enjoy the trendy lifestyle and fame Miami has to offer. He can hang with J-Lo and Lebron. In many ways, he's right back in Los Angeles again.
The Saints can move on with rookie Mark Ingram and newly signed Darren Sproles. Sean Payton will also feed the football to Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, two backs with little of Bush's flash and glamour, but have buried him recently in what matters most...yards gained.
Let the 2011 season begin and we'll see where this new arrangement takes us. They say history is the biggest indicator of the future. If that's the case, it's highly likely you'll be seeing Reggie Bush hobbling to the Dolphins' sideline sometime this year, with some sort of injury. Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't hope he ever gets injured again. I just don't see how Miami can glance at Bush's resume and say in good conscience he will carry the load for this team. I wish Reggie the best. If he has a big game or scores a game-winning TD, I'll show it on my sportscast.
But just remember this...often times that is exactly what Reggie Bush is. He's that one stellar highlight that gets played repeatedly. That one clip Sportscenter loops like Vanilla Ice. He's the guy that leaped from the Dolphin's 6-yard line and soared through the air like a majestic bird for a brilliant score during the Saints incredible 46-34 comeback triumph over Miami back in 2009. It was a signature victory during New Orleans' Super Bowl season. You watch that awesome display of athletic ability and think to yourself, "this guy's really special." And in many ways, Reggie Bush does possess a skill-set that is extremely rare.
But here's the kicker. What does he do the rest of the time? Do you remember Bush's final stat line from that game? If not, here it is: 3 measly carries for a paltry 10 yards, with another 3 catches for a ho-hum 16 yards.
And that's my final wrap on Reggie Bush.
Copyright 2011 WAFB. All rights reserved.