by Bert Bartlett
The trade of Reggie Bush to Miami elicited a wide array of responses by anybody who cares about the Saints. Will Miss You. Good Bye & Good Luck. Thanks For The Memories. Over Hyped. Oft Injured. Bust. Overpaid. Fumble! And even, Good Riddance.
No relatively recent Saints player has elicited such a multitude of reactions from both sides of the fence. Jeremy Shockey, and previously, Joe Horn’s departures were similar, but much quieter. His new teammate on the Dolphins, running back Ricky Williams, elicited more from one side, as did former quarterback Aaron Brooks.
In his nightly commentary on WWL-TV, respected sportscaster Jim Henderson minced no words. He said too often Bush was The Invisible Man, instead of The Man, among other things, like dropping a touchdown pass (the film did not look like he’d necessarily score) and getting injured against Seattle, leaving the Saints empty handed in January’s playoff loss to the silly Seahawks, which in this corner, was a defensive breakdown more than anything else. Henderson said Bush was one of three players he thought did not fit into Sean Payton profile of a “team player”. Strong words, indeed. But give Henderson credit for speaking his mind.
Souls Of The Saints more remembers the plays that not many guys are capable of making, like in the Dome in ‘06, simply running away from Tampa Bay’s punt return defense in the waning moments, for a win that got New Orleans on a roll to topping the NFC South. Or in that season’s divisional playoff, getting laid out by a Philly defender after a late arriving Brees’ pass, only to jump right back up and be a sharp factor in the win. Or sprinting away from the Bears’ Brian Urlacher, for a long touchdown, to put the Saints back in contention in the NFC Championship, post Katrina. Yes, we remember the ill mannered taunt, pointing back at his opponent as he skirted into the end zone, too. But who knows just what kind of smack the stinking Bears and their fans had been unloading on him all day.
Bush’s signature play here got him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, an Alley Oop over the pylon from the 6 (!) yard line, a scintillating part of the comeback in Miami in ’09, which kept the streaking Saints unbeaten in the regular season. His signature game here was setting the tone in the playoff romp over Arizona that began the path to the Super Bowl. The defense abused Kurt Cardinal QB Warner, but it was Bush who physically sparked the Saints in a dominating performance. Why didn’t somebody on the Saints give him a baseball bat to wave around in excitement at midfield – before every game?
The move by the Saints was said to be all about money. For a player who completed only one injury free season here out of five, a 2011 salary scheduled to be approximately 8% of a 53 man roster salary cap was considered exorbitant, understood by Bush and his agent, too. As Jeff Duncan pointed out in The Times Picayune, the money the Saints offered and Miami’s were about the same. Reg-gie decided he wanted a more impactful role than spot player here on another team, and who can blame him for ‘dat?
Yet here, this page begs to differ; it wasn’t all about the money for the Saints. One likes to think the extent of commitment to keep Reggie Bush (or not) was made by coaches in the video room, them wearing out the mouses, with slow motion, still, fast forward, and rewind. On a closer look at 2010 film, it could be argued indeed, that #25 simply lost a step, or half of one, after five years of wear and tear in this league, which ultimately made him less of a priority for the Saints, at whatever price. Bush appeared just a micro-second less quick out of the gates, his hallmark, and in the open field, a tad less elusive. The fumbles? Irregular playing time can cause those, as can a semi-rusty player who is simply trying too hard to get back in the swing of things. Bush never lacked for effort, and always kept himself in professionally fit condition, unlike, say, Donovan McNabb, who showed up in Washington with a Billy Kilmer like gut to play quarterback for the Redskins last season. If anything contributed to Bush showing less lightning in 2010, it was a stronger, slightly more bulked up physique.
Yet Bush, less a step, is still more talented than many backs, receivers, or kick returners in the entire league. And can be quite useful. Witness LaDanian Tomlinson, who after a long Hall Of Fame career in San Diego, just helped the Jets knock on the door of the Super Bowl. But in the judgment of Sean Payton, mainly, as opined here, from what he saw on film, known in pro ball as The Eye In The Sky: The Camera Doesn’t Lie, there were not enough touches to justify keeping the ball away from a myriad of other playmakers’ hands, to give as many of them to Bush.
Whether more touches in Miami result in Bush playing at about 85% – 90% of his peak physical talent, is now their working project. If he is, the Dolphins will be glad they have him.
So Reggie Bush leaves town without his Heisman Trophy, but with a Super Bowl ring, a monumental one in New Orleans. Perhaps he will be somewhat remembered for the plays he did not make, as much as the ones he did. But make no mistake about it, when on the field, even when he did not have the ball, he was an impact player for the Saints, because of all the defensive attention he commanded. Lots of green space on that field was open to others, because of him just running around out there.
This is a proper ending as can be here for him, as well as the Black & Gold. It is good for the Saints that he will play in another conference. And with the pending departure of Darren Sharper, the safety acquired from Miami as part of the deal’s compensation may not prove to be insignificant.
Saints’ brass did not lament Bush’s departure. Almost concurrently, they signed free agent running back, 28 year old specialist Darren Sproles from the Chargers, who resembles a Mighty Mouse of a player. Sproles is only 5’6”, very fast, and many times defenders cannot see him, until he is gone. He and RB Chris Johnson of the Titans are perhaps the two most elusive payers in the league. So Coach Payton still puts no less value on field stretching as the spice in his offense. Upon arriving here, Sproles said he “wanted to have fun and make plays”. Unless an injury of his from last season negates that, Sproles may end up being a more significant acquisition as Bush has been for the last, and what would have been, next few seasons. Sproles will titillate the interest of Who ‘Dat Nation, at the very least.