DETROIT -- After 91 NFL games, 72 NFL starts,
one Heisman Trophy and a career worth of watch-outs and maybes and never-minds and wait-let's-pay-attention-agains, we introduce to you ...
Remember him? He was so electrifying at USC, the school had to fireproof the field. He was supposed to do more than star in the NFL. He was supposed to own the league.
He was supposed to do this: Take a pass over the middle and zip through the Minnesota Vikings' defense, untouched, for a 77 yard-touchdown catch. The Detroit Lions have had a lot of guys who could make that catch, but most of them would have been stopped for a 12-yard gain.
That play made you wonder if the Lions have finally found a running back -- and if Bush has finally found the display case that makes him look like a star. He finished with 101 receiving yards, 90 rushing yards on 21 carries, one touchdown (he almost had three) and a firm belief that he is home.
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As Bush said afterward, looking back to his free-agency discussions with the Lions: "It's definitely what we talked about."
The Lions beat the Vikings, 34-24, and the story of the afternoon in Detroit was Bush. He may yet become one of the stories in the league this fall. The Vikings tried what they usually try against the Lions: use a safety as a security guard deep on Calvin Johnson's side, and hope for the best everywhere else. Bush said he looked over the line of scrimmage and saw five and six men in the box, and he couldn't believe his luck. In Miami the last two years, he faced seven or eight men. It was hard to tell if Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was barking out a play call or winning lottery numbers.
Johnson summed up the difference between the 2012 and '13 Lions simply: "Somebody has to make plays. If I'm not makin' em, somebody else will."
It could be like this all season for the Lions. Double-and-triple team Johnson, and Bush will make you pay. Load up against Bush, and Johnson will show you why he had an NFL record 1,964 receiving yards last year. Close your eyes for a second, and Ndamukong Suh will take a bite of your delicious flesh. It's a dangerous team, is what I'm saying. Not a great team. But a dangerous one.
The Lions are trying to build a modern day version of the St. Louis Rams' Greatest Show on Turf from the turn of the century, with Bush playing the Marshall Faulk role. This sounds silly now, since Faulk is in the Hall of Fame and Bush is nowhere near it. But let's go back in history.
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In the first five years of his career, when he was the focus of the Colts' offense, Faulk averaged 3.8 yards per carry and 0.66 touchdowns (rushing and receiving) per game. The last of those seasons was Peyton Manning's rookie year. When it ended, the Colts traded Faulk to St. Louis, and the lost Faulk-Manning seasons would be one of the great what-ifs in NFL history, except that both men excelled anyway.
Manning became one of the best ever. And with Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, Faulk helped the Rams win the Super Bowl in 1999 and almost win another the following year. He averaged 5.4 yards per run and 1.3 touchdowns per game. The rest of his career was very good. But those three seasons got him to the Hall of Fame.
Now look at Bush. In his seven seasons, he has averaged 4.3 yards per rush and scored 0.48 touchdowns per game. He played some of those with Drew Brees, and he is already 28 years old, so the Faulk comparison is far from exact. I'm not sending him to the Hall of Fame. I don't even have time for that. I'm too busy raising my kids, firing coaches and fixing the NCAA. But Bush has a chance at a second career, a Pro Bowl career, a career as an important weapon for one of the best offenses in the NFL.
So much of NFL success is about opportunity and scheme. The man who carried the ball for the other team here Sunday, Adrian Peterson, is the exception that proves the rule. Peterson is a freakish combination of size, speed, vision and toughness -- even as the Lions did a decent job against him, they looked like teenagers trying to wrestle a bull. Peterson pulverizes people. Put him in any offense and he would be an All-Pro.
Bush is different. He is not a between-the-tackles running back who mashes away for a few yards at a time. But like Faulk, if you put him in an offense that stretches the field, and throw him screen passes and send him into the flat and mix in some conventional runs, he can help turn your offense into a video game.
That is why, chatty Lions receiver Nate Burleson says, "I went on NFL Network and basically begged him to consider us."
Bush said he dislocated a thumb and pulled his groin Sunday -- just another day at the NFL office. But he did not get hit as frequently as a lot of running backs do. That is another benefit of Johnson taking two or three defenders wherever he goes..
No, Bush will never own the league, the way the hype said he would. Do you remember? On the eve of the 2006 NFL draft, when the Lions had the No. 9 pick, general manager Matt Millen jokingly told the media that he knew who he would take: Reggie Bush. It was funny because there was no chance of Bush dropping. He was considered can't-miss. He even petitioned to wear his college number 5 as a rookie, which was against the NFL's uniform-number rules, but hey, back then, Reggie Bush figured the answer to every one of his questions was "Yes!" (Predictably, the NFL said no.)
Then Bush became more of an object of curiosity than a star. He was good but not great in New Orleans. He was better but saddled with lousy talent in Miami. People actually wondered if the Lions overpaid for him, even though his 4-year, $16-million contract is nothing next to the five years and $31 million that New England gave Danny Amendola.
Bush dated Kim Kardashian and gave back his Heisman, and it distracted from the real story of his career: The talent in the NFL is too good for a man of his skills to own the league. Even in this Lions-Vikings game -- hardly the marquee contest of the day -- the talent was remarkable. Johnson and Peterson could be all-time greats. Stafford threw for more than 5,000 yards last year. Jared Allen, Suh, Kevin Williams, Nick Fairley, Greg Jennings ... the league is loaded with really, really good players.
Bush is one of the really good ones. In the proper setting, maybe he can be great. On the first afternoon of his eighth NFL season, Reggie Bush looked like the right man in the right place. Finally.