I was watching the opening game at a bar with some of my old teammates, and when the Rams took possession in the fourth quarter up 23-20, I said it out loud: Run the football.
I could tell the defense was looking for play-action because we’d been running it a lot all game. It was 90 degrees and humid in Carolina, and those big boys up front had been softened up with body blows from Malcolm Brown. It was time for Todd Gurley to do Todd Gurley things.
Apparently, Sean McVay agreed. Gurley for 17, Gurley for 7, Gurley for 2, Gurley for 15, and then a couple plays later we scored to take a commanding 30-20 lead. Let’s not take for granted how good this Rams offense is: We weren’t sharp, and the Panthers defense is good, but we still scored 30.
I was most happy for Todd. An hour before, people on social media was popping off on him, and that pissed me off. What’s wrong with Gurley? Gurley was no longer the guy. Gurley’s overpaid — part of the whole running backs shouldn’t get big contracts crap that has been repeated enough times by enough people that some people believe it, but that anyone who has played the game at a high level knows isn’t true.
Let me be clear: Todd’s a star, and there are star running backs just like there are star quarterbacks, and then there’s everybody else. Put another way, there’s no way a guy like Kirk Cousins is $40 million better than Todd. I take the criticism against him personally.
People don’t realize how special he is because he’s a smooth runner; when he makes that cut and explodes into the secondary, it looks easy. I was smooth too, so I remember how people sometimes think that what you’re doing isn’t that hard, and that anyone can do it. Some fans watch Todd on TV and it looks like the hole was just there, and he just ran through it. They think, Why don’t we save some cap space and get any running back to run though that hole?
But if you’ve been on the field in an NFL game you know it’s different. You know that Todd gets to that spot a split second before another guy would, and that makes all the difference in the world. Todd even makes the job of the linemen easier, because they know they don’t have to hold their block as long, and that as long as they can get their hat on their defender, Todd will read it quickly and get past the defender while he’s occupied.
Another reason Todd is underrated is that he’s a complete player with no weaknesses, and people have a hard time appreciating how valuable a complete player is to a team. I was much faster than he is but he’s a better receiver. He can block, and his ball-security is excellent. (Today’s two fumbles notwithstanding. His second one came on a toss, which I thought was a tough play call for a guy who hadn’t been playing a lot and wasn’t into the rhythm of the game.)
I know people are concerned about Todd’s knee, but that’s way overblown. Here’s the thing: In the NFL, nobody out there is 100 percent healthy. If you’re 70 percent healthy, you’re 100 percent.
Case in point, early on in my 1984 season, the record-breaking one when I had 2,105 yards, I messed up the big toe on my right foot. It doesn’t sound like much but anyone who has ever had a toe injury knows how debilitating it is. That week, I couldn’t imagine how I’d ever run again, let alone play football, and the injury is still unbelievably painful: I’ll drop a golf ball on my toe and it feels like an anvil. But our trainer designed a toe piece to put in my cleat, and I played through pain and had more yards than anyone before or since. Point is, you’re never healthy but you get it done. Todd got it done today — 97 yards on 14 carries, for 6.9 yards per — and he’ll keep getting it done.