Monday, December 13, 2010

4 comments David Eckstein, Consider Yourself Replaced

There is nothing a sportswriter likes more than a white, undersized athlete. It's like going to a "Twilight" movie for a teenage girl. Nothing gets them more excited. Unfortunately much like teen idols and boy bands, scrappy-gritty-gutsy white guys get replaced over time. David Eckstein's time has come. Sports journalists have now put posters of Danny Woodhead on the walls of their office and they aren't afraid to scream their lungs out when he walks in the room. Peter Richmond tells us why.

I'm not sure this is actually bad journalism, but more cliche and hyperbole-filled journalism in the form of a fluff-piece.

This is an everyman. This is the guy in front of you in line at the DMV, getting new plates for his pickup.

He's getting plates for the pickup that he can't even reach the brake and gas pedals on. How's he reach them? He scraps and claws until his legs reach the brake and gas. Then he uses pure grit to pull the pickup truck on the road where it runs, not on fuel, but on the pure will of Danny Woodhead to drive it.

If you happened to run across Danny Woodhead somewhere out in the real world, where, at 5-foot-8, he actually stands only one inch shorter than the average 25-year-old American male, you wouldn't give him a second glance. Especially if he were wearing the ensemble he's wearing in the Patriots' locker room after one recent practice: a floppy blue sweatshirt, a red Patriots skull cap pulled low over his head, a sprig of a chin-beard that looks like a caterpillar in need of a trim, and a wary, heavy-lidded expression that says, Hey, I'm a Division II nobody from a railroad town in Nebraska. Let's keep it that way. Talking isn't what I do. Please -- go talk to Brady.

Is this a fluff piece about a scrappy white guy. Let's check the first paragraph to make sure:

1. He wants no part of the spotlight.

2. His underdog beginnings are mentioned.

3. His height is mentioned.

4. He's JUST like you and me...except he has pro-level talent.

5. There is at least one mention that you wouldn't notice him in public.

6. He is called "scrappy" for some form of this word at least once.

7. No one believed in him. Except for him.

8. This somehow makes him more humble than other athletes.

I guess 7 out of 8 isn't bad and this article has 7 out of the 8 characteristics necessary.

It's only on a football field where Danny Woodhead weekly stands out as the most unlikely of highlighters, etched against a panorama of enlarged NFL humanoids. Where he regularly ducks beneath the swat of defensive linemen, a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier,

Really? There is a regular group of NFL players that are 6'8" tall? I know there are a few, but I didn't realize every week Danny Woodhead was facing down a large group of 6'8" defenders. Is he sure he didn't accidentally walk onto an NBA basketball court?

Where blitzers don't even see him until he blocks them to the ground.

WOODHEAD CAN'T BLOCK! Just ask Gregg Easterbrook.

Or when, against the Colts a few weeks ago, a few minutes after skittering for a 36-yard touchdown, he made the tackle on the ensuing kickoff, playing special teams, flattening Brandon James the way a bowling ball on amphetamines might flatten a chipmunk on Quaaludes.

Wow. I'm guessing this sentence took at least five minutes to write. You just can't think of hyperbole and terrible analogies like this in a minute or less.

Admit it: you don't just love Danny Woodhead because he's the underdog, the little guy who grew up in a Midwestern town best known for its railroad freight yard (and the nearby Museum of the Fur Trade);

I don't love Danny Woodhead. My question is this...why don't "scrappy fluff pieces" get written about minority players? Woodhead took over Kevin Faulk's job duties on the Patriots, did Faulk ever have a fluff piece like this written about him? He is 5'8", has had a great NFL career on 3 Super Bowl winning teams, made the Patriots 50th Anniversary team, and is from a small town in Louisiana. He's scrappy too dammit!

Doesn't that qualify him for scrappy status? Woodhead hasn't even played a full season in the NFL and already tales of his great adventures are being told. I wonder how many have been written about Kevin Faulk, a guy who has actually had extended success in the NFL? Why are short white guys the only ones who are considered hustlers and just like you and me? Isn't it possible Woodhead is a talented guy, just like Faulk is a talented guy? Why must he be painted as an overachiever who uses every little bit of his talent to succeed in the NFL? I guess sports journalist are working under the assumption that Kevin Faulk doesn't use all of his talent...I wonder why they do that?

was then snubbed by home state University of Nebraska despite being named the state's high school player of the year;

And the Cornhuskers haven't made a bowl appearance since...

Wait, that's not right.

In defense of Nebraska, Bill Callahan was probably responsible for not recruiting Woodhead. Callahan was just a generally clueless head coach, so there's that. Of course it could be Frank Solich's fault for not recruiting Woodhead in which case there is no excuse.

attended a college named Chadron State with a stadium capacity of 3,000; and then went undrafted despite winning Division II's Heisman two years in a row; and was then waived by the Jets three months ago, despite, in training camp the year before, running for 158 yards and two touchdowns in an exhibition game.

Don't you know he ran for 158 yards one year ago in a meaningless exhibition game one year ago? This is a man you keep based solely on that. Plus, couldn't the Jets see his grit and scrap?

No, you love him because he plays football like a grunt from the mercenary NFL of the 1940s. Balls out. Gimme your best shot. Two go in, one comes out. And it's usually Woodhead who comes out.

Plus he's white. White players who are short always are trying harder than anyone else. They have no talent, but only succeed because of the amount of grit they show. Other players don't try hard, only white short players do.

Woodhead does it all consistently enough, with at least one spectacular head-shaking play per game, to have just been awarded a contract through 2012 that (with incentives that no one now doubts he'll meet)

Who cares what these "incentives" are? Woodhead will meet them.

He has to plow a 300 acre farm weekly? Show him where to find the tractor.

Herd a group of cattle across the border into Mexico to be sold at an illegal auction? Give him one week and he'll be back with a handful of cash and dirt under his fingernails.

Throw 50 touchdown passes during a season? Get out of his way Tom Brady, you long-haired hipster, Danny Woodhead is the new quarterback.

is worth more than $3 million -- which isn't small change for a small guy who, three months ago, with a pink slip from the Jets in hand, was driving back home with his wife to Nebraska in his '08 Tahoe. Without a job.

Woodhead isn't a millionaire. He's just a guy with a fairly new truck who was probably going back to Nebraska to find a job doing something really gritty and blue collar. Like build houses using only a mound of dirt, a hammer and two nails.

So is he now going to upgrade the ride?

It's a 2008 Tahoe. It is not like he is driving a 1996 Camry.

"Nope -- no way," Woodhead says, his eyes low-lidded, his face routinely expressionless.

When Woodhead sneezes only grit and the fear of absolutely nothing comes out of his nose and mouth.

But trust me: We won't see the unguarded glee too much in the camera-lit near future, as Woodhead goes from anomaly to spotlight. Surrounded by media in this plush locker room (not just a locker room, but the Patriots' locker room, where the first thing rookies are shown on an indoctrination tour is the Patriot emblem, the way a rookie Egyptian pharaoh might be shown King Tut's mummy) Woodhead's face is intentionally impassive, as if to deflect any and all attention.

Yep, Peter Richmond just compared a tour of the Patriots locker room to being shown the mummy of an Egyptian pharaoh. There has to be a random analogy creator somewhere on the Internet that Richmond uses. You put in two or three phrases and out spits a random analogy.

"Why get a different car?," Woodhead says. "I'm tellin' you man, I'm going to be the same person I've always been."

So the sudden money means nothing?

"Unh-unh. Not at all," he says.

Unselfish. Grit.

"That's not what I'm playing for. You know what I'm sayin'? It's my job.

Passion. Dedication.

I'm older now. And I'm married, and I need a job.

White. Short. Scrappy.

The money is not something I think about. It's not something I ever want to think about. That's not what I'm about. That's not who I am."

Just imagine a column being written like this about Darren Sproles or Dexter McCluster. You can't. They are white and naturally talented. Yes, they probably will have 1-2 articles written about them, but the entire media has jumped on the Woodhead train. Other players don't deserve puff pieces like the completely untalented Danny Woodhead.

See, Peter Richmond wants us to know Danny Woodhead has talent, just not enough talent to make it in the NFL without trying as hard as he does. So he's talented, but better than all other NFL players because he tries so much harder.

"We're all pretty tight as a family," says Woodhead's mother, Annette. "We don't even look at Danny as a football player. He's our kid. Football is his job,

That's a humble, well-grounded mother right there. She's better than your selfish, delusional whore of a mother.

"He's who he is, and who he was three years ago. He's a little boy playing a game he loves.

No, he's not. He's a 27 year old man. Calling him a little boy is borderline retarded. This fluff piece must end soon. It's getting out of hand.

As a senior at North Platte High, where Woodhead would set every record the state could come up with, Iowa, Wisconsin and Colorado invited him to their camps. But the Big Boys lay too far away, and scholarship money was a pipe dream. Nebraska? Sorry, kid: You can walk on ... as a kick returner.

Danny Woodhead is scrappy and will do anything to make it at Nebraska if they would just pay attention to long as he doesn't have to make any sacrifices like not start or do something he doesn't want to do to be on the team like return kicks. This is perceived as unselfish.

Nebraska has a popular and fairly extensive walk-on program, so I would think any chance a player gets to go to the school "he wants to go to" he would take it. Not Danny Woodhead, the man with no ego, he doesn't want to be a kick returner, so he chooses a different school.

He and his brothers twisted the football off the top of one of his Harlon Hill trophies and used the base as a stool for three-way video game tournaments. Which more or less sums up Danny Woodhead's regard for glitz.

And it shows a fair amount of disrespect for the people who awarded the trophy to him. Would Cam Newton be lauded for using the Heisman Trophy base as a table to eat his dinner off? Probably not, but he's not Danny Woodhead.

One man's disrespect is a scrappy man's disregard for glitz. Danny Woodhead may take a shit in the Super Bowl trophy the Patriots (could possibly) get. Who knows and who cares? That's not disrespectful, that just shows how much he hates glitz.

On NFL draft weekend, Danny was happy to get a call from the Jets after the final round: Come on in, as an undrafted free agent.


The Jets had one slot left, and two running backs on the bubble. The journeyman Woodhead, who despite weighing a solid 200 pounds, with a sprinter's speed, had played college ball against Fort Lewis, Nebraska-Kearney and Adams State. The other candidate was a running back the Jets had traded up to snag in the fourth round, a guy named Joe McKnight, who had rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a senior for USC.

To be fair, anyone who saw "Hard Knocks" knows Woodhead should have been kept over McKnight. It's a gritty, humble white guy against the flashy black guy. That's all the fluff piece writing media sees.

Of course, McKnight had his family displaced during Hurricane Katrina and had to live in a one-bedroom apartment, so he has a pretty good story too. Let's ignore that though because McKnight doesn't meet the necessary requirements for a fluff piece.

He was 6-feet tall. Case closed.

Plus he was a 4th round draft pick who hadn't torn his ACL the year before.

After trading Laurence Maroney, Belichick needed a backup third back behind Kevin Faulk and the undrafted BenJarvus Green-Ellis. When Faulk went down with a season-ending injury,

Pussy-ass third down back.

"Well, I always thought that if I could get a chance, I really thought I could play at this level," Woodhead admits now, reluctant to praise himself.

Actually, it sounds like he was eager to praise his ability to compete at the NFL level. Read that quote again.

So how has he gone from a too small also-ran to a versatile almost-star? Playing against defenders twice his size? He lowers the eyelids a little more.

I mean, come on. How can a person get paid to write this crap?

And if you continue on this path? Become an actual superstar?

"It's not going to change me," he says. "That's the truth. This is a team game. And that's what awesome about it, having everyone work together, toward a goal."

The quotes sound cliched, don't they? Scripted, robotic. Not a single word of resentment? Not an iota of ego?

Except for the whole "I don't want to walk-on at Nebraska as a kick returner" thing and the whole "I can play in this league" thing...nope, not a bit of ego.

"I'm very proud. But you know what? I'm proud because he's a good kid. He's a citizen. What he's doing for the Patriots? Icing on the cake. I guarantee you that in North Platte, we have not erected a shrine for what he's done. He wouldn't want us to.

He would just cut the base of the shrine off and use it as a chair he can put on his porch.

"I don't think I'm going to want them to look at me as a football player," he says. "I'll want them to look at me as their dad. This is my job. Not who I am. I don't look at my dad as a teacher or coach. I look at him as my dad. And the kind of man he is.

"I'm hoping that's something I'll be able to do. Think of me as the type of man I'm going to be. Or will be. Or was."

Seriously, why do short white guys get articles written about them like this? I give up if I have to live in a world where articles like this get written.

Your move David Eckstein. Better get that uniform really fucking dirty this year. Your time as the scrappy sports idol has come to a close.


your favourite sun said...

The only thing worse than Rick Reilly columns are inferior writers aping Rick Reilly's style.

FJ said...

While I share your disdain for Reilly, the race card was used poorly here (as it is almost any time it's used these days). Plenty of Pats' fans hold Faulk in high regard. More than white vs. black, the fact that he was on the Jets and had his name mentioned in Hard Knocks (or something), then was let go and is succeeding within the division has something to do with the attention he's receiving.

I believe even Easterbrook, who I also hate, lumps Brandon Tate (short/fast/not drafted highly as far as I can remember; you know Easterbrook loves that last bit!) in with Welker & Woodhead as short yet successful athletes on the team. And Woodhead is younger, does more on special teams, and is more visible because he's not just a third down guy on the offense.

There's also something about the scrappy way he plays, the way he pulls much bigger men for extra yards and blocks really well...the whole package is there vs. Faulk who isn't on the field as often.

The fact that Woodhead is also filling Faulk's shoes well while getting his "normal" job done very well counts for something too - vs. Faulk, who was never a regular running back or even fullback on the first two super bowl teams in 01 and 03 that did not have a very good running back and their fair share of injuries.

Bengoodfella said...

Sun, completely agreed.

FJ, I didn't really intend on playing the race card, but the entire issue is the race card. Scrappy white guys aren't seen as having talent while it is seen that talented non-white players don't work as hard. That's the perception I get. I know Pats fans hold Faulk in regard, but he doesn't nor do I believe he has ever gotten the attention Woodhead has gotten.

Tate may get lumped into the category, but he doesn't have the amount of crap like this written about him. It's pure drivel. I realize Woodhead plays for the best team in the NFL and was cut from division rival Jets, but it just seems so cliche to me.

I know what you are saying, I get it, but the entire issue is the race card to me. Woodhead may be scrappy and tough, but isn't it just possible he's a talented guy. Why does it have to be made to look like he doesn't have talent or just tries harder?

I didn't mean to specifically compare Woodhead to Faulk only. I know that is what you wanted to comment upon, but Woodhead is a great football player. This whole bullshit about not caring about awards, not buying a new car, and not ever changing is supposed to be the anti-thesis to other players in his position. You don't see a lot of stories about guys who do this that aren't short and white.

Nunyer said...

"flattening Brandon James the way a bowling ball on amphetamines might flatten a chipmunk on Quaaludes."

I've always been a sucker for goofy, overblown analogies... But that? That was not good. That would have been lame if Robin Williams dropped it during a cocaine fueled stand-up routine in 1982.

As far as fluff pieces for short and seemingly not-as-athletic white guys... I don't really think the race card is the entire issue. Sure, it's in effect, but it's due to circumstance and not intention.

I would guess that most sport fans in this country, in terms of a plurality, are white guys. White guys who love the games, probably grew up playing in some capacity, but never got to a high level. Stories like this appeal to them. "Look, somebody like you made it!". Is there some underhanded racism in there? For some folks, sure... but I don't think it's a driving factor to the average fan. Woodhead is a novelty, the novelty being his race which makes him stand out among his peers at NFL running back. If a female place kicker won a starting job for the Jets, would female football fans have latent sexism issues for being a fan due to gender?

That's not to say I am defending superfluous pieces of fluff, and it also drives me crazy when it's made to seem that it's all about that ridiculous "Rudy" work ethic and nothing to do with natural talent. But still, I understand their appeal to both writers and readers beyond simple "screw the blacks because they run faster!" race card think.