Kindly spare me the lecture on political correctness until I am done. The NFL should be color blind, but clearly it isn’t, not while both press and public continues to turn every statement by a Rush Limbaugh or a Donovan McNabb into a political debate about race. So kindly allow me some leeway on the issue without the obligatory hate mail that follows one of these less than political correct articles, and let me present St. Louis running back Brian Leonard as the next “Great White Hope.”
You see, Leonard is the rarest of bird, a white running back with running skills. This creature is rare indeed. If memory serves, the last time the NFL saw a white running back gain 1,000 yards, it was probably Craig James of the Patriots back in 1985. For a moment Mike Alsott flirted with the magical number, but the bulky fullback fell about 50 yards shy in the 1999.
Now along comes Leonard, a hybrid back of sort with a little speed, a little power, and a big heart for the game. Leonard got a chance to start for the Rams, when all-world back Stephen Jackson went down with a groin injury a few weeks ago. The results have been good so far. In week 4 against Dallas, Leonard gained 58 yards on limited carries. This week against Arizona he topped 100 yards for the first time in his young NFL career.
But why should I even care to dub this kid the next “Great White Hope?” I only care because growing up I could identify with some of these runners. I was a semi-fast white kid who had a little bit of power but could only run in a straight line. I was never a threat to break away even the simplest of sand lot plays into a long run. Naturally I saw slow white NFL runners as kindred spirits. I loved watching players like Larry Csonka and Walt Garrison run, simply because I could relate. Nothing against O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith, I loved watching them run as well. My jaw would drop with awe when they ran, but if truth be told, I could not relate in the slightest to what they did on the field. They had a gift for running, and they had a flair for it too, and I possessed neither.
Though this is not to take anything away from Brian Leonard. Brian after all is gifted enough to be taken in the 2nd round by the Rams in the 2007 NFL Draft. The kid was the heart and soul of a fine Rutgers team in college, and piled up some amazing stats along the way. Leonard, a bona fide Heisman candidate at Rutgers, ran for 2,775 yards and 32 touchdowns during his college career. He also has 207 receptions for 1,864 yards and 13 more touchdowns. He finished his career at Rutgers with school records for most touchdowns and points scored. Leonard brings to the Rams a great work ethic and leadership, along with a great pair of hands, speed, and the bulk to make it as a top notch runner in the league.
Should he falter, I guess I will wait another decade or two for the next great white hope to surface in the NFL. Okay, now you may begin the hate mail, just be nice, I am sensitive.