At some point in the past nine years, the black, unlabeled VHS tape that helped ignite a multibillion-dollar industry went missing.
There are working theories as to its whereabouts. One is that it's at the bottom of a cardboard box in an attic like buried treasure, melting away in sweltering Texas summers. Another is that it was simply discarded and lost for good.
Either way, only a select few have ever seen it—the full, unedited 30 minutes of raw, grainy footage of Cy-Fair High running back Sam McGuffie creating magic.
Mere bits and pieces of it, preserved on YouTube (with NSFW background music), have been enough to make millions stare at their computers in awed disbelief.
In one moment, McGuffie is juking out an entire defense in a blur of kinetic absurdity—Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson summoned to life. In others, he seems to be outrunning the field itself, like a jet nearing takeoff speed.
Then there's "the hurdle," a play that would become a legend on bar stools and message boards. In a fluid motion, McGuffie hurls his body over a player, grazes the young man's back on his way down—as if to announce his presence—and saunters into the end zone like this was normal.
It was normal, to him. A play he made repeatedly.
"It's not humanly possible to do what this kid was doing," says David Bailiff, one of the many coaches who recruited McGuffie after seeing the YouTube video.
Some have gone so far as to question the authenticity of what McGuffie does in the video, which only prompts laughter from those who watched it happen in real time.
The condensed version of the tape was posted on YouTube with the title "MCGUFFIE MIXTAPE!" on February 27, 2007. The five-minute, 53-second installment was only a sample, but it was enough to garner more than 75,000 views in the first few days. It went viral before we knew what viral meant—before Twitter had exploded and YouTube had conquered the video world.
Since that day, it has accumulated 3.2 million-plus views—more than twice as many as Reggie Bush's high school highlights, widely regarded as the pinnacle of the genre, and more than three times as many as Noel Devine's high school absurdity, another YouTube pioneer.
To a generation, this is what McGuffie will always be known as: the blur on the video. A kid whose hype tape's success inspired so many thousands of future prospects to post their own. A man who played a role in the mutation of college football recruiting into the monstrous beast that it is today.
But his story didn't end there, nor did the hype.
McGuffie never became the player the mixtape promised, but before his football career was over, the hype followed him to two colleges, three NFL teams and the CFL. And now, post-football, in an incredibly short span of time, the Olympics have started to look like a real possibility.
Not just in one sport. He's hoping for two.
Sam McGuffie couldn't avoid hype if he tried.
February 2006: 0 views
"It felt like he was kind of becoming a William Wallace of football." —Tom VanHaaren, ESPN
Inside the two-story home on Copperas Bend Court, a masterpiece was pieced together one moment at a time. Outside, as the sun descended over the Texas horizon, a shadow was dancing along the rounded curbs that outline the neighborhood streets.
Looking out his second-story window, Ben Onda couldn't help but get lost in McGuffie's movements as he sprinted around the cul-de-sac.
"It was almost like he was getting his fix," recalls Onda, McGuffie's friend and the mixtape's maestro. "Football to him has always been his vice."
Onda, meanwhile, had many hours of work in front of him. The tape in his hands was about to be seen by millions of people.
McGuffie had strolled into Onda's house that day wearing a Penn State hat with his junior-year highlights—the tape—in hand. He was coming off a season in which he ran for 3,121 yards and 44 touchdowns, including eight touchdowns in one game, but his recruiting wasn't moving fast enough. He wanted to jump-start it.
He asked Onda to help him splice together some of his best moments.
"S--t, we'll just put it all on YouTube," McGuffie remembers saying. "If they ever need to see it, they could look at it right there."
Digitalizing the 44 touchdowns took time. It demanded hours of research and a trip to the local Best Buy. By dinnertime, Onda had McGuffie's entire junior season on his Dell desktop. His next step was to cut it down. With a seemingly endless number of highlights at his disposal, he tried to pick his favorites. Transfixed by what he was seeing, he didn't stop to eat dinner—or stop at all, really.
"There was so much insane footage that didn't even make the cut for the video," he says. "I knew what I had in my hands, even as a 16-year-old."
As the day turned into night, Onda didn't unplug. Eventually, McGuffie's girlfriend left. Unable to sit still, McGuffie went outside to get his "fix." Onda didn't leave his desk chair, drifting further away from sleep with each glimpse of athletic genius. He cruised past the one-minute mark. Then two. Three. Four. And five.
When he was satisfied that the highlights were in the appropriate order, Onda needed a soundtrack. He settled on "Breathe" by Fabolous, a beat that seemed to him to narrate the maniacal movements the world was about to see.
With his bedside alarm clock nearing 4 a.m. and school just a few hours away, Onda watched the video one more time. Then he posted it to YouTube and shared the link on MySpace.
His eyes, now heavy, closed for the first time in nearly 24 hours. The McGuffie Mixtape was live.
August 2007: 500,000 views
"I was a debated player. There were the flips, antics and all the animations. It had a whole different spin, and I think that's why people were interested. It was something different." —Sam McGuffie
It was a warm night in Houston, and a spectacular crowd was gathered to watch Stratford High quarterback Andrew Luck take on Texas' most popular player.
It was Week 1 of McGuffie's senior season, and the buzz generated from the McGuffie Mixtape was deafening. After six months of madness, he was the most discussed high school football player in America.
In this particular moment, though, it was Luck getting the best of McGuffie and Cy-Fair. Stratford won, 21-17, and McGuffie's night ended early with an ankle injury that would bother him for much of the year. He missed several games but still accumulated 1,711 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns.
Word of his highlight reel continued to spread. And the natural, unbelievable moments kept coming, not always with pads on to protect him. Often after practice, McGuffie would walk up to the four-foot fence that surrounded the practice field, stand next to it, eye it for a second and then leap over it with ease.
Terri McGuffie, Sam's father, still vividly recalls the day he watched his son leap over a vehicle—"right over the bed of a red Toyota truck," he says.
This was not a unique occurrence. One night while out to eat, a group of friends watched Sam do a front flip over a Volkswagen Beetle at a local Sonic. Later, he graduated to flipping over human beings.
"It kind of got out of hand," McGuffie says. "I'm a low-key guy, and I got shot into the public eye. I just wanted to play football. Everyone had an opinion and something to say about it. It was almost overexposure."
In recruiting, this is no such thing. Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Charlie Weis and many more visited McGuffie, hoping to woo him in person. Letters and brochures arrived every day, most of which now sit in a drawer so overstuffed his father can't open it.
Amid the madness was a voice McGuffie trusted. Fred Jackson, Michigan's running backs coach, knew something was there long before anyone else.
After a game during McGuffie's freshman year, Jackson approached him and delivered a simple message: "I'm going to come back and get you when you're a senior."
For a while, it felt like destiny. McGuffie's father grew up in Michigan. It was in his blood. With the pursuit relatively tame, Michigan was optimistic early on. Then the video hit.
"Everything changed tremendously," Jackson remembers. "I saw him at a track meet and watched him long jump. That video showed the ability I saw. After it went out, everybody offered him."
As interest boomed, opinions varied. McGuffie was not widely considered the best prospect in his class. There were questions about his size and playing style. Rivals ranked him as the nation's No. 10 all-purpose back; 247Sports had him as the No. 23 player in the state of Texas.
"By the time national signing day had rolled around, I think a lot of us in the industry had a pretty good feel for what his limitations were on a football field," says Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports. "He could do things nobody else could do. Those things just didn't translate as well to the higher levels of football."
November 2008: 2.5 million views
"Anything can happen with Sam. He'll give it everything he has. Nothing shocks me at all. That's the Sam I know." —Fred Jackson
McGuffie was going to Michigan. Maybe.
Lloyd Carr retired following the 2007 season, and Rich Rodriguez was brought to Ann Arbor to overhaul a sputtering program. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another, a transition that McGuffie struggled with.
He had verbally committed to Michigan, but at the last minute, he nearly flipped to Cal. In the end, he stuck by Jackson and the program that his family had ties with. He left the state of Texas for the first time in his life.
And almost instantly, he struggled.
"I was a square peg in a round hole," he says.
The new environment was unfamiliar. The expectations were an anchor. The offense was far different from anything he had run before. He was, in many instances, the smallest player on the field.
Even still, there were glimpses—moments when the McGuffie Mixtape was brought to life. His 178 yards from scrimmage against Notre Dame as a true freshman felt more like the beginning of something rather than a career highlight.
But injuries once again stalled the momentum. Two concussions forced McGuffie out of the lineup for much of his freshman season. Then in the first quarter of his first and only game against Ohio State, McGuffie was sandwiched by two players on a kick return. This collision was his last in Ann Arbor.
McGuffie suffered his third concussion of the year. A few weeks later, Michigan announced that he wouldn't return.
The decision to leave was not a reaction to this final hit. Around the same time, McGuffie had attended his grandmother's funeral, and being back in Texas reminded him of how much he missed his family, especially his two younger siblings. He wanted to be there for them. He needed to be home.
He despised the snow, which he was seeing for the first time. He hated the cold. The two years of madness finally caught up with him, all at once.
"I put so much stress on myself to perform," McGuffie says. "I didn't really have a social life. I didn't have anything. I had football. That was it, and it almost drove me into the ground."
McGuffie headed home, in search of a program closer to his roots. It didn't take long for him to take notice of what Rice was accomplishing on offense with head coach David Bailiff and offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
Bailiff, a Texas football lifer, was thrilled at the prospect of welcoming McGuffie to his football family. Like everyone else, he had seen the McGuffie Mixtape.
"When I asked him why he left, he said that he loved Michigan but there were 100,000 people there and he didn't know one of them," Bailiff says. "Everybody in Texas knew Sam McGuffie after that video."
McGuffie ultimately decided on Rice, which held a press conference for a player arriving via transfer for the first time in program history.
Over the next three seasons, he was featured at running back, at wide receiver and on special teams. After a promising season in 2010, when he totaled 883 yards rushing and 384 yards receiving, an injured ankle essentially washed away his 2011 season.
In 2012, he made the switch to wide receiver. He finished with 603 receiving yards and five touchdowns, becoming the only player at Rice to finish a career with 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.
They weren't the gaudy statistics foretold back at Cy-Fair. But McGuffie—despite the setbacks, injuries, coaching changes, moves and changes of heart—still produced.
"I think the expectations, as great as he is, were too high for anybody," Bailiff says.
McGuffie also ran track at Rice, a passion that followed him from high school to Ann Arbor and back to the state of Texas. It was another way to put his athleticism to good use and a way to stay in shape.
In 2012, McGuffie had just a few weeks to prepare for the heptathlon at the Conference USA Indoor Championships. He finished third, despite not placing in one of the events. "Had he scored any points in pole vault," Bailiff says, "he would have won."
March 2013: 3 million views
"Sam was just a monster. … If he had a muscle spasm, it could be catastrophic." —David Bailiff
A smattering of NFL coaches and scouts surveyed the field at Rice's pro day.
Mostly, they were there to see Rice tight end Vance McDonald, who was eventually drafted in the second round by the 49ers. But McGuffie jumped at the opportunity, even understanding he would almost certainly not be drafted.
At 200 pounds, he was finally putting on weight—something he struggled with throughout college. By NFL standards, though, he was still undersized. And his body had taken a beating the last four years. Expectations were reserved.
Then the workout began.
McGuffie was clocked in the 40-yard dash at a blistering 4.32 seconds. He logged a vertical jump of 42 inches and a broad jump of 11'2". He ran his 20-yard shuttle in a scorching 3.93 seconds.
Perhaps most staggering of all, McGuffie posted 26 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. The three running backs who matched or eclipsed that threshold at this year's combine weighed an average of 241 pounds, according to NFL.com.
"It almost looked like it didn't compute," his father says on his performance.
As anticipated, McGuffie went undrafted. He signed a contract with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent.
Four months later, Oakland released him. The Arizona Cardinals then signed McGuffie to the practice squad but released him a month later.
Next it was the Patriots late in 2013, but New England cut him the following March.
"Same stuff," McGuffie says on his NFL experience. "All the same."
Hoping to prolong and perhaps jump-start his football career, McGuffie headed north to the CFL. He signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the 2014 season but was confined to sitting, watching and trying to understand the vast difference in playing style.
As his football career foundered, McGuffie began exploring other avenues where his abilities could be put to use. In January 2015, he tried out for the television show American Ninja Warrior—providing a glimpse of the gymnastic skills that he acquired as a child.
Although he never appeared on the show, in large part because he was trying to keep his football career alive, McGuffie hasn't closed this door yet. "I'd still love to give this a try," he says.
On April 6, 2015, McGuffie was released by Winnipeg. Nine years after the mixtape was released, nine years after the world fell in love with his talent, McGuffie's athletic career was on life-support.
February 2016: 3.2 million views
"Every single day, there is something. There does not go a day that we don't look at each other and laugh or sit there in awe about something with Sam." —Brian Shimer, USA bobsled coach
At the top of an ice-covered mountain in Igls, Austria, with football washed from his mind, McGuffie could feel the blood pouring out of his fingertips. He wondered how many fingers would be left when the 463-pound cylinder was finally lifted off his hand.
His teammates—a collection of some of the nation's most promising young bobsledders—quickly raised the sled when they realized what had happened.
While unloading the bobsled from the truck prior to Day 2 of the 2016 BMW IBSF World Championships, a piece of McGuffie stayed underneath.
As gruesome as it looked—and as horrifying as the initial reaction was—it could have been worse. McGuffie didn't break a single bone. There were no major long-term concerns. He simply, according to the doctors, lost some fingertips.
"I still wanted to push that day," he says. "But they made me go to the emergency room."
Months earlier, sensing that his hopes of playing football professionally were drifting further and further away, McGuffie searched for something else. His track coaches at Rice suggested bobsledding.
"I'm from Texas, man," he told them. "Bobsled?"
But he was desperate. And a part of him was curious.
The interest was mutual.
Brian Shimer, the head coach of the United States bobsled team, is a legend in the sport. Before becoming a coach, he competed in five winter Olympics. He won a bronze medal in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Members of his staff alerted him of McGuffie's interest. Naturally, they included a link to the McGuffie Mixtape as an introduction.
Shimer had the same reaction to the tape that so many had years earlier.
"I remember getting the biggest smile," Shimer says. "I couldn't believe we were getting an athlete like this."
Because of a slew of travel complications, McGuffie's tryout in Lake Placid, New York, was nearly derailed. While others hoping to make the team acquired valuable knowledge and experience, McGuffie slept on an airport floor. He thought about canceling the trip entirely, although Shimer convinced him to attend.
When he finally arrived, he had one day to learn from Shimer before the tryout turned to a competition. He learned the basics and nothing more.
The next day, McGuffie was asked to push a sled on wheels with almost no knowledge of how to do so. He finished second overall.
"It was jaw-dropping," Shimer says. "I knew right then we had something special with Sam."
As part of the testing, McGuffie was asked to run a 30-meter sprint. His time of 3.48 seconds is one of the fastest in recent history, according to Shimer. It was faster even than the time recorded by former college and NFL great Herschel Walker, whom Shimer ran alongside back when he pushed a bobsled for the United States.
McGuffie was officially announced as a member of the bobsled team in October 2015. Since then, he has visited Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Canada. He has acquired more knowledge than he thought existed, although there is still so much more to learn.
"Coming into the sport, I thought it was just about pushing the damn bobsled," McGuffie says. "But I literally learn something every single practice, training day and competition. Everything is new to me, and we're competing on an international stage."
As the brake man, it's on McGuffie to stop the sled. But as the last person in the sled, his true value—beyond the obvious importance of preventing something really, really bad from happening at the end—comes in the first 50 meters. He is the critical source of speed and power.
Shimer has placed McGuffie on the top four-man sled in the nation: USA-1. He thinks that highly of him, despite his inexperience.
It's by no means a permanent appointment, with the program essentially starting from scratch with so many new faces. But with the 2018 Winter Olympics slowly approaching, Shimer is putting McGuffie in a position to make the team.
"Of the athletes we have had over the years, he's got one of the highest potentials to be a great bobsledder," Shimer says. "He's got the talent to be the best bobsledder in the world. It's just going to take experience. The only question is whether we have the time before Korea to bring it out of him."
June 2016: 3.2 million views
"I'm trying to get to a point where I don't really think anymore. I just want to go and play." —Sam McGuffie
Living off a healthy dosage of painkillers and reflection, McGuffie returned home to heal his hand. Bobsledding had hit an intermission.
Somewhat seamlessly, another new opportunity arrived at his doorstep.
McGuffie's unexpected transition to his new world did not go unnoticed. Paul Holmes, who heads up Tiger Rugby High Performance Academy in Columbus, Ohio, one of the country's premier development centers for the sport, had caught wind of what McGuffie was doing.
Holmes, who also coaches Ohio's PRO Rugby team, has played a significant role in the development of high-level players within the United States. Knowing little about McGuffie's backstory, he invited him to Columbus.
"I told him to come in for a week so we could have a look and go through all the tests," Holmes says. "If you have potential after a week, we'll keep you on board at the academy. If not, I'll be 100 percent honest with you and tell you you don't have a future in it."
Like bobsledding, McGuffie had reservations. But with his hand healed and his calendar clear for the next few months, he headed to Ohio.
"I had no idea what the hell I was doing, to be honest," McGuffie says. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into."
Holmes did not watch the McGuffie Mixtape prior to their first encounter. He made a point not to. He didn't want to get caught up in hype from a different time and place.
McGuffie also did nothing to push this forward when he arrived. Not once did he mention his football career to Holmes.
When the coaches watched McGuffie adeptly catch high balls—similar to punt returns—they pieced together his background. After the testing, Holmes finally threw on the mixtape.
"Once I saw the video, it explained what I was seeing firsthand," Holmes says. "His strength-to-body-weight ratio is off the charts. He kills it. He's an elite athlete. But what stuck out most to me is his explosiveness immediately after he catches the ball. It's something I don't think you can really coach."
Having seen enough, Holmes invited McGuffie to join Tiger Rugby. McGuffie also signed a professional rugby contract with the Ohio team.
The game is already becoming more natural to McGuffie. He spent the summer practicing six hours a day—a gauntlet that included film, weight training, conditioning, tackling work and strategy sessions.
He made his tournament debut against some of the Big Ten's best rugby teams. He scored eight tries (think touchdowns) in only four games—nearly all of which came from beyond 70 meters.
At the 2016 USA Rugby National Championships in August, a tournament with many world-class players, McGuffie finally settled in. His play earned him a spot on the 2016 Men's Dream Team, even though he had picked up the sport a few months earlier.
"Once McGuffie got his hands on the ball," Alex Solomon wrote of his performance, "he was nearly unstoppable."
September 2016: Beyond the views
"I've been able to experience a lot of things. Life is short. I'm trying to explore." —Sam McGuffie
Bobsled season has returned. McGuffie, who will compete at the National Push Championships in Calgary through the end of September, has his sights set on the 2018 Olympics.
Rugby isn't done with him yet, either. After transitioning back to bobsled training, McGuffie received an email from USA Rugby asking if he would train with the national team in California at the Olympic Training Center.
At the moment, he cannot.
"I'm committed to bobsled," McGuffie says. "But I'm also committed to rugby. There may have to be some give here and there."
The goal is to somehow find stability, something McGuffie has been searching for since his senior year in high school. He's getting closer, he thinks.
In October, he will celebrate his 27th birthday. He is still in the prime of his athletic career, seeing how far his abilities can take him.
The idea of traveling the world excites him. The possibility of making the Olympics in two sports sits in the back of his mind, although it doesn't consume him.
"You have to make one first," he says.
Nine years after his introduction to the world, he is still running at the only speed he has ever known. He does not do this for fame or stardom or fortune. He is this way because he knows no other way.
He's not running from the tape that made him, though those five minutes and 53 seconds will follow him for the rest of his life.
In many ways, the mixtape opened doors to exciting new opportunities. It's a part of him, and it always will be.
No matter what happens next, whether that includes the Olympics or a new endeavor entirely, McGuffie's folklore will live on through memories and grainy footage.
His name will be passed on through generations of young athletes seeing his tape for the first time, trying to replicate his every juke and hurdle. They will attempt to re-create a masterpiece.
But the McGuffie Mixtape could never have an encore. Not unless someone digs up the uncut original in an attic and remixes it.
"I think the people that were associated with us during that time won't ever forget the things that Sam did and the buzz that was created," longtime Cy-Fair head coach Ed Pustejovsky says. "I don't think anybody will ever forget Sam.
"There ain't no doubt. People saw what he did."