McCoy v Seahawks, Dec 1, 2011
Last Monday night the road for the Philadelphia Eagles ended in a corn field, in a tree, underneath an 18-wheeler. Area 51. Wherever bad accidents happen. And so the end of Andy Reid, one assumes; the end of a dream team; and the end of this season, if not mathematically, then in all other senses.
But with five minutes to go it looked like they might just be able do it. You felt the whole season was running on this one possibility. With a fourth-and-one on the eight-yard line, McCoy delivered the first down. On third down in the next series, McCoy delivered the touch, and you thought, “See all you doubters, they’re gonna do it. You just watch.”
By the way, that’s LeSean that’s gonna do it. Not DeSean, who’s over at Occupy Bank of Christina Lurie, wearing a sandwich board and pretending to be a 99 ‘center.
So on Monday night, for one shining moment—Marshawn Lynch's performance notwithstanding—you catch a whiff of optimism and then Prince Vinceable throws a bad ball. Not a throw you’d make at any level. If you did that in Pop Warner the coach would send you home without a note. So no excuse. No grassy knoll. And sure he felt bad. Kind of like when you lose your job or feel the onset of dementia.
But not really like that.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter how badly he felt or anybody felt. It’s too late for that.
The only thing interesting about the Eagles now is whether LeSean, only in his third year, will be joining the firmament of Payton, Smith and Sanders—not whether DeSean is as good as say, Art Powell, who played with five teams in nine years during the summer of love and is sometimes ranked the 50th-best receiver of all time. Actually, he’s 18th overall in TD receptions.
I’m getting to my point.
LeSean McCoy is a potential great. And it’s interesting to see his echoes. On Monday night the consensus up in the booth was that McCoy was most like Barry Sanders. But look at the film, and I would say he’s more Emmitt Smithish, with a touch of Dickerson. And really not like Sanders. But let the argument unfold….
Here is McCoy, lately. These highlights don't catch the double clutch or quickness, but more his field speed and, most impressively, his acceleration. Notice the after-burner effect in the clip from the game against the Colts. It's reminiscent of any great runner, but perhaps more Smith than Sanders.
In the corner pubs I go to, you ask who the greatest running back of all time is, and Sanders and Payton always top the list.
And then somewhere down the line, sometimes even after Eric Dickerson—who with the handball goggles always makes me think of Mad Max running after Toecutter and Bubba Zanetti—you get to Emmitt Smith (5'9", 216 pounds).
Clearly, I don't live in Texas. My point: You forget how good Smith really was, and as you watch him playing the angles to daylight I see some McCoy in that.
What strikes you while watching McCoy's rookie season is how much he improved in his second year. He's faster, more confident and more powerful. Interestingly, that was the knock on him in high school, the one area that needed improvement: "power."
And now here is Sanders, making long runs up the middle, rounding the corners, any which way but Tuesday, ever looking to make people miss. That's his strategy—make the opponent miss. And at 5'8", that makes sense.
And so he was the NFL's most elusive runner.
But McCoy, at 5'11"—they both come in at about 200 pounds—is more visible and more hittable, so he has to rely on power as much as technique.
And ,last but not least, Walter Payton. Would you say that McCoy could ever be another Payton? Is there anything about McCoy's game that reminds you of Payton?
Perhaps, it will come, but I don't see it now. I'm one of those who believes it's not likely we will see another Payton. Perhaps someone who runs like he did. Or someone who smiles like he did. Or any number of other echoes.
But for me Walter Payton is memorable less for his artistry than for his will, for his relentless optimism, for his struggle. He's what every civilization needs. If Albert Camus had been able to see Payton run he would have called him a living Sysphus—and he would never have purposely driven off a cliff. Payton is the embodiment of hope. He was the living proof of a theory. And so it's a question of character, isn't it?
Does McCoy have the same breadth of character? I would wish it on him.