It was October of 2008, the opening night of the 08-09 NBA season. I’m sitting in my friend Jason’s room watching the early game of the TNT double-header. The Boston Celtics were defending champions and were receiving their rings before their tilt with LeBron’s Cavs. Us being Lakers fans, we hated what Boston had did to us in the previous NBA Finals, but yet on some level we still respected them enough to watch their game. It was a back and forth and all of Boston’s Big 3 + Rondo were on point. During the 4th quarter, the most tenured member of the Celtics, Paul Pierce, stepped to the line late. With the crowd cheering raucously, you could see Pierce reveling in the moment, he had just given his faithful their first championship in 22 years, through thick and thin, Pierce was always there. He knew he deserved this moment from the fans. And in that moment watching him I told my friend that it was like he was “Boston’s Son”. A player that the fans had watched grow and mature into not only a legendary Celtic but an all-time great in his own right. The discussion quickly grew into who else fit that label in the NBA. He said Kobe, I said LeBron. Both of us were right, both had stayed their entire careers there (until LeBron left and then returned as the prodigal son in 2014). Kobe had more success so far but LeBron wasn’t too far behind (or so we thought).
Fast forward to today, Kobe Bryant is in his last season with the Lakers. Since 1996 he has held the mantle of LA’s most beloved athlete. Who takes it now? Chris Paul? Sorry but he hasn’t spent the majority of his career here. Blake Griffin? Ummmm, no. Mike Trout plays in Anaheim and Dodger fans won’t go for that. Kershaw could be it but he lacks the dominant playoff performance(s) that equate that blinding loyalty, much like Kobe offered. We can scratch out college teams because the longevity just isn’t enough. So we have a vacant spot for LA’s new son. Who is the number #1 contender then, besides the names I just mentioned……… Let me spell out the case for Todd Gurley II.
August of 1995, it was my first summer playing tackle football. It was also the first time the city of Los Angeles didn’t have an NFL team. As a native of the Southern California area for all of my 28 years, the news that the Rams are coming back to LA has been plastered with eager anticipation. This city is starved for it, we bought all 58,000 preliminary reserve season-ticket spots. And while the quarterback is usually the golden child for any team, so far the Rams have Case Keenum. What we do have, is reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley.
I first heard about Todd Gurley back in late 2013 and most of 2014 as I have family back in Georgia. My cousin Daniel is a UGA alum who has season tickets to the Dawgs. He has followed Gurley’s path from a 5 star recruit on Rivals.com to a heralded UGA freshman to Georgia legend and finally the NFL. He told me to watch out for Todd Gurley in his true freshman season after a game against Alabama as Gurley put up over 100 yards rushing and brought the Dawgs within 5 yards of an SEC championship, all against a Saban coached defense. In the ensuing years, Gurley’s legend only grew. He checked every box; size, speed, vision, return skills. He was the most complete football player he had ever seen.
I myself had seen a little bit of Gurley but it wasn’t until I got a chance to see him go against my team, the Green Bay Packers (what do you want, LA hasn’t had a team since ’95), that I saw the beginnings of a transcendent talent. Watching Gurley that game and in the remainder of the 2015 season reminded me of 2007 when young Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene. Young AP had that “it” factor when you saw him take a simple swing pass all the way to the house. Gurley was the same when you saw him grind and grind for 3 quarters, and then when everybody’s tired from the punishment he delivers, boom, a 50 yard run. Boom, another 40 yard gain. He got stronger as the game went on. I’ve been watching the NFL since 1995. Only 3 running backs stood out like Gurley did in 2015; Barry Sanders, LaDanian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson. That’s rarified air.
Much like USC Reggie Bush took over the So Cal sports scene in the mid 2000s, I envision Gurley doing the same here with the LA Rams. I see a city so starved for greatness, especially in the sport of football and especially at the running back position. This is the city that gave us O.J. in the 60s, Marcus Allen in the 70s and Eric Dickerson in the 80s. And believe me, all the old guard still hold those names in reverence to this day. With the Rams back in LA and Todd Gurley as its main star, he has a chance to be mentioned among those legends. A chance to be king of this town. And he’s all ours, LA’s new son, #30 Todd Gurley II.