Bye Week with Rudi
When I’m not diligently producing points for my reputable readership I’m shifting in and out of various free lance jobs at College Sports Television (CSTV). Lately I have been working as a researcher for the studio crew. On Saturday CSTV was fortunate enough to obtain the analytical expertise of one of the NFL’s more decorated running backs, Rudi Johnson.
I had no idea he was going to be in-studio, and coincidentally was wearing one of those half-turtleneck, NFL-brand, long-sleeve T-shirts. The only insignia is in the form of a small team logo on the left side of the neck. And those who know my local affiliations understand implicitly that the logo was of a little Patriot. Let’s just say that after watching intently four quarters of the Patriots-Bengals game last Sunday I wasn’t exactly flyin’ outta my “And 1’s” to go and introduce myself.
To add a little perspective Rudi is 5-10, 225 pounds. He wore a sleek cream-colored suit, baggy. To the unknowing those 225 pounds may have seemed diminished, possibly even in question. To a perceptive sports-eye who happened to be wearing some adversarial gear, those were 225 pounds of human steel. So yeah, I had a lot of work to do and didn’t have the opportunity to go say whatup…
After Rudi did a taped-bit he gravitated over to the research area to check in on the day’s games. I looked up and he was over my right shoulder. (At least the logo was out of his line of sight.) I stood up, introduced myself, and told him not to pay attention to my shirt. Which drew his attention directly to my shirt. He chuckled, and reflected briefly on the Pats game. Said the Pats got away with one, and his squad will get another shot come playoff time, with a different result. I noted that the venue may be different, come January. He didn’t waver. I didn’t doubt him.
I asked him about the upcoming schedule. He said they’re going down to Tampa after the bye week. I grinned and joked about how that should be a nice bounce back game. “Somebody’s gotta pay,” he asserted. I once again didn’t doubt him. Probably because he’s one of the nastiest running backs for one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses. Have I mentioned that? He’s also a down to earth guy. Has that unique combination of ego and personality. He’s brash, and in the same breath modest.
And then he took my seat. As a researcher, ninety-five percent of my work involves staring at a computer screen, tracking football statistics via gamecasts. I had gone to grab a bottle of water, and when I returned Rudi was plopped down at my station, reading up on his squad and his competition. So I stood and waited. I had some, not a lot of work to do. But there really wasn’t any question. I just wasn’t going to be the guy who tells Rudi Johnson to get out of his seat in a Pats shirt. No, I’m not that guy.
When Rudi finished, I retook my seat, and before long he was back flanking me watching the games. We got talking again, this time about his division, the AFC North. Agreed that the Steelers would rebound and the Ravens would level off. I asked him what games he had circled on the schedule, and he directed me towards a Monday night game on December 18th in Indianapolis. Talked about how there will definitely be a lotta offense. I added that this rematch of one of the great games from last season will probably have home-field implications as well. I surely wasn’t enlightening him.
If there is one aspect of the NFL that separates professionals from wannabes, it’s the sheer power with which these guys hit each other all over the field. (In the Bengals-Patriots game last week Reche Caldwell was blindsided so hard that I really thought he was knocked out cold.) In that light I asked Rudi if there was one hit he remembers taking that really flattened him. He laughed and responded that he likes to initiate the hitting. I agreed, assuring him that I have seen plenty of instances in which he pancaked, railroaded or simply ran through opposing players. But there must be that one hit, right…
“John Lynch,” he said. “One time he got under my chin, and hit me good, I needed stitches.” I then asked him if there were any singularly memorable blasts that he’s dealt out. The gist of his response was that those kind of memories were plentiful. He does love a good stiff arm though, and he is part of an elite class of backs who employ it frequently. Most relevant, his ex-teammate, Corey Dillon. He said the two still talk, and was in accord with my claim that Corey was more than happy to accept “the 15” for his excessive celebration after earning a hard-fought, late-touchdown against his old mates.
Looking ahead, Rudi exuded nothing but confidence about the 2006 season. “We expect to win every game we play,” he said. If there is one thing the Bengals have to do better, though, it is to more effectively defend against the run.
“Gotta stop the run,” he said.
“One thing’s for sure, Rudi,” I shot back. “Ya’ll can definitely run the ball.”
He grinned and headed over to the set.