Los Ravens ganan un loco y vibrante Super Bowl

NUEVA ORLEANS (AP) — Un apagón en el Super Bowl provocó que el máximo acontecimiento deportivo de Estados Unidos se interrumpiera durante más de media hora al domingo, pero el partido ofreció un vibrante desenlace que culminó con Joe Flacco y los Ravens de Baltimore como los campeones de la NFL al vencer 34-31 a los 49ers de San Francisco.

Flacco lanzó tres pases de touchdown en la primera mitad para coronar una postemporada de 11 anotaciones sin ninguna intercepción. Además, Jacoby Jones fijó un récord al anotar con una carrera de 108 yardas al devolver la patada de arranque del segundo tiempo que puso a Baltimore al frente por 22 puntos.

Pero lo insólito se produjo instantes después. El Superdome, el estadio bajo techo de Nueva Orleáns, se quedó sin luz.

Cuando el duelo se puedo reanudar, tras una demorada de 34 minutos, los 49ers reaccionaron con 17 puntos consecutivos y se pusieron a tiro, 31-29.

Pero la defensa de Baltimore se plantó firme al frenar a San Francisco en una cuarta oportunidad y gol desde la yarda 5 y menos de dos minutos por jugar.

Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) drops back to pass against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: NFC Wild Card-Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) drops back to pass against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) celebrates after defeating the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: NFC Wild Card-Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) celebrates after defeating the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
<p>The city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are in mourning, and should be. Tom Benson—a giant of an owner in all ways, and my boss with the Saints since 2006—has passed.</p><p>I just wish every Saints fan had the privilege I had. I got to be mentored by Mr. Benson for over a decade. Almost every day since I got the job coaching the Saints, Mr. Benson, a very behind-the-scenes owner, would give me some football—and life—advice.</p><p>I’d walk into his office in the morning. He’d always have a bowl filled with Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses. I’d grab a couple of pieces of the candy and sit there for a few minutes, maybe longer, and listen. This is when we’d talk on a variety of topics. In every meeting, some piece of wisdom from his life in New Orleans, his business life, his military life, his sporting life, would pass from him to me.</p><p><em>“Retirement speeds your aging, you know. Don’t retire. It’s the most overrated thing ever.”</em></p><p><em>“You got plenty of time to coach, Coach.”</em></p><p><em>“Accountability, Coach. Be on top of your coaches. Make them accountable in everything they do.”</em></p><p>He hated a mess. He wanted everything to be neat, organized. He was a military man, through and through. One day in one of those meetings, he’d seen our mail room all messed up, and he said to me, <em>“Coach, we’ve got to get that mailroom organized. Can’t have a mess.”</em></p><p>He was obsessed with all Saints employees parking in their correct spaces. Periodically, this topic would pull me from a game plan meeting. But in a business where the little things are the big things, I came to appreciate his attention to every detail.</p><p>When the message of the day was given, and our conversation began to wane, Mr. Benson had this way of ending the meeting with his right hand. He’d open his right hand and tap his open palm twice on the table … <strong><em>tap tap</em></strong> …</p><p>I knew it was time to go. Meeting over.</p><p>One time, we’d lost two or three games in a row. The fans were down on us, the media was down on us, everyone was down on us. Not Mr. Benson. I come in to work one day that week, and there was a handwritten note on my desk.</p><p><em>“When the going gets tough, the tough get going, Coach.”</em></p><p>Of course you’ve heard that before, and you wonder what good that does. But it just showed you he cared, and he wanted me to know he cared, and it doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re in—sometimes you just need that. With Mr. Benson, it was unconditional.</p><p>I’m out in Los Angeles right now. I found out he died Thursday while I was on the way to UCLA’s pro day, and it was hard to pay close attention to all these drills. So many good memories about what he meant to me and our city raced through my mind. We’ve all had days like that—we’ve been somewhere, but we’re not really there. That’s what this pro day was like.</p><p>The hallmark of a great owner is knowing what’s important to the football team, and doing what he can to help in every way. I cannot think of one time when we asked for anything remotely important and he said no. I wanted to take the players on a team-bonding trip to a water park once. It cost $8,000. No problem. Never a problem.</p><p>That even extended to sleep—and to his organization and neatness. Lots of coaches in the NFL periodically will sleep one or two nights in the office. With Mr. Benson, the challenge was getting the sleeping bag rolled or the couch folded up before he walked down the hall in the morning. He hated our offices looking sloppy. So he ended up footing the bill in 2016 for a high-tech sleep room at our facility—climate-controlled, built-in chargers for a phone, blackout shades on the window and door. No more excuses for a sloppy office, and the coaches loved it.</p><p>Mr. Benson loved winning, of course. But I have to say he loved seeing the fans happy just as much. That made him so incredibly happy. When I got here in 2006 after the angst and heartache of Hurricane Katrina, he was looking for structure and discipline and organization. We signed Drew Brees, and the fans started to get a little excited, and the fix of the stadium was coming along, and then we drafted Reggie Bush with the second pick that year. The fans were so fired up that we sold out the Superdome for the season within two-and-a-half hours of making the pick. It’s been sold out since. That made him so excited.</p><p>When we’d go on road trips, I wanted the veterans to sit in first class, and he loved that. Rewards for the veterans. He and Mrs. Gayle [wife Gayle Benson] flew coach with the rest of us. Like her husband, she was such a great fan and supporter. We won some games that year, and we won our division, and people would be waiting for us after road games at the airport. Hundreds of people.</p><p>He loved seeing the customer happy. Isn’t that the essence of a good businessman?</p><p>When I got suspended for the season in 2012 over the alleged bounties in our games, it was a big shock to all of us. There was pressure from people in the league and the league office—I’m not going to say who—to fire me. Mr. Benson was resolute.</p><p>“We’re not doing that,” he said. “He doesn’t deserve that.”</p><p>I had six days to get my office packed and to leave. I met with Mr. Benson every day. He was extremely hurt. Blindsided. But he was behind me, and he had my back the entire way, and for the entire year. I will never forget it.</p><p>Mr. Benson was a lot like Bill Parcells, another man who’s been very important to me in my career. When you expected a cupcake, you got a fist. But he wouldn’t kill you in the toughest times. This year, we lost to Minnesota in the playoffs on that last-second touchdown pass by the Vikings, one of the most heartbreaking losses a team can ever have. After the game, Mr. Benson saw me. I wondered what he was going to say. Now, this was less than two months ago. Mr. Benson’s 90.</p><p>He says, “Hey Coach, I like this group. Tough loss. But I like this group. We’re going in the right direction. We’ll be OK.”</p><p>You know how great that is for a coach to hear?</p><p>That’s the kind of thing I heard a lot. When I coach the Saints in 2018, Mr. Benson won’t be there. My meetings with him are over. But I’ll hear him this year, and I’ll hear him every year I coach.</p><p><em><strong>Tap tap.</strong></em></p><p><strong><em>Question or comment? </em><em>Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></strong></p>
Sean Payton Remembers Tom Benson, a Stickler for Organization and an Invaluable Mentor

The city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are in mourning, and should be. Tom Benson—a giant of an owner in all ways, and my boss with the Saints since 2006—has passed.

I just wish every Saints fan had the privilege I had. I got to be mentored by Mr. Benson for over a decade. Almost every day since I got the job coaching the Saints, Mr. Benson, a very behind-the-scenes owner, would give me some football—and life—advice.

I’d walk into his office in the morning. He’d always have a bowl filled with Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses. I’d grab a couple of pieces of the candy and sit there for a few minutes, maybe longer, and listen. This is when we’d talk on a variety of topics. In every meeting, some piece of wisdom from his life in New Orleans, his business life, his military life, his sporting life, would pass from him to me.

“Retirement speeds your aging, you know. Don’t retire. It’s the most overrated thing ever.”

“You got plenty of time to coach, Coach.”

“Accountability, Coach. Be on top of your coaches. Make them accountable in everything they do.”

He hated a mess. He wanted everything to be neat, organized. He was a military man, through and through. One day in one of those meetings, he’d seen our mail room all messed up, and he said to me, “Coach, we’ve got to get that mailroom organized. Can’t have a mess.”

He was obsessed with all Saints employees parking in their correct spaces. Periodically, this topic would pull me from a game plan meeting. But in a business where the little things are the big things, I came to appreciate his attention to every detail.

When the message of the day was given, and our conversation began to wane, Mr. Benson had this way of ending the meeting with his right hand. He’d open his right hand and tap his open palm twice on the table … tap tap

I knew it was time to go. Meeting over.

One time, we’d lost two or three games in a row. The fans were down on us, the media was down on us, everyone was down on us. Not Mr. Benson. I come in to work one day that week, and there was a handwritten note on my desk.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going, Coach.”

Of course you’ve heard that before, and you wonder what good that does. But it just showed you he cared, and he wanted me to know he cared, and it doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re in—sometimes you just need that. With Mr. Benson, it was unconditional.

I’m out in Los Angeles right now. I found out he died Thursday while I was on the way to UCLA’s pro day, and it was hard to pay close attention to all these drills. So many good memories about what he meant to me and our city raced through my mind. We’ve all had days like that—we’ve been somewhere, but we’re not really there. That’s what this pro day was like.

The hallmark of a great owner is knowing what’s important to the football team, and doing what he can to help in every way. I cannot think of one time when we asked for anything remotely important and he said no. I wanted to take the players on a team-bonding trip to a water park once. It cost $8,000. No problem. Never a problem.

That even extended to sleep—and to his organization and neatness. Lots of coaches in the NFL periodically will sleep one or two nights in the office. With Mr. Benson, the challenge was getting the sleeping bag rolled or the couch folded up before he walked down the hall in the morning. He hated our offices looking sloppy. So he ended up footing the bill in 2016 for a high-tech sleep room at our facility—climate-controlled, built-in chargers for a phone, blackout shades on the window and door. No more excuses for a sloppy office, and the coaches loved it.

Mr. Benson loved winning, of course. But I have to say he loved seeing the fans happy just as much. That made him so incredibly happy. When I got here in 2006 after the angst and heartache of Hurricane Katrina, he was looking for structure and discipline and organization. We signed Drew Brees, and the fans started to get a little excited, and the fix of the stadium was coming along, and then we drafted Reggie Bush with the second pick that year. The fans were so fired up that we sold out the Superdome for the season within two-and-a-half hours of making the pick. It’s been sold out since. That made him so excited.

When we’d go on road trips, I wanted the veterans to sit in first class, and he loved that. Rewards for the veterans. He and Mrs. Gayle [wife Gayle Benson] flew coach with the rest of us. Like her husband, she was such a great fan and supporter. We won some games that year, and we won our division, and people would be waiting for us after road games at the airport. Hundreds of people.

He loved seeing the customer happy. Isn’t that the essence of a good businessman?

When I got suspended for the season in 2012 over the alleged bounties in our games, it was a big shock to all of us. There was pressure from people in the league and the league office—I’m not going to say who—to fire me. Mr. Benson was resolute.

“We’re not doing that,” he said. “He doesn’t deserve that.”

I had six days to get my office packed and to leave. I met with Mr. Benson every day. He was extremely hurt. Blindsided. But he was behind me, and he had my back the entire way, and for the entire year. I will never forget it.

Mr. Benson was a lot like Bill Parcells, another man who’s been very important to me in my career. When you expected a cupcake, you got a fist. But he wouldn’t kill you in the toughest times. This year, we lost to Minnesota in the playoffs on that last-second touchdown pass by the Vikings, one of the most heartbreaking losses a team can ever have. After the game, Mr. Benson saw me. I wondered what he was going to say. Now, this was less than two months ago. Mr. Benson’s 90.

He says, “Hey Coach, I like this group. Tough loss. But I like this group. We’re going in the right direction. We’ll be OK.”

You know how great that is for a coach to hear?

That’s the kind of thing I heard a lot. When I coach the Saints in 2018, Mr. Benson won’t be there. My meetings with him are over. But I’ll hear him this year, and I’ll hear him every year I coach.

Tap tap.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>The city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are in mourning, and should be. Tom Benson—a giant of an owner in all ways, and my boss with the Saints since 2006—has passed.</p><p>I just wish every Saints fan had the privilege I had. I got to be mentored by Mr. Benson for over a decade. Almost every day since I got the job coaching the Saints, Mr. Benson, a very behind-the-scenes owner, would give me some football—and life—advice.</p><p>I’d walk into his office in the morning. He’d always have a bowl filled with Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses. I’d grab a couple of pieces of the candy and sit there for a few minutes, maybe longer, and listen. This is when we’d talk on a variety of topics. In every meeting, some piece of wisdom from his life in New Orleans, his business life, his military life, his sporting life, would pass from him to me.</p><p><em>“Retirement speeds your aging, you know. Don’t retire. It’s the most overrated thing ever.”</em></p><p><em>“You got plenty of time to coach, Coach.”</em></p><p><em>“Accountability, Coach. Be on top of your coaches. Make them accountable in everything they do.”</em></p><p>He hated a mess. He wanted everything to be neat, organized. He was a military man, through and through. One day in one of those meetings, he’d seen our mail room all messed up, and he said to me, <em>“Coach, we’ve got to get that mailroom organized. Can’t have a mess.”</em></p><p>He was obsessed with all Saints employees parking in their correct spaces. Periodically, this topic would pull me from a game plan meeting. But in a business where the little things are the big things, I came to appreciate his attention to every detail.</p><p>When the message of the day was given, and our conversation began to wane, Mr. Benson had this way of ending the meeting with his right hand. He’d open his right hand and tap his open palm twice on the table … <strong><em>tap tap</em></strong> …</p><p>I knew it was time to go. Meeting over.</p><p>One time, we’d lost two or three games in a row. The fans were down on us, the media was down on us, everyone was down on us. Not Mr. Benson. I come in to work one day that week, and there was a handwritten note on my desk.</p><p><em>“When the going gets tough, the tough get going, Coach.”</em></p><p>Of course you’ve heard that before, and you wonder what good that does. But it just showed you he cared, and he wanted me to know he cared, and it doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re in—sometimes you just need that. With Mr. Benson, it was unconditional.</p><p>I’m out in Los Angeles right now. I found out he died Thursday while I was on the way to UCLA’s pro day, and it was hard to pay close attention to all these drills. So many good memories about what he meant to me and our city raced through my mind. We’ve all had days like that—we’ve been somewhere, but we’re not really there. That’s what this pro day was like.</p><p>The hallmark of a great owner is knowing what’s important to the football team, and doing what he can to help in every way. I cannot think of one time when we asked for anything remotely important and he said no. I wanted to take the players on a team-bonding trip to a water park once. It cost $8,000. No problem. Never a problem.</p><p>That even extended to sleep—and to his organization and neatness. Lots of coaches in the NFL periodically will sleep one or two nights in the office. With Mr. Benson, the challenge was getting the sleeping bag rolled or the couch folded up before he walked down the hall in the morning. He hated our offices looking sloppy. So he ended up footing the bill in 2016 for a high-tech sleep room at our facility—climate-controlled, built-in chargers for a phone, blackout shades on the window and door. No more excuses for a sloppy office, and the coaches loved it.</p><p>Mr. Benson loved winning, of course. But I have to say he loved seeing the fans happy just as much. That made him so incredibly happy. When I got here in 2006 after the angst and heartache of Hurricane Katrina, he was looking for structure and discipline and organization. We signed Drew Brees, and the fans started to get a little excited, and the fix of the stadium was coming along, and then we drafted Reggie Bush with the second pick that year. The fans were so fired up that we sold out the Superdome for the season within two-and-a-half hours of making the pick. It’s been sold out since. That made him so excited.</p><p>When we’d go on road trips, I wanted the veterans to sit in first class, and he loved that. Rewards for the veterans. He and Mrs. Gayle [wife Gayle Benson] flew coach with the rest of us. Like her husband, she was such a great fan and supporter. We won some games that year, and we won our division, and people would be waiting for us after road games at the airport. Hundreds of people.</p><p>He loved seeing the customer happy. Isn’t that the essence of a good businessman?</p><p>When I got suspended for the season in 2012 over the alleged bounties in our games, it was a big shock to all of us. There was pressure from people in the league and the league office—I’m not going to say who—to fire me. Mr. Benson was resolute.</p><p>“We’re not doing that,” he said. “He doesn’t deserve that.”</p><p>I had six days to get my office packed and to leave. I met with Mr. Benson every day. He was extremely hurt. Blindsided. But he was behind me, and he had my back the entire way, and for the entire year. I will never forget it.</p><p>Mr. Benson was a lot like Bill Parcells, another man who’s been very important to me in my career. When you expected a cupcake, you got a fist. But he wouldn’t kill you in the toughest times. This year, we lost to Minnesota in the playoffs on that last-second touchdown pass by the Vikings, one of the most heartbreaking losses a team can ever have. After the game, Mr. Benson saw me. I wondered what he was going to say. Now, this was less than two months ago. Mr. Benson’s 90.</p><p>He says, “Hey Coach, I like this group. Tough loss. But I like this group. We’re going in the right direction. We’ll be OK.”</p><p>You know how great that is for a coach to hear?</p><p>That’s the kind of thing I heard a lot. When I coach the Saints in 2018, Mr. Benson won’t be there. My meetings with him are over. But I’ll hear him this year, and I’ll hear him every year I coach.</p><p><em><strong>Tap tap.</strong></em></p><p><strong><em>Question or comment? </em><em>Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></strong></p>
Sean Payton Remembers Tom Benson, a Stickler for Organization and an Invaluable Mentor

The city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana are in mourning, and should be. Tom Benson—a giant of an owner in all ways, and my boss with the Saints since 2006—has passed.

I just wish every Saints fan had the privilege I had. I got to be mentored by Mr. Benson for over a decade. Almost every day since I got the job coaching the Saints, Mr. Benson, a very behind-the-scenes owner, would give me some football—and life—advice.

I’d walk into his office in the morning. He’d always have a bowl filled with Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses. I’d grab a couple of pieces of the candy and sit there for a few minutes, maybe longer, and listen. This is when we’d talk on a variety of topics. In every meeting, some piece of wisdom from his life in New Orleans, his business life, his military life, his sporting life, would pass from him to me.

“Retirement speeds your aging, you know. Don’t retire. It’s the most overrated thing ever.”

“You got plenty of time to coach, Coach.”

“Accountability, Coach. Be on top of your coaches. Make them accountable in everything they do.”

He hated a mess. He wanted everything to be neat, organized. He was a military man, through and through. One day in one of those meetings, he’d seen our mail room all messed up, and he said to me, “Coach, we’ve got to get that mailroom organized. Can’t have a mess.”

He was obsessed with all Saints employees parking in their correct spaces. Periodically, this topic would pull me from a game plan meeting. But in a business where the little things are the big things, I came to appreciate his attention to every detail.

When the message of the day was given, and our conversation began to wane, Mr. Benson had this way of ending the meeting with his right hand. He’d open his right hand and tap his open palm twice on the table … tap tap

I knew it was time to go. Meeting over.

One time, we’d lost two or three games in a row. The fans were down on us, the media was down on us, everyone was down on us. Not Mr. Benson. I come in to work one day that week, and there was a handwritten note on my desk.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going, Coach.”

Of course you’ve heard that before, and you wonder what good that does. But it just showed you he cared, and he wanted me to know he cared, and it doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re in—sometimes you just need that. With Mr. Benson, it was unconditional.

I’m out in Los Angeles right now. I found out he died Thursday while I was on the way to UCLA’s pro day, and it was hard to pay close attention to all these drills. So many good memories about what he meant to me and our city raced through my mind. We’ve all had days like that—we’ve been somewhere, but we’re not really there. That’s what this pro day was like.

The hallmark of a great owner is knowing what’s important to the football team, and doing what he can to help in every way. I cannot think of one time when we asked for anything remotely important and he said no. I wanted to take the players on a team-bonding trip to a water park once. It cost $8,000. No problem. Never a problem.

That even extended to sleep—and to his organization and neatness. Lots of coaches in the NFL periodically will sleep one or two nights in the office. With Mr. Benson, the challenge was getting the sleeping bag rolled or the couch folded up before he walked down the hall in the morning. He hated our offices looking sloppy. So he ended up footing the bill in 2016 for a high-tech sleep room at our facility—climate-controlled, built-in chargers for a phone, blackout shades on the window and door. No more excuses for a sloppy office, and the coaches loved it.

Mr. Benson loved winning, of course. But I have to say he loved seeing the fans happy just as much. That made him so incredibly happy. When I got here in 2006 after the angst and heartache of Hurricane Katrina, he was looking for structure and discipline and organization. We signed Drew Brees, and the fans started to get a little excited, and the fix of the stadium was coming along, and then we drafted Reggie Bush with the second pick that year. The fans were so fired up that we sold out the Superdome for the season within two-and-a-half hours of making the pick. It’s been sold out since. That made him so excited.

When we’d go on road trips, I wanted the veterans to sit in first class, and he loved that. Rewards for the veterans. He and Mrs. Gayle [wife Gayle Benson] flew coach with the rest of us. Like her husband, she was such a great fan and supporter. We won some games that year, and we won our division, and people would be waiting for us after road games at the airport. Hundreds of people.

He loved seeing the customer happy. Isn’t that the essence of a good businessman?

When I got suspended for the season in 2012 over the alleged bounties in our games, it was a big shock to all of us. There was pressure from people in the league and the league office—I’m not going to say who—to fire me. Mr. Benson was resolute.

“We’re not doing that,” he said. “He doesn’t deserve that.”

I had six days to get my office packed and to leave. I met with Mr. Benson every day. He was extremely hurt. Blindsided. But he was behind me, and he had my back the entire way, and for the entire year. I will never forget it.

Mr. Benson was a lot like Bill Parcells, another man who’s been very important to me in my career. When you expected a cupcake, you got a fist. But he wouldn’t kill you in the toughest times. This year, we lost to Minnesota in the playoffs on that last-second touchdown pass by the Vikings, one of the most heartbreaking losses a team can ever have. After the game, Mr. Benson saw me. I wondered what he was going to say. Now, this was less than two months ago. Mr. Benson’s 90.

He says, “Hey Coach, I like this group. Tough loss. But I like this group. We’re going in the right direction. We’ll be OK.”

You know how great that is for a coach to hear?

That’s the kind of thing I heard a lot. When I coach the Saints in 2018, Mr. Benson won’t be there. My meetings with him are over. But I’ll hear him this year, and I’ll hear him every year I coach.

Tap tap.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>Tom Benson loved the New Orleans Saints, but even more he loved the city of New Orleans.</p><p>Benson, who died Thursday after a month-long battle with the flu at 90 years old, was a cheerleader for his battered and beloved city. When I think of Benson, in fact, I don’t think of his 33-year reign as Saints owner. I think of his impact on the city of New Orleans. You could quibble with some of his football decisions over the years—the time he gave all power over football decision-making to head coach Mike Ditka in 1997, who then traded every draft pick to select Ricky Williams in 1999, comes to mind—but you cannot question his his affection for where he was born and schooled.</p><p>Benson bought the Saints for $70 million in 1985—a time when locals feared the team was on the verge of moving to Phoenix or Jacksonville. He insisted on highlighting aspects of the state on the New Orleans uniform, including prominently featuring the fleur de lis.</p><p>“Why not?” Benson once said. “I’m proud of where I come from.”</p><p>How proud? When the beloved <em>Times-Picayune</em> announced it would cease being a daily paper in 2012, Benson, who read the paper daily, was outraged and said he wanted to buy it. (The owners would not sell.) When Dixie Beer, a local brewery, never recovered after damages following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Benson bought the brewery and revived it in ’17; the beer is now available in select locations throughout the state. Benson and his wife Gayle donated $7.5 million towards Tulane University’s football stadium, and the field is named in his honor.</p><p>There was a time, post-Katrina, when the NFL feared Benson would try to move the team to a more lucrative market in San Antonio. History has never been unanimous in whether Benson would have moved the team had the NFL not stepped in, and many inside the league feel commissioner Paul Tagliabue saved the Saints for New Orleans. But when the Saints returned to a refurbished Superdome in 2006, Benson soon was all-in. He approved spending $60 million for new coach Sean Payton to buy a quarterback coming off shoulder surgery—Drew Brees. The rest is Saints history.</p><p>One more thing about Benson—he was exceedingly loyal to Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. When Payton came under fire during the Bountygate scandal in 2012, Benson stood behind Peyton unflinchingly. In the spring of 2012, Benson accompanied Payton to the NFL offices for a meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell. It was clear Goodell intended to discipline Payton heavily, but Benson defended his coach, even after the coach was suspended for the entirety of that season. The Saints owner earned a lifetime of gratitude from Payton.</p><p>Benson’s children challenged the ownership of the Saints and certainly now that will be in question, <a href="https://twitter.com/Saints/status/974412426002227200" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:though the franchise insists that Benson’s wife, Gayle, will take over ownership of the team" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">though the franchise insists that Benson’s wife, Gayle, will take over ownership of the team</a>. I was told Thursday evening that it is likely Gayle will win any legal battles over the ownership of the Saints. She understands how a football franchise works. She better understands civic love.</p>
Tom Benson Leaves Behind a Lasting Impact on the City of New Orleans

Tom Benson loved the New Orleans Saints, but even more he loved the city of New Orleans.

Benson, who died Thursday after a month-long battle with the flu at 90 years old, was a cheerleader for his battered and beloved city. When I think of Benson, in fact, I don’t think of his 33-year reign as Saints owner. I think of his impact on the city of New Orleans. You could quibble with some of his football decisions over the years—the time he gave all power over football decision-making to head coach Mike Ditka in 1997, who then traded every draft pick to select Ricky Williams in 1999, comes to mind—but you cannot question his his affection for where he was born and schooled.

Benson bought the Saints for $70 million in 1985—a time when locals feared the team was on the verge of moving to Phoenix or Jacksonville. He insisted on highlighting aspects of the state on the New Orleans uniform, including prominently featuring the fleur de lis.

“Why not?” Benson once said. “I’m proud of where I come from.”

How proud? When the beloved Times-Picayune announced it would cease being a daily paper in 2012, Benson, who read the paper daily, was outraged and said he wanted to buy it. (The owners would not sell.) When Dixie Beer, a local brewery, never recovered after damages following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Benson bought the brewery and revived it in ’17; the beer is now available in select locations throughout the state. Benson and his wife Gayle donated $7.5 million towards Tulane University’s football stadium, and the field is named in his honor.

There was a time, post-Katrina, when the NFL feared Benson would try to move the team to a more lucrative market in San Antonio. History has never been unanimous in whether Benson would have moved the team had the NFL not stepped in, and many inside the league feel commissioner Paul Tagliabue saved the Saints for New Orleans. But when the Saints returned to a refurbished Superdome in 2006, Benson soon was all-in. He approved spending $60 million for new coach Sean Payton to buy a quarterback coming off shoulder surgery—Drew Brees. The rest is Saints history.

One more thing about Benson—he was exceedingly loyal to Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. When Payton came under fire during the Bountygate scandal in 2012, Benson stood behind Peyton unflinchingly. In the spring of 2012, Benson accompanied Payton to the NFL offices for a meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell. It was clear Goodell intended to discipline Payton heavily, but Benson defended his coach, even after the coach was suspended for the entirety of that season. The Saints owner earned a lifetime of gratitude from Payton.

Benson’s children challenged the ownership of the Saints and certainly now that will be in question, though the franchise insists that Benson’s wife, Gayle, will take over ownership of the team. I was told Thursday evening that it is likely Gayle will win any legal battles over the ownership of the Saints. She understands how a football franchise works. She better understands civic love.

<p>Tom Benson loved the New Orleans Saints, but even more he loved the city of New Orleans.</p><p>Benson, who died Thursday after a month-long battle with the flu at 90 years old, was a cheerleader for his battered and beloved city. When I think of Benson, in fact, I don’t think of his 33-year reign as Saints owner. I think of his impact on the city of New Orleans. You could quibble with some of his football decisions over the years—the time he gave all power over football decision-making to head coach Mike Ditka in 1997, who then traded every draft pick to select Ricky Williams in 1999, comes to mind—but you cannot question his his affection for where he was born and schooled.</p><p>Benson bought the Saints for $70 million in 1985—a time when locals feared the team was on the verge of moving to Phoenix or Jacksonville. He insisted on highlighting aspects of the state on the New Orleans uniform, including prominently featuring the fleur de lis.</p><p>“Why not?” Benson once said. “I’m proud of where I come from.”</p><p>How proud? When the beloved <em>Times-Picayune</em> announced it would cease being a daily paper in 2012, Benson, who read the paper daily, was outraged and said he wanted to buy it. (The owners would not sell.) When Dixie Beer, a local brewery, never recovered after damages following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Benson bought the brewery and revived it in ’17; the beer is now available in select locations throughout the state. Benson and his wife Gayle donated $7.5 million towards Tulane University’s football stadium, and the field is named in his honor.</p><p>There was a time, post-Katrina, when the NFL feared Benson would try to move the team to a more lucrative market in San Antonio. History has never been unanimous in whether Benson would have moved the team had the NFL not stepped in, and many inside the league feel commissioner Paul Tagliabue saved the Saints for New Orleans. But when the Saints returned to a refurbished Superdome in 2006, Benson soon was all-in. He approved spending $60 million for new coach Sean Payton to buy a quarterback coming off shoulder surgery—Drew Brees. The rest is Saints history.</p><p>One more thing about Benson—he was exceedingly loyal to Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. When Payton came under fire during the Bountygate scandal in 2012, Benson stood behind Peyton unflinchingly. In the spring of 2012, Benson accompanied Payton to the NFL offices for a meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell. It was clear Goodell intended to discipline Payton heavily, but Benson defended his coach, even after the coach was suspended for the entirety of that season. The Saints owner earned a lifetime of gratitude from Payton.</p><p>Benson’s children challenged the ownership of the Saints and certainly now that will be in question, <a href="https://twitter.com/Saints/status/974412426002227200" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:though the franchise insists that Benson’s wife, Gayle, will take over ownership of the team" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">though the franchise insists that Benson’s wife, Gayle, will take over ownership of the team</a>. I was told Thursday evening that it is likely Gayle will win any legal battles over the ownership of the Saints. She understands how a football franchise works. She better understands civic love.</p>
Tom Benson Leaves Behind a Lasting Impact on the City of New Orleans

Tom Benson loved the New Orleans Saints, but even more he loved the city of New Orleans.

Benson, who died Thursday after a month-long battle with the flu at 90 years old, was a cheerleader for his battered and beloved city. When I think of Benson, in fact, I don’t think of his 33-year reign as Saints owner. I think of his impact on the city of New Orleans. You could quibble with some of his football decisions over the years—the time he gave all power over football decision-making to head coach Mike Ditka in 1997, who then traded every draft pick to select Ricky Williams in 1999, comes to mind—but you cannot question his his affection for where he was born and schooled.

Benson bought the Saints for $70 million in 1985—a time when locals feared the team was on the verge of moving to Phoenix or Jacksonville. He insisted on highlighting aspects of the state on the New Orleans uniform, including prominently featuring the fleur de lis.

“Why not?” Benson once said. “I’m proud of where I come from.”

How proud? When the beloved Times-Picayune announced it would cease being a daily paper in 2012, Benson, who read the paper daily, was outraged and said he wanted to buy it. (The owners would not sell.) When Dixie Beer, a local brewery, never recovered after damages following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Benson bought the brewery and revived it in ’17; the beer is now available in select locations throughout the state. Benson and his wife Gayle donated $7.5 million towards Tulane University’s football stadium, and the field is named in his honor.

There was a time, post-Katrina, when the NFL feared Benson would try to move the team to a more lucrative market in San Antonio. History has never been unanimous in whether Benson would have moved the team had the NFL not stepped in, and many inside the league feel commissioner Paul Tagliabue saved the Saints for New Orleans. But when the Saints returned to a refurbished Superdome in 2006, Benson soon was all-in. He approved spending $60 million for new coach Sean Payton to buy a quarterback coming off shoulder surgery—Drew Brees. The rest is Saints history.

One more thing about Benson—he was exceedingly loyal to Payton and Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. When Payton came under fire during the Bountygate scandal in 2012, Benson stood behind Peyton unflinchingly. In the spring of 2012, Benson accompanied Payton to the NFL offices for a meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell. It was clear Goodell intended to discipline Payton heavily, but Benson defended his coach, even after the coach was suspended for the entirety of that season. The Saints owner earned a lifetime of gratitude from Payton.

Benson’s children challenged the ownership of the Saints and certainly now that will be in question, though the franchise insists that Benson’s wife, Gayle, will take over ownership of the team. I was told Thursday evening that it is likely Gayle will win any legal battles over the ownership of the Saints. She understands how a football franchise works. She better understands civic love.

New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson looks on during the first half of a NFL game against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 3, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP Photo/Sean Gardner)
New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson looks on during the first half of a NFL game against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 3, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans Saints Owner Tom Benson looks on during the first half of a NFL game against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 3, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP Photo/Sean Gardner)
<p>It was a frigid Saturday morning on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The temperature that day—March 27, 1999—was 28 degrees with a wind chill in the teens, and USC’s baseball team was in town for a three-game series. The first game on Friday night was snowed out, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader on Saturday. WSU coach Steve Farrington instructed the team to arrive early in the morning … to clear the snow off the field in time for the noon start.</p><p>Farrington drove his pickup truck onto the field, and the players used shovels to haul the snow off of the infield and into the bed of his truck. When the bed was full, Farrington drove beyond the right-field fence and dumped the snow out. This snow-removal process lasted longer than an hour, all so the Cougers could open their Pac-10 season on time against the perennially powerful Trojans.</p><p>“I was a student at Washington State, calling the baseball games on the radio,” says Derek Deis, now a news anchor in nearby Spokane at KXLY TV. “It would be hard to forget that day. We have cold days in late March, and snow, but that day was brutal.”</p><p>The teams placed torpedo heaters by their benches, but they did hardly anything to cut the cold. When the Trojans showed up at the field around 10:30 a.m. for the twinbill, the weather was so harsh that most of the players had never dealt with anything like this before. But if USC turned around and went home, the games would still have to be replayed later that season—and the last thing the Trojans wanted was a return trip to this faraway outpost in eastern Washington.</p><p>USC’s starting pitcher in the first game was crafty southpaw Barry Zito. In 11 weeks, Barry Zito would be drafted by Oakland as the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. In three years, Zito would win the American League Cy Young Award. But today he was just another Trojan wondering why God put him in the tundra.</p><p>“All I remember thinking was, ‘What am I doing here?’” Zito said recently—he’s a songwriter living in Nashville now, a world away from his baseball life.</p><p>“But I recall that game. I remember it well. I was just talking about the game, in fact. It got really cold in Nashville, and I said it’s nothing like that day I pitched a game and it was 28 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill, something like that. I remember … we went out bought thermals there. I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals. Our bus pulled up to the field. It was a little bandbox. And I remember sitting on that bus down the left-field line, trying to prepare self mentally. I remember I pitched pretty well, in spite of the cold. I think we won, like, 2–1.”</p><p>“No,” Zito was told. “It was 6–5.”</p><p>“Wow,” he said. “I don’t remember giving up that many runs too often that season. But I guess I can see it. That place, seriously, was a total bandbox—small, and the air was so thin there.”</p><p>Eighteen years later the memories were coming back to Zito.</p><p>“That was a crazy game,” he said. “I actually broke my catcher’s thumb, Eric Munson. He was coming out in the [MLB] draft too, and I was afraid I hurt his chances and he might get picked lower because of that. I threw a fastball, he was expecting a curve. Thank God he was still the third pick.</p><p>“But that day was a transformation pitching experience for me. Never before in my life did I pitch in a game where it was below freezing. And never after—not in Detroit or Cleveland, anywhere.”</p><p>Washington State’s team, in a show of bravado, played in short sleeves. USC scored twice in the first inning, and WSU got one back in the bottom of the first. The scored stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when it started snowing again. There was a 15-minute delay while the snow squall blew over Pullman.</p><p>“I think I stayed in the dugout, by the heater,” Zito said. “Most of the guys went on the bus, but I didn’t want to lose focus. I didn’t want to lose my groove. I think I was pitching pretty well.”</p><p>In the bottom of the fifth, after the snow stopped, the Cougars’ wiry center-fielder came to the plate to face the wily Zito. A lefty batter, the senior struck out his first time up.</p><p>“I do remember giving up a home run that day,” Zito said.</p><p>The center-fielder recalls the home run, vaguely. He thinks it was a fastball, “given the wicked nature of Zito’s curve.”</p><p>“I do remember contact, and I remember the ball clearing the wall in right-center,” Steve Gleason said.</p><p>Zito vaguely recalls the name Steve Gleason, but he does not know the story....</p><p>A Saints’ special-teams player, Gleason memorably blocked a punt in New Orleans’s first game after Hurricane Katrina at the Superdome in 2006, morphing into a symbol of the city’s pluck and recovery. Gleason retired from the NFL in 2008 and settled in New Orleans, marrying a local girl, Michel Varisco. But in 2011 he announced that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease currently with no cure. <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/07/27/steve-gleason-documentary-als-new-orleans-saints" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Gleason, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016." class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>Gleason</em>, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016.</a> The disease has robbed him of all ability to move, and he spends his time, mostly, as a national leader in the fight against ALS and the search for a cure—and thanks to technology, Gleason answered the questions for this story by typing with his eyes on the laptop on his mechanized wheelchair.</p><p>“That is crazy, man,” Zito said. “I am going to have to learn about Steve.”</p><p>“When you’re a college kid, you didn’t know that Barry Zito and Steve Gleason were going to become Barry Zito and Steve Gleason,” says Deis, the play-by-play man and a WSU senior at the time. “But I can tell you, at that time, Steve Gleason was the man on campus. Phenomenal athlete for guy his size. The first game I saw my freshman year, playing Montana, he made a tackle and I thought he killed the guy. That became par for the course with Gleas. He just laid the wood to so many guys. On the baseball field, he played with reckless abandon.’’</p><p>At 5&#39; 11&quot; and 210 pounds, Gleason was light for a linebacker, but just right for a center-fielder. But he had a better chance to be a pro linebacker than baseball player, so that’s the direction he took.</p><p>“In high school, I planned to play both sports, because I figured that my size would not allow me to be an NFL linebacker,” Gleason typed via his eyes. “I loved baseball. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with either sport. I didn’t really watch either sport super closely. The first NFL game I watched live, was the first NFL game I played in.</p><p>“As things played out in college, I was just better at football. I figured I would give the NFL a shot, rather than toil in the minor leagues for a few years. Comparing my experience with both sports, the atmosphere, travel logistics, and nature of baseball is so much more fun. Baseball teams are on the road all the time. The goal is to keep things fun and relaxed. Before, during, and after the games the idea is to keep things loose, so guys are always goofing around, making up games, filling time. We’d go on nine-day road trips every year during spring break—Hawaii, California, Texas, Arizona.</p><p>“Football is more like a business meeting, or a business trip. Everyone has game plans and binders on the plane. Road trips are typically 36 hours, or less. Before games, guys are trying to get psyched up rather than relax. They’re going to battle. Although I only worked on baseball a few months a year, I think the biggest difference for me is, in football, I felt like I could just out-think, work harder and try harder than the next guy to be successful. In baseball, in many ways, the more you try and the more you think, the worse things go.”</p><p>But that day in eastern Washington, this was just another baseball game—in freezing conditions.</p><p>“I didn’t realize that Barry was such an elite pitcher, so I guess it wasn’t something that was a big deal,” Gleason typed. “I wasn’t a stats guy—still not—and at that point, I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn’t follow MLB baseball really at all. I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn’t realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago.</p><p>“After I retired, I caught several Cubs games at Wrigley, but didn’t really get back into baseball until a few years ago when [Steve’s and Michel’s son] Rivers started playing. It’s such a great sport. In fact, Michel and Rivers and I watch maybe 80-100 MLB games a year with the MLB app on Apple TV, and we have season tickets at Tulane, where I got my MBA. Baseball—helping coach Rivers and watching at any level—has been one of the things that has flourished, despite my physical decline from ALS.</p><p>“We started a new project last fall, the Gleason Life Skills Sports Clinics. The clinics teach the essential skills to succeed in athletics, but also the essential skills to succeed in life. Our first two clinics have been baseball.”</p><p>Zito had no idea why someone wanted to reach him to talk about a college home run he gave up on a 28-degree day in eastern Washington 18 years ago, in a nine-inning complete game, in which he threw 148 pitches and struck out 14. He’s damn proud of the game. But at the end of the conversation, he sounded damn glad he gave up the home run, just because it let him get to know someone in a different, important world.</p><p>“Sounds like an incredible man,” Zito said of Gleason. “I want to get familiar with him. What a story.”</p>
Why One Home Run That Barry Zito Gave Up in College Now Stands Above the Rest

It was a frigid Saturday morning on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The temperature that day—March 27, 1999—was 28 degrees with a wind chill in the teens, and USC’s baseball team was in town for a three-game series. The first game on Friday night was snowed out, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader on Saturday. WSU coach Steve Farrington instructed the team to arrive early in the morning … to clear the snow off the field in time for the noon start.

Farrington drove his pickup truck onto the field, and the players used shovels to haul the snow off of the infield and into the bed of his truck. When the bed was full, Farrington drove beyond the right-field fence and dumped the snow out. This snow-removal process lasted longer than an hour, all so the Cougers could open their Pac-10 season on time against the perennially powerful Trojans.

“I was a student at Washington State, calling the baseball games on the radio,” says Derek Deis, now a news anchor in nearby Spokane at KXLY TV. “It would be hard to forget that day. We have cold days in late March, and snow, but that day was brutal.”

The teams placed torpedo heaters by their benches, but they did hardly anything to cut the cold. When the Trojans showed up at the field around 10:30 a.m. for the twinbill, the weather was so harsh that most of the players had never dealt with anything like this before. But if USC turned around and went home, the games would still have to be replayed later that season—and the last thing the Trojans wanted was a return trip to this faraway outpost in eastern Washington.

USC’s starting pitcher in the first game was crafty southpaw Barry Zito. In 11 weeks, Barry Zito would be drafted by Oakland as the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. In three years, Zito would win the American League Cy Young Award. But today he was just another Trojan wondering why God put him in the tundra.

“All I remember thinking was, ‘What am I doing here?’” Zito said recently—he’s a songwriter living in Nashville now, a world away from his baseball life.

“But I recall that game. I remember it well. I was just talking about the game, in fact. It got really cold in Nashville, and I said it’s nothing like that day I pitched a game and it was 28 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill, something like that. I remember … we went out bought thermals there. I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals. Our bus pulled up to the field. It was a little bandbox. And I remember sitting on that bus down the left-field line, trying to prepare self mentally. I remember I pitched pretty well, in spite of the cold. I think we won, like, 2–1.”

“No,” Zito was told. “It was 6–5.”

“Wow,” he said. “I don’t remember giving up that many runs too often that season. But I guess I can see it. That place, seriously, was a total bandbox—small, and the air was so thin there.”

Eighteen years later the memories were coming back to Zito.

“That was a crazy game,” he said. “I actually broke my catcher’s thumb, Eric Munson. He was coming out in the [MLB] draft too, and I was afraid I hurt his chances and he might get picked lower because of that. I threw a fastball, he was expecting a curve. Thank God he was still the third pick.

“But that day was a transformation pitching experience for me. Never before in my life did I pitch in a game where it was below freezing. And never after—not in Detroit or Cleveland, anywhere.”

Washington State’s team, in a show of bravado, played in short sleeves. USC scored twice in the first inning, and WSU got one back in the bottom of the first. The scored stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when it started snowing again. There was a 15-minute delay while the snow squall blew over Pullman.

“I think I stayed in the dugout, by the heater,” Zito said. “Most of the guys went on the bus, but I didn’t want to lose focus. I didn’t want to lose my groove. I think I was pitching pretty well.”

In the bottom of the fifth, after the snow stopped, the Cougars’ wiry center-fielder came to the plate to face the wily Zito. A lefty batter, the senior struck out his first time up.

“I do remember giving up a home run that day,” Zito said.

The center-fielder recalls the home run, vaguely. He thinks it was a fastball, “given the wicked nature of Zito’s curve.”

“I do remember contact, and I remember the ball clearing the wall in right-center,” Steve Gleason said.

Zito vaguely recalls the name Steve Gleason, but he does not know the story....

A Saints’ special-teams player, Gleason memorably blocked a punt in New Orleans’s first game after Hurricane Katrina at the Superdome in 2006, morphing into a symbol of the city’s pluck and recovery. Gleason retired from the NFL in 2008 and settled in New Orleans, marrying a local girl, Michel Varisco. But in 2011 he announced that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease currently with no cure. Gleason, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016. The disease has robbed him of all ability to move, and he spends his time, mostly, as a national leader in the fight against ALS and the search for a cure—and thanks to technology, Gleason answered the questions for this story by typing with his eyes on the laptop on his mechanized wheelchair.

“That is crazy, man,” Zito said. “I am going to have to learn about Steve.”

“When you’re a college kid, you didn’t know that Barry Zito and Steve Gleason were going to become Barry Zito and Steve Gleason,” says Deis, the play-by-play man and a WSU senior at the time. “But I can tell you, at that time, Steve Gleason was the man on campus. Phenomenal athlete for guy his size. The first game I saw my freshman year, playing Montana, he made a tackle and I thought he killed the guy. That became par for the course with Gleas. He just laid the wood to so many guys. On the baseball field, he played with reckless abandon.’’

At 5' 11" and 210 pounds, Gleason was light for a linebacker, but just right for a center-fielder. But he had a better chance to be a pro linebacker than baseball player, so that’s the direction he took.

“In high school, I planned to play both sports, because I figured that my size would not allow me to be an NFL linebacker,” Gleason typed via his eyes. “I loved baseball. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with either sport. I didn’t really watch either sport super closely. The first NFL game I watched live, was the first NFL game I played in.

“As things played out in college, I was just better at football. I figured I would give the NFL a shot, rather than toil in the minor leagues for a few years. Comparing my experience with both sports, the atmosphere, travel logistics, and nature of baseball is so much more fun. Baseball teams are on the road all the time. The goal is to keep things fun and relaxed. Before, during, and after the games the idea is to keep things loose, so guys are always goofing around, making up games, filling time. We’d go on nine-day road trips every year during spring break—Hawaii, California, Texas, Arizona.

“Football is more like a business meeting, or a business trip. Everyone has game plans and binders on the plane. Road trips are typically 36 hours, or less. Before games, guys are trying to get psyched up rather than relax. They’re going to battle. Although I only worked on baseball a few months a year, I think the biggest difference for me is, in football, I felt like I could just out-think, work harder and try harder than the next guy to be successful. In baseball, in many ways, the more you try and the more you think, the worse things go.”

But that day in eastern Washington, this was just another baseball game—in freezing conditions.

“I didn’t realize that Barry was such an elite pitcher, so I guess it wasn’t something that was a big deal,” Gleason typed. “I wasn’t a stats guy—still not—and at that point, I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn’t follow MLB baseball really at all. I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn’t realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago.

“After I retired, I caught several Cubs games at Wrigley, but didn’t really get back into baseball until a few years ago when [Steve’s and Michel’s son] Rivers started playing. It’s such a great sport. In fact, Michel and Rivers and I watch maybe 80-100 MLB games a year with the MLB app on Apple TV, and we have season tickets at Tulane, where I got my MBA. Baseball—helping coach Rivers and watching at any level—has been one of the things that has flourished, despite my physical decline from ALS.

“We started a new project last fall, the Gleason Life Skills Sports Clinics. The clinics teach the essential skills to succeed in athletics, but also the essential skills to succeed in life. Our first two clinics have been baseball.”

Zito had no idea why someone wanted to reach him to talk about a college home run he gave up on a 28-degree day in eastern Washington 18 years ago, in a nine-inning complete game, in which he threw 148 pitches and struck out 14. He’s damn proud of the game. But at the end of the conversation, he sounded damn glad he gave up the home run, just because it let him get to know someone in a different, important world.

“Sounds like an incredible man,” Zito said of Gleason. “I want to get familiar with him. What a story.”

<p>It was a frigid Saturday morning on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The temperature that day—March 27, 1999—was 28 degrees with a wind chill in the teens, and USC’s baseball team was in town for a three-game series. The first game on Friday night was snowed out, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader on Saturday. WSU coach Steve Farrington instructed the team to arrive early in the morning … to clear the snow off the field in time for the noon start.</p><p>Farrington drove his pickup truck onto the field, and the players used shovels to haul the snow off of the infield and into the bed of his truck. When the bed was full, Farrington drove beyond the right-field fence and dumped the snow out. This snow-removal process lasted longer than an hour, all so the Cougers could open their Pac-10 season on time against the perennially powerful Trojans.</p><p>“I was a student at Washington State, calling the baseball games on the radio,” says Derek Deis, now a news anchor in nearby Spokane at KXLY TV. “It would be hard to forget that day. We have cold days in late March, and snow, but that day was brutal.”</p><p>The teams placed torpedo heaters by their benches, but they did hardly anything to cut the cold. When the Trojans showed up at the field around 10:30 a.m. for the twinbill, the weather was so harsh that most of the players had never dealt with anything like this before. But if USC turned around and went home, the games would still have to be replayed later that season—and the last thing the Trojans wanted was a return trip to this faraway outpost in eastern Washington.</p><p>USC’s starting pitcher in the first game was crafty southpaw Barry Zito. In 11 weeks, Barry Zito would be drafted by Oakland as the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. In three years, Zito would win the American League Cy Young Award. But today he was just another Trojan wondering why God put him in the tundra.</p><p>“All I remember thinking was, ‘What am I doing here?’” Zito said recently—he’s a songwriter living in Nashville now, a world away from his baseball life.</p><p>“But I recall that game. I remember it well. I was just talking about the game, in fact. It got really cold in Nashville, and I said it’s nothing like that day I pitched a game and it was 28 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill, something like that. I remember … we went out bought thermals there. I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals. Our bus pulled up to the field. It was a little bandbox. And I remember sitting on that bus down the left-field line, trying to prepare self mentally. I remember I pitched pretty well, in spite of the cold. I think we won, like, 2–1.”</p><p>“No,” Zito was told. “It was 6–5.”</p><p>“Wow,” he said. “I don’t remember giving up that many runs too often that season. But I guess I can see it. That place, seriously, was a total bandbox—small, and the air was so thin there.”</p><p>Eighteen years later the memories were coming back to Zito.</p><p>“That was a crazy game,” he said. “I actually broke my catcher’s thumb, Eric Munson. He was coming out in the [MLB] draft too, and I was afraid I hurt his chances and he might get picked lower because of that. I threw a fastball, he was expecting a curve. Thank God he was still the third pick.</p><p>“But that day was a transformation pitching experience for me. Never before in my life did I pitch in a game where it was below freezing. And never after—not in Detroit or Cleveland, anywhere.”</p><p>Washington State’s team, in a show of bravado, played in short sleeves. USC scored twice in the first inning, and WSU got one back in the bottom of the first. The scored stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when it started snowing again. There was a 15-minute delay while the snow squall blew over Pullman.</p><p>“I think I stayed in the dugout, by the heater,” Zito said. “Most of the guys went on the bus, but I didn’t want to lose focus. I didn’t want to lose my groove. I think I was pitching pretty well.”</p><p>In the bottom of the fifth, after the snow stopped, the Cougars’ wiry center-fielder came to the plate to face the wily Zito. A lefty batter, the senior struck out his first time up.</p><p>“I do remember giving up a home run that day,” Zito said.</p><p>The center-fielder recalls the home run, vaguely. He thinks it was a fastball, “given the wicked nature of Zito’s curve.”</p><p>“I do remember contact, and I remember the ball clearing the wall in right-center,” Steve Gleason said.</p><p>Zito vaguely recalls the name Steve Gleason, but he does not know the story....</p><p>A Saints’ special-teams player, Gleason memorably blocked a punt in New Orleans’s first game after Hurricane Katrina at the Superdome in 2006, morphing into a symbol of the city’s pluck and recovery. Gleason retired from the NFL in 2008 and settled in New Orleans, marrying a local girl, Michel Varisco. But in 2011 he announced that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease currently with no cure. <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/07/27/steve-gleason-documentary-als-new-orleans-saints" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Gleason, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016." class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>Gleason</em>, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016.</a> The disease has robbed him of all ability to move, and he spends his time, mostly, as a national leader in the fight against ALS and the search for a cure—and thanks to technology, Gleason answered the questions for this story by typing with his eyes on the laptop on his mechanized wheelchair.</p><p>“That is crazy, man,” Zito said. “I am going to have to learn about Steve.”</p><p>“When you’re a college kid, you didn’t know that Barry Zito and Steve Gleason were going to become Barry Zito and Steve Gleason,” says Deis, the play-by-play man and a WSU senior at the time. “But I can tell you, at that time, Steve Gleason was the man on campus. Phenomenal athlete for guy his size. The first game I saw my freshman year, playing Montana, he made a tackle and I thought he killed the guy. That became par for the course with Gleas. He just laid the wood to so many guys. On the baseball field, he played with reckless abandon.’’</p><p>At 5&#39; 11&quot; and 210 pounds, Gleason was light for a linebacker, but just right for a center-fielder. But he had a better chance to be a pro linebacker than baseball player, so that’s the direction he took.</p><p>“In high school, I planned to play both sports, because I figured that my size would not allow me to be an NFL linebacker,” Gleason typed via his eyes. “I loved baseball. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with either sport. I didn’t really watch either sport super closely. The first NFL game I watched live, was the first NFL game I played in.</p><p>“As things played out in college, I was just better at football. I figured I would give the NFL a shot, rather than toil in the minor leagues for a few years. Comparing my experience with both sports, the atmosphere, travel logistics, and nature of baseball is so much more fun. Baseball teams are on the road all the time. The goal is to keep things fun and relaxed. Before, during, and after the games the idea is to keep things loose, so guys are always goofing around, making up games, filling time. We’d go on nine-day road trips every year during spring break—Hawaii, California, Texas, Arizona.</p><p>“Football is more like a business meeting, or a business trip. Everyone has game plans and binders on the plane. Road trips are typically 36 hours, or less. Before games, guys are trying to get psyched up rather than relax. They’re going to battle. Although I only worked on baseball a few months a year, I think the biggest difference for me is, in football, I felt like I could just out-think, work harder and try harder than the next guy to be successful. In baseball, in many ways, the more you try and the more you think, the worse things go.”</p><p>But that day in eastern Washington, this was just another baseball game—in freezing conditions.</p><p>“I didn’t realize that Barry was such an elite pitcher, so I guess it wasn’t something that was a big deal,” Gleason typed. “I wasn’t a stats guy—still not—and at that point, I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn’t follow MLB baseball really at all. I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn’t realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago.</p><p>“After I retired, I caught several Cubs games at Wrigley, but didn’t really get back into baseball until a few years ago when [Steve’s and Michel’s son] Rivers started playing. It’s such a great sport. In fact, Michel and Rivers and I watch maybe 80-100 MLB games a year with the MLB app on Apple TV, and we have season tickets at Tulane, where I got my MBA. Baseball—helping coach Rivers and watching at any level—has been one of the things that has flourished, despite my physical decline from ALS.</p><p>“We started a new project last fall, the Gleason Life Skills Sports Clinics. The clinics teach the essential skills to succeed in athletics, but also the essential skills to succeed in life. Our first two clinics have been baseball.”</p><p>Zito had no idea why someone wanted to reach him to talk about a college home run he gave up on a 28-degree day in eastern Washington 18 years ago, in a nine-inning complete game, in which he threw 148 pitches and struck out 14. He’s damn proud of the game. But at the end of the conversation, he sounded damn glad he gave up the home run, just because it let him get to know someone in a different, important world.</p><p>“Sounds like an incredible man,” Zito said of Gleason. “I want to get familiar with him. What a story.”</p>
Why One Home Run That Barry Zito Gave Up in College Now Stands Above the Rest

It was a frigid Saturday morning on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The temperature that day—March 27, 1999—was 28 degrees with a wind chill in the teens, and USC’s baseball team was in town for a three-game series. The first game on Friday night was snowed out, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader on Saturday. WSU coach Steve Farrington instructed the team to arrive early in the morning … to clear the snow off the field in time for the noon start.

Farrington drove his pickup truck onto the field, and the players used shovels to haul the snow off of the infield and into the bed of his truck. When the bed was full, Farrington drove beyond the right-field fence and dumped the snow out. This snow-removal process lasted longer than an hour, all so the Cougers could open their Pac-10 season on time against the perennially powerful Trojans.

“I was a student at Washington State, calling the baseball games on the radio,” says Derek Deis, now a news anchor in nearby Spokane at KXLY TV. “It would be hard to forget that day. We have cold days in late March, and snow, but that day was brutal.”

The teams placed torpedo heaters by their benches, but they did hardly anything to cut the cold. When the Trojans showed up at the field around 10:30 a.m. for the twinbill, the weather was so harsh that most of the players had never dealt with anything like this before. But if USC turned around and went home, the games would still have to be replayed later that season—and the last thing the Trojans wanted was a return trip to this faraway outpost in eastern Washington.

USC’s starting pitcher in the first game was crafty southpaw Barry Zito. In 11 weeks, Barry Zito would be drafted by Oakland as the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. In three years, Zito would win the American League Cy Young Award. But today he was just another Trojan wondering why God put him in the tundra.

“All I remember thinking was, ‘What am I doing here?’” Zito said recently—he’s a songwriter living in Nashville now, a world away from his baseball life.

“But I recall that game. I remember it well. I was just talking about the game, in fact. It got really cold in Nashville, and I said it’s nothing like that day I pitched a game and it was 28 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill, something like that. I remember … we went out bought thermals there. I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals. Our bus pulled up to the field. It was a little bandbox. And I remember sitting on that bus down the left-field line, trying to prepare self mentally. I remember I pitched pretty well, in spite of the cold. I think we won, like, 2–1.”

“No,” Zito was told. “It was 6–5.”

“Wow,” he said. “I don’t remember giving up that many runs too often that season. But I guess I can see it. That place, seriously, was a total bandbox—small, and the air was so thin there.”

Eighteen years later the memories were coming back to Zito.

“That was a crazy game,” he said. “I actually broke my catcher’s thumb, Eric Munson. He was coming out in the [MLB] draft too, and I was afraid I hurt his chances and he might get picked lower because of that. I threw a fastball, he was expecting a curve. Thank God he was still the third pick.

“But that day was a transformation pitching experience for me. Never before in my life did I pitch in a game where it was below freezing. And never after—not in Detroit or Cleveland, anywhere.”

Washington State’s team, in a show of bravado, played in short sleeves. USC scored twice in the first inning, and WSU got one back in the bottom of the first. The scored stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when it started snowing again. There was a 15-minute delay while the snow squall blew over Pullman.

“I think I stayed in the dugout, by the heater,” Zito said. “Most of the guys went on the bus, but I didn’t want to lose focus. I didn’t want to lose my groove. I think I was pitching pretty well.”

In the bottom of the fifth, after the snow stopped, the Cougars’ wiry center-fielder came to the plate to face the wily Zito. A lefty batter, the senior struck out his first time up.

“I do remember giving up a home run that day,” Zito said.

The center-fielder recalls the home run, vaguely. He thinks it was a fastball, “given the wicked nature of Zito’s curve.”

“I do remember contact, and I remember the ball clearing the wall in right-center,” Steve Gleason said.

Zito vaguely recalls the name Steve Gleason, but he does not know the story....

A Saints’ special-teams player, Gleason memorably blocked a punt in New Orleans’s first game after Hurricane Katrina at the Superdome in 2006, morphing into a symbol of the city’s pluck and recovery. Gleason retired from the NFL in 2008 and settled in New Orleans, marrying a local girl, Michel Varisco. But in 2011 he announced that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease currently with no cure. Gleason, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016. The disease has robbed him of all ability to move, and he spends his time, mostly, as a national leader in the fight against ALS and the search for a cure—and thanks to technology, Gleason answered the questions for this story by typing with his eyes on the laptop on his mechanized wheelchair.

“That is crazy, man,” Zito said. “I am going to have to learn about Steve.”

“When you’re a college kid, you didn’t know that Barry Zito and Steve Gleason were going to become Barry Zito and Steve Gleason,” says Deis, the play-by-play man and a WSU senior at the time. “But I can tell you, at that time, Steve Gleason was the man on campus. Phenomenal athlete for guy his size. The first game I saw my freshman year, playing Montana, he made a tackle and I thought he killed the guy. That became par for the course with Gleas. He just laid the wood to so many guys. On the baseball field, he played with reckless abandon.’’

At 5' 11" and 210 pounds, Gleason was light for a linebacker, but just right for a center-fielder. But he had a better chance to be a pro linebacker than baseball player, so that’s the direction he took.

“In high school, I planned to play both sports, because I figured that my size would not allow me to be an NFL linebacker,” Gleason typed via his eyes. “I loved baseball. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with either sport. I didn’t really watch either sport super closely. The first NFL game I watched live, was the first NFL game I played in.

“As things played out in college, I was just better at football. I figured I would give the NFL a shot, rather than toil in the minor leagues for a few years. Comparing my experience with both sports, the atmosphere, travel logistics, and nature of baseball is so much more fun. Baseball teams are on the road all the time. The goal is to keep things fun and relaxed. Before, during, and after the games the idea is to keep things loose, so guys are always goofing around, making up games, filling time. We’d go on nine-day road trips every year during spring break—Hawaii, California, Texas, Arizona.

“Football is more like a business meeting, or a business trip. Everyone has game plans and binders on the plane. Road trips are typically 36 hours, or less. Before games, guys are trying to get psyched up rather than relax. They’re going to battle. Although I only worked on baseball a few months a year, I think the biggest difference for me is, in football, I felt like I could just out-think, work harder and try harder than the next guy to be successful. In baseball, in many ways, the more you try and the more you think, the worse things go.”

But that day in eastern Washington, this was just another baseball game—in freezing conditions.

“I didn’t realize that Barry was such an elite pitcher, so I guess it wasn’t something that was a big deal,” Gleason typed. “I wasn’t a stats guy—still not—and at that point, I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn’t follow MLB baseball really at all. I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn’t realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago.

“After I retired, I caught several Cubs games at Wrigley, but didn’t really get back into baseball until a few years ago when [Steve’s and Michel’s son] Rivers started playing. It’s such a great sport. In fact, Michel and Rivers and I watch maybe 80-100 MLB games a year with the MLB app on Apple TV, and we have season tickets at Tulane, where I got my MBA. Baseball—helping coach Rivers and watching at any level—has been one of the things that has flourished, despite my physical decline from ALS.

“We started a new project last fall, the Gleason Life Skills Sports Clinics. The clinics teach the essential skills to succeed in athletics, but also the essential skills to succeed in life. Our first two clinics have been baseball.”

Zito had no idea why someone wanted to reach him to talk about a college home run he gave up on a 28-degree day in eastern Washington 18 years ago, in a nine-inning complete game, in which he threw 148 pitches and struck out 14. He’s damn proud of the game. But at the end of the conversation, he sounded damn glad he gave up the home run, just because it let him get to know someone in a different, important world.

“Sounds like an incredible man,” Zito said of Gleason. “I want to get familiar with him. What a story.”

<p>It was a frigid Saturday morning on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The temperature that day—March 27, 1999—was 28 degrees with a wind chill in the teens, and USC’s baseball team was in town for a three-game series. The first game on Friday night was snowed out, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader on Saturday. WSU coach Steve Farrington instructed the team to arrive early in the morning … to clear the snow off the field in time for the noon start.</p><p>Farrington drove his pickup truck onto the field, and the players used shovels to haul the snow off of the infield and into the bed of his truck. When the bed was full, Farrington drove beyond the right-field fence and dumped the snow out. This snow-removal process lasted longer than an hour, all so the Cougers could open their Pac-10 season on time against the perennially powerful Trojans.</p><p>“I was a student at Washington State, calling the baseball games on the radio,” says Derek Deis, now a news anchor in nearby Spokane at KXLY TV. “It would be hard to forget that day. We have cold days in late March, and snow, but that day was brutal.”</p><p>The teams placed torpedo heaters by their benches, but they did hardly anything to cut the cold. When the Trojans showed up at the field around 10:30 a.m. for the twinbill, the weather was so harsh that most of the players had never dealt with anything like this before. But if USC turned around and went home, the games would still have to be replayed later that season—and the last thing the Trojans wanted was a return trip to this faraway outpost in eastern Washington.</p><p>USC’s starting pitcher in the first game was crafty southpaw Barry Zito. In 11 weeks, Barry Zito would be drafted by Oakland as the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. In three years, Zito would win the American League Cy Young Award. But today he was just another Trojan wondering why God put him in the tundra.</p><p>“All I remember thinking was, ‘What am I doing here?’” Zito said recently—he’s a songwriter living in Nashville now, a world away from his baseball life.</p><p>“But I recall that game. I remember it well. I was just talking about the game, in fact. It got really cold in Nashville, and I said it’s nothing like that day I pitched a game and it was 28 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill, something like that. I remember … we went out bought thermals there. I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals. Our bus pulled up to the field. It was a little bandbox. And I remember sitting on that bus down the left-field line, trying to prepare self mentally. I remember I pitched pretty well, in spite of the cold. I think we won, like, 2–1.”</p><p>“No,” Zito was told. “It was 6–5.”</p><p>“Wow,” he said. “I don’t remember giving up that many runs too often that season. But I guess I can see it. That place, seriously, was a total bandbox—small, and the air was so thin there.”</p><p>Eighteen years later the memories were coming back to Zito.</p><p>“That was a crazy game,” he said. “I actually broke my catcher’s thumb, Eric Munson. He was coming out in the [MLB] draft too, and I was afraid I hurt his chances and he might get picked lower because of that. I threw a fastball, he was expecting a curve. Thank God he was still the third pick.</p><p>“But that day was a transformation pitching experience for me. Never before in my life did I pitch in a game where it was below freezing. And never after—not in Detroit or Cleveland, anywhere.”</p><p>Washington State’s team, in a show of bravado, played in short sleeves. USC scored twice in the first inning, and WSU got one back in the bottom of the first. The scored stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when it started snowing again. There was a 15-minute delay while the snow squall blew over Pullman.</p><p>“I think I stayed in the dugout, by the heater,” Zito said. “Most of the guys went on the bus, but I didn’t want to lose focus. I didn’t want to lose my groove. I think I was pitching pretty well.”</p><p>In the bottom of the fifth, after the snow stopped, the Cougars’ wiry center-fielder came to the plate to face the wily Zito. A lefty batter, the senior struck out his first time up.</p><p>“I do remember giving up a home run that day,” Zito said.</p><p>The center-fielder recalls the home run, vaguely. He thinks it was a fastball, “given the wicked nature of Zito’s curve.”</p><p>“I do remember contact, and I remember the ball clearing the wall in right-center,” Steve Gleason said.</p><p>Zito vaguely recalls the name Steve Gleason, but he does not know the story....</p><p>A Saints’ special-teams player, Gleason memorably blocked a punt in New Orleans’s first game after Hurricane Katrina at the Superdome in 2006, morphing into a symbol of the city’s pluck and recovery. Gleason retired from the NFL in 2008 and settled in New Orleans, marrying a local girl, Michel Varisco. But in 2011 he announced that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease currently with no cure. <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/07/27/steve-gleason-documentary-als-new-orleans-saints" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Gleason, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016." class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>Gleason</em>, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016.</a> The disease has robbed him of all ability to move, and he spends his time, mostly, as a national leader in the fight against ALS and the search for a cure—and thanks to technology, Gleason answered the questions for this story by typing with his eyes on the laptop on his mechanized wheelchair.</p><p>“That is crazy, man,” Zito said. “I am going to have to learn about Steve.”</p><p>“When you’re a college kid, you didn’t know that Barry Zito and Steve Gleason were going to become Barry Zito and Steve Gleason,” says Deis, the play-by-play man and a WSU senior at the time. “But I can tell you, at that time, Steve Gleason was the man on campus. Phenomenal athlete for guy his size. The first game I saw my freshman year, playing Montana, he made a tackle and I thought he killed the guy. That became par for the course with Gleas. He just laid the wood to so many guys. On the baseball field, he played with reckless abandon.’’</p><p>At 5&#39; 11&quot; and 210 pounds, Gleason was light for a linebacker, but just right for a center-fielder. But he had a better chance to be a pro linebacker than baseball player, so that’s the direction he took.</p><p>“In high school, I planned to play both sports, because I figured that my size would not allow me to be an NFL linebacker,” Gleason typed via his eyes. “I loved baseball. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with either sport. I didn’t really watch either sport super closely. The first NFL game I watched live, was the first NFL game I played in.</p><p>“As things played out in college, I was just better at football. I figured I would give the NFL a shot, rather than toil in the minor leagues for a few years. Comparing my experience with both sports, the atmosphere, travel logistics, and nature of baseball is so much more fun. Baseball teams are on the road all the time. The goal is to keep things fun and relaxed. Before, during, and after the games the idea is to keep things loose, so guys are always goofing around, making up games, filling time. We’d go on nine-day road trips every year during spring break—Hawaii, California, Texas, Arizona.</p><p>“Football is more like a business meeting, or a business trip. Everyone has game plans and binders on the plane. Road trips are typically 36 hours, or less. Before games, guys are trying to get psyched up rather than relax. They’re going to battle. Although I only worked on baseball a few months a year, I think the biggest difference for me is, in football, I felt like I could just out-think, work harder and try harder than the next guy to be successful. In baseball, in many ways, the more you try and the more you think, the worse things go.”</p><p>But that day in eastern Washington, this was just another baseball game—in freezing conditions.</p><p>“I didn’t realize that Barry was such an elite pitcher, so I guess it wasn’t something that was a big deal,” Gleason typed. “I wasn’t a stats guy—still not—and at that point, I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn’t follow MLB baseball really at all. I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn’t realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago.</p><p>“After I retired, I caught several Cubs games at Wrigley, but didn’t really get back into baseball until a few years ago when [Steve’s and Michel’s son] Rivers started playing. It’s such a great sport. In fact, Michel and Rivers and I watch maybe 80-100 MLB games a year with the MLB app on Apple TV, and we have season tickets at Tulane, where I got my MBA. Baseball—helping coach Rivers and watching at any level—has been one of the things that has flourished, despite my physical decline from ALS.</p><p>“We started a new project last fall, the Gleason Life Skills Sports Clinics. The clinics teach the essential skills to succeed in athletics, but also the essential skills to succeed in life. Our first two clinics have been baseball.”</p><p>Zito had no idea why someone wanted to reach him to talk about a college home run he gave up on a 28-degree day in eastern Washington 18 years ago, in a nine-inning complete game, in which he threw 148 pitches and struck out 14. He’s damn proud of the game. But at the end of the conversation, he sounded damn glad he gave up the home run, just because it let him get to know someone in a different, important world.</p><p>“Sounds like an incredible man,” Zito said of Gleason. “I want to get familiar with him. What a story.”</p>
Why One Home Run That Barry Zito Gave Up in College Now Stands Above the Rest

It was a frigid Saturday morning on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The temperature that day—March 27, 1999—was 28 degrees with a wind chill in the teens, and USC’s baseball team was in town for a three-game series. The first game on Friday night was snowed out, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader on Saturday. WSU coach Steve Farrington instructed the team to arrive early in the morning … to clear the snow off the field in time for the noon start.

Farrington drove his pickup truck onto the field, and the players used shovels to haul the snow off of the infield and into the bed of his truck. When the bed was full, Farrington drove beyond the right-field fence and dumped the snow out. This snow-removal process lasted longer than an hour, all so the Cougers could open their Pac-10 season on time against the perennially powerful Trojans.

“I was a student at Washington State, calling the baseball games on the radio,” says Derek Deis, now a news anchor in nearby Spokane at KXLY TV. “It would be hard to forget that day. We have cold days in late March, and snow, but that day was brutal.”

The teams placed torpedo heaters by their benches, but they did hardly anything to cut the cold. When the Trojans showed up at the field around 10:30 a.m. for the twinbill, the weather was so harsh that most of the players had never dealt with anything like this before. But if USC turned around and went home, the games would still have to be replayed later that season—and the last thing the Trojans wanted was a return trip to this faraway outpost in eastern Washington.

USC’s starting pitcher in the first game was crafty southpaw Barry Zito. In 11 weeks, Barry Zito would be drafted by Oakland as the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. In three years, Zito would win the American League Cy Young Award. But today he was just another Trojan wondering why God put him in the tundra.

“All I remember thinking was, ‘What am I doing here?’” Zito said recently—he’s a songwriter living in Nashville now, a world away from his baseball life.

“But I recall that game. I remember it well. I was just talking about the game, in fact. It got really cold in Nashville, and I said it’s nothing like that day I pitched a game and it was 28 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill, something like that. I remember … we went out bought thermals there. I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals. Our bus pulled up to the field. It was a little bandbox. And I remember sitting on that bus down the left-field line, trying to prepare self mentally. I remember I pitched pretty well, in spite of the cold. I think we won, like, 2–1.”

“No,” Zito was told. “It was 6–5.”

“Wow,” he said. “I don’t remember giving up that many runs too often that season. But I guess I can see it. That place, seriously, was a total bandbox—small, and the air was so thin there.”

Eighteen years later the memories were coming back to Zito.

“That was a crazy game,” he said. “I actually broke my catcher’s thumb, Eric Munson. He was coming out in the [MLB] draft too, and I was afraid I hurt his chances and he might get picked lower because of that. I threw a fastball, he was expecting a curve. Thank God he was still the third pick.

“But that day was a transformation pitching experience for me. Never before in my life did I pitch in a game where it was below freezing. And never after—not in Detroit or Cleveland, anywhere.”

Washington State’s team, in a show of bravado, played in short sleeves. USC scored twice in the first inning, and WSU got one back in the bottom of the first. The scored stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when it started snowing again. There was a 15-minute delay while the snow squall blew over Pullman.

“I think I stayed in the dugout, by the heater,” Zito said. “Most of the guys went on the bus, but I didn’t want to lose focus. I didn’t want to lose my groove. I think I was pitching pretty well.”

In the bottom of the fifth, after the snow stopped, the Cougars’ wiry center-fielder came to the plate to face the wily Zito. A lefty batter, the senior struck out his first time up.

“I do remember giving up a home run that day,” Zito said.

The center-fielder recalls the home run, vaguely. He thinks it was a fastball, “given the wicked nature of Zito’s curve.”

“I do remember contact, and I remember the ball clearing the wall in right-center,” Steve Gleason said.

Zito vaguely recalls the name Steve Gleason, but he does not know the story....

A Saints’ special-teams player, Gleason memorably blocked a punt in New Orleans’s first game after Hurricane Katrina at the Superdome in 2006, morphing into a symbol of the city’s pluck and recovery. Gleason retired from the NFL in 2008 and settled in New Orleans, marrying a local girl, Michel Varisco. But in 2011 he announced that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease currently with no cure. Gleason, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016. The disease has robbed him of all ability to move, and he spends his time, mostly, as a national leader in the fight against ALS and the search for a cure—and thanks to technology, Gleason answered the questions for this story by typing with his eyes on the laptop on his mechanized wheelchair.

“That is crazy, man,” Zito said. “I am going to have to learn about Steve.”

“When you’re a college kid, you didn’t know that Barry Zito and Steve Gleason were going to become Barry Zito and Steve Gleason,” says Deis, the play-by-play man and a WSU senior at the time. “But I can tell you, at that time, Steve Gleason was the man on campus. Phenomenal athlete for guy his size. The first game I saw my freshman year, playing Montana, he made a tackle and I thought he killed the guy. That became par for the course with Gleas. He just laid the wood to so many guys. On the baseball field, he played with reckless abandon.’’

At 5' 11" and 210 pounds, Gleason was light for a linebacker, but just right for a center-fielder. But he had a better chance to be a pro linebacker than baseball player, so that’s the direction he took.

“In high school, I planned to play both sports, because I figured that my size would not allow me to be an NFL linebacker,” Gleason typed via his eyes. “I loved baseball. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with either sport. I didn’t really watch either sport super closely. The first NFL game I watched live, was the first NFL game I played in.

“As things played out in college, I was just better at football. I figured I would give the NFL a shot, rather than toil in the minor leagues for a few years. Comparing my experience with both sports, the atmosphere, travel logistics, and nature of baseball is so much more fun. Baseball teams are on the road all the time. The goal is to keep things fun and relaxed. Before, during, and after the games the idea is to keep things loose, so guys are always goofing around, making up games, filling time. We’d go on nine-day road trips every year during spring break—Hawaii, California, Texas, Arizona.

“Football is more like a business meeting, or a business trip. Everyone has game plans and binders on the plane. Road trips are typically 36 hours, or less. Before games, guys are trying to get psyched up rather than relax. They’re going to battle. Although I only worked on baseball a few months a year, I think the biggest difference for me is, in football, I felt like I could just out-think, work harder and try harder than the next guy to be successful. In baseball, in many ways, the more you try and the more you think, the worse things go.”

But that day in eastern Washington, this was just another baseball game—in freezing conditions.

“I didn’t realize that Barry was such an elite pitcher, so I guess it wasn’t something that was a big deal,” Gleason typed. “I wasn’t a stats guy—still not—and at that point, I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn’t follow MLB baseball really at all. I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn’t realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago.

“After I retired, I caught several Cubs games at Wrigley, but didn’t really get back into baseball until a few years ago when [Steve’s and Michel’s son] Rivers started playing. It’s such a great sport. In fact, Michel and Rivers and I watch maybe 80-100 MLB games a year with the MLB app on Apple TV, and we have season tickets at Tulane, where I got my MBA. Baseball—helping coach Rivers and watching at any level—has been one of the things that has flourished, despite my physical decline from ALS.

“We started a new project last fall, the Gleason Life Skills Sports Clinics. The clinics teach the essential skills to succeed in athletics, but also the essential skills to succeed in life. Our first two clinics have been baseball.”

Zito had no idea why someone wanted to reach him to talk about a college home run he gave up on a 28-degree day in eastern Washington 18 years ago, in a nine-inning complete game, in which he threw 148 pitches and struck out 14. He’s damn proud of the game. But at the end of the conversation, he sounded damn glad he gave up the home run, just because it let him get to know someone in a different, important world.

“Sounds like an incredible man,” Zito said of Gleason. “I want to get familiar with him. What a story.”

<p>It was a frigid Saturday morning on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The temperature that day—March 27, 1999—was 28 degrees with a wind chill in the teens, and USC’s baseball team was in town for a three-game series. The first game on Friday night was snowed out, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader on Saturday. WSU coach Steve Farrington instructed the team to arrive early in the morning … to clear the snow off the field in time for the noon start.</p><p>Farrington drove his pickup truck onto the field, and the players used shovels to haul the snow off of the infield and into the bed of his truck. When the bed was full, Farrington drove beyond the right-field fence and dumped the snow out. This snow-removal process lasted longer than an hour, all so the Cougers could open their Pac-10 season on time against the perennially powerful Trojans.</p><p>“I was a student at Washington State, calling the baseball games on the radio,” says Derek Deis, now a news anchor in nearby Spokane at KXLY TV. “It would be hard to forget that day. We have cold days in late March, and snow, but that day was brutal.”</p><p>The teams placed torpedo heaters by their benches, but they did hardly anything to cut the cold. When the Trojans showed up at the field around 10:30 a.m. for the twinbill, the weather was so harsh that most of the players had never dealt with anything like this before. But if USC turned around and went home, the games would still have to be replayed later that season—and the last thing the Trojans wanted was a return trip to this faraway outpost in eastern Washington.</p><p>USC’s starting pitcher in the first game was crafty southpaw Barry Zito. In 11 weeks, Barry Zito would be drafted by Oakland as the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. In three years, Zito would win the American League Cy Young Award. But today he was just another Trojan wondering why God put him in the tundra.</p><p>“All I remember thinking was, ‘What am I doing here?’” Zito said recently—he’s a songwriter living in Nashville now, a world away from his baseball life.</p><p>“But I recall that game. I remember it well. I was just talking about the game, in fact. It got really cold in Nashville, and I said it’s nothing like that day I pitched a game and it was 28 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill, something like that. I remember … we went out bought thermals there. I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals. Our bus pulled up to the field. It was a little bandbox. And I remember sitting on that bus down the left-field line, trying to prepare self mentally. I remember I pitched pretty well, in spite of the cold. I think we won, like, 2–1.”</p><p>“No,” Zito was told. “It was 6–5.”</p><p>“Wow,” he said. “I don’t remember giving up that many runs too often that season. But I guess I can see it. That place, seriously, was a total bandbox—small, and the air was so thin there.”</p><p>Eighteen years later the memories were coming back to Zito.</p><p>“That was a crazy game,” he said. “I actually broke my catcher’s thumb, Eric Munson. He was coming out in the [MLB] draft too, and I was afraid I hurt his chances and he might get picked lower because of that. I threw a fastball, he was expecting a curve. Thank God he was still the third pick.</p><p>“But that day was a transformation pitching experience for me. Never before in my life did I pitch in a game where it was below freezing. And never after—not in Detroit or Cleveland, anywhere.”</p><p>Washington State’s team, in a show of bravado, played in short sleeves. USC scored twice in the first inning, and WSU got one back in the bottom of the first. The scored stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when it started snowing again. There was a 15-minute delay while the snow squall blew over Pullman.</p><p>“I think I stayed in the dugout, by the heater,” Zito said. “Most of the guys went on the bus, but I didn’t want to lose focus. I didn’t want to lose my groove. I think I was pitching pretty well.”</p><p>In the bottom of the fifth, after the snow stopped, the Cougars’ wiry center-fielder came to the plate to face the wily Zito. A lefty batter, the senior struck out his first time up.</p><p>“I do remember giving up a home run that day,” Zito said.</p><p>The center-fielder recalls the home run, vaguely. He thinks it was a fastball, “given the wicked nature of Zito’s curve.”</p><p>“I do remember contact, and I remember the ball clearing the wall in right-center,” Steve Gleason said.</p><p>Zito vaguely recalls the name Steve Gleason, but he does not know the story....</p><p>A Saints’ special-teams player, Gleason memorably blocked a punt in New Orleans’s first game after Hurricane Katrina at the Superdome in 2006, morphing into a symbol of the city’s pluck and recovery. Gleason retired from the NFL in 2008 and settled in New Orleans, marrying a local girl, Michel Varisco. But in 2011 he announced that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease currently with no cure. <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/07/27/steve-gleason-documentary-als-new-orleans-saints" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Gleason, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016." class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>Gleason</em>, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016.</a> The disease has robbed him of all ability to move, and he spends his time, mostly, as a national leader in the fight against ALS and the search for a cure—and thanks to technology, Gleason answered the questions for this story by typing with his eyes on the laptop on his mechanized wheelchair.</p><p>“That is crazy, man,” Zito said. “I am going to have to learn about Steve.”</p><p>“When you’re a college kid, you didn’t know that Barry Zito and Steve Gleason were going to become Barry Zito and Steve Gleason,” says Deis, the play-by-play man and a WSU senior at the time. “But I can tell you, at that time, Steve Gleason was the man on campus. Phenomenal athlete for guy his size. The first game I saw my freshman year, playing Montana, he made a tackle and I thought he killed the guy. That became par for the course with Gleas. He just laid the wood to so many guys. On the baseball field, he played with reckless abandon.’’</p><p>At 5&#39; 11&quot; and 210 pounds, Gleason was light for a linebacker, but just right for a center-fielder. But he had a better chance to be a pro linebacker than baseball player, so that’s the direction he took.</p><p>“In high school, I planned to play both sports, because I figured that my size would not allow me to be an NFL linebacker,” Gleason typed via his eyes. “I loved baseball. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with either sport. I didn’t really watch either sport super closely. The first NFL game I watched live, was the first NFL game I played in.</p><p>“As things played out in college, I was just better at football. I figured I would give the NFL a shot, rather than toil in the minor leagues for a few years. Comparing my experience with both sports, the atmosphere, travel logistics, and nature of baseball is so much more fun. Baseball teams are on the road all the time. The goal is to keep things fun and relaxed. Before, during, and after the games the idea is to keep things loose, so guys are always goofing around, making up games, filling time. We’d go on nine-day road trips every year during spring break—Hawaii, California, Texas, Arizona.</p><p>“Football is more like a business meeting, or a business trip. Everyone has game plans and binders on the plane. Road trips are typically 36 hours, or less. Before games, guys are trying to get psyched up rather than relax. They’re going to battle. Although I only worked on baseball a few months a year, I think the biggest difference for me is, in football, I felt like I could just out-think, work harder and try harder than the next guy to be successful. In baseball, in many ways, the more you try and the more you think, the worse things go.”</p><p>But that day in eastern Washington, this was just another baseball game—in freezing conditions.</p><p>“I didn’t realize that Barry was such an elite pitcher, so I guess it wasn’t something that was a big deal,” Gleason typed. “I wasn’t a stats guy—still not—and at that point, I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn’t follow MLB baseball really at all. I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn’t realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago.</p><p>“After I retired, I caught several Cubs games at Wrigley, but didn’t really get back into baseball until a few years ago when [Steve’s and Michel’s son] Rivers started playing. It’s such a great sport. In fact, Michel and Rivers and I watch maybe 80-100 MLB games a year with the MLB app on Apple TV, and we have season tickets at Tulane, where I got my MBA. Baseball—helping coach Rivers and watching at any level—has been one of the things that has flourished, despite my physical decline from ALS.</p><p>“We started a new project last fall, the Gleason Life Skills Sports Clinics. The clinics teach the essential skills to succeed in athletics, but also the essential skills to succeed in life. Our first two clinics have been baseball.”</p><p>Zito had no idea why someone wanted to reach him to talk about a college home run he gave up on a 28-degree day in eastern Washington 18 years ago, in a nine-inning complete game, in which he threw 148 pitches and struck out 14. He’s damn proud of the game. But at the end of the conversation, he sounded damn glad he gave up the home run, just because it let him get to know someone in a different, important world.</p><p>“Sounds like an incredible man,” Zito said of Gleason. “I want to get familiar with him. What a story.”</p>
Why One Home Run That Barry Zito Gave Up in College Now Stands Above the Rest

It was a frigid Saturday morning on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The temperature that day—March 27, 1999—was 28 degrees with a wind chill in the teens, and USC’s baseball team was in town for a three-game series. The first game on Friday night was snowed out, forcing the teams to play a doubleheader on Saturday. WSU coach Steve Farrington instructed the team to arrive early in the morning … to clear the snow off the field in time for the noon start.

Farrington drove his pickup truck onto the field, and the players used shovels to haul the snow off of the infield and into the bed of his truck. When the bed was full, Farrington drove beyond the right-field fence and dumped the snow out. This snow-removal process lasted longer than an hour, all so the Cougers could open their Pac-10 season on time against the perennially powerful Trojans.

“I was a student at Washington State, calling the baseball games on the radio,” says Derek Deis, now a news anchor in nearby Spokane at KXLY TV. “It would be hard to forget that day. We have cold days in late March, and snow, but that day was brutal.”

The teams placed torpedo heaters by their benches, but they did hardly anything to cut the cold. When the Trojans showed up at the field around 10:30 a.m. for the twinbill, the weather was so harsh that most of the players had never dealt with anything like this before. But if USC turned around and went home, the games would still have to be replayed later that season—and the last thing the Trojans wanted was a return trip to this faraway outpost in eastern Washington.

USC’s starting pitcher in the first game was crafty southpaw Barry Zito. In 11 weeks, Barry Zito would be drafted by Oakland as the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. In three years, Zito would win the American League Cy Young Award. But today he was just another Trojan wondering why God put him in the tundra.

“All I remember thinking was, ‘What am I doing here?’” Zito said recently—he’s a songwriter living in Nashville now, a world away from his baseball life.

“But I recall that game. I remember it well. I was just talking about the game, in fact. It got really cold in Nashville, and I said it’s nothing like that day I pitched a game and it was 28 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill, something like that. I remember … we went out bought thermals there. I had two sets of thermals on. Imagine pitching with two sets of thermals. Our bus pulled up to the field. It was a little bandbox. And I remember sitting on that bus down the left-field line, trying to prepare self mentally. I remember I pitched pretty well, in spite of the cold. I think we won, like, 2–1.”

“No,” Zito was told. “It was 6–5.”

“Wow,” he said. “I don’t remember giving up that many runs too often that season. But I guess I can see it. That place, seriously, was a total bandbox—small, and the air was so thin there.”

Eighteen years later the memories were coming back to Zito.

“That was a crazy game,” he said. “I actually broke my catcher’s thumb, Eric Munson. He was coming out in the [MLB] draft too, and I was afraid I hurt his chances and he might get picked lower because of that. I threw a fastball, he was expecting a curve. Thank God he was still the third pick.

“But that day was a transformation pitching experience for me. Never before in my life did I pitch in a game where it was below freezing. And never after—not in Detroit or Cleveland, anywhere.”

Washington State’s team, in a show of bravado, played in short sleeves. USC scored twice in the first inning, and WSU got one back in the bottom of the first. The scored stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth, when it started snowing again. There was a 15-minute delay while the snow squall blew over Pullman.

“I think I stayed in the dugout, by the heater,” Zito said. “Most of the guys went on the bus, but I didn’t want to lose focus. I didn’t want to lose my groove. I think I was pitching pretty well.”

In the bottom of the fifth, after the snow stopped, the Cougars’ wiry center-fielder came to the plate to face the wily Zito. A lefty batter, the senior struck out his first time up.

“I do remember giving up a home run that day,” Zito said.

The center-fielder recalls the home run, vaguely. He thinks it was a fastball, “given the wicked nature of Zito’s curve.”

“I do remember contact, and I remember the ball clearing the wall in right-center,” Steve Gleason said.

Zito vaguely recalls the name Steve Gleason, but he does not know the story....

A Saints’ special-teams player, Gleason memorably blocked a punt in New Orleans’s first game after Hurricane Katrina at the Superdome in 2006, morphing into a symbol of the city’s pluck and recovery. Gleason retired from the NFL in 2008 and settled in New Orleans, marrying a local girl, Michel Varisco. But in 2011 he announced that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, a neurological disease currently with no cure. Gleason, a documentary giving a stark and very real examination of life with ALS, was released to critical acclaim in 2016. The disease has robbed him of all ability to move, and he spends his time, mostly, as a national leader in the fight against ALS and the search for a cure—and thanks to technology, Gleason answered the questions for this story by typing with his eyes on the laptop on his mechanized wheelchair.

“That is crazy, man,” Zito said. “I am going to have to learn about Steve.”

“When you’re a college kid, you didn’t know that Barry Zito and Steve Gleason were going to become Barry Zito and Steve Gleason,” says Deis, the play-by-play man and a WSU senior at the time. “But I can tell you, at that time, Steve Gleason was the man on campus. Phenomenal athlete for guy his size. The first game I saw my freshman year, playing Montana, he made a tackle and I thought he killed the guy. That became par for the course with Gleas. He just laid the wood to so many guys. On the baseball field, he played with reckless abandon.’’

At 5' 11" and 210 pounds, Gleason was light for a linebacker, but just right for a center-fielder. But he had a better chance to be a pro linebacker than baseball player, so that’s the direction he took.

“In high school, I planned to play both sports, because I figured that my size would not allow me to be an NFL linebacker,” Gleason typed via his eyes. “I loved baseball. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with either sport. I didn’t really watch either sport super closely. The first NFL game I watched live, was the first NFL game I played in.

“As things played out in college, I was just better at football. I figured I would give the NFL a shot, rather than toil in the minor leagues for a few years. Comparing my experience with both sports, the atmosphere, travel logistics, and nature of baseball is so much more fun. Baseball teams are on the road all the time. The goal is to keep things fun and relaxed. Before, during, and after the games the idea is to keep things loose, so guys are always goofing around, making up games, filling time. We’d go on nine-day road trips every year during spring break—Hawaii, California, Texas, Arizona.

“Football is more like a business meeting, or a business trip. Everyone has game plans and binders on the plane. Road trips are typically 36 hours, or less. Before games, guys are trying to get psyched up rather than relax. They’re going to battle. Although I only worked on baseball a few months a year, I think the biggest difference for me is, in football, I felt like I could just out-think, work harder and try harder than the next guy to be successful. In baseball, in many ways, the more you try and the more you think, the worse things go.”

But that day in eastern Washington, this was just another baseball game—in freezing conditions.

“I didn’t realize that Barry was such an elite pitcher, so I guess it wasn’t something that was a big deal,” Gleason typed. “I wasn’t a stats guy—still not—and at that point, I was a senior and understood that football was probably the best chance I had to play professionally. My years in the NFL, I didn’t follow MLB baseball really at all. I had no idea that Barry Zito won the Cy Young, and in fact I didn’t realize that I had hit a home run off him until the WSU play-by-play commentator [Deis] tweeted to me a few years ago.

“After I retired, I caught several Cubs games at Wrigley, but didn’t really get back into baseball until a few years ago when [Steve’s and Michel’s son] Rivers started playing. It’s such a great sport. In fact, Michel and Rivers and I watch maybe 80-100 MLB games a year with the MLB app on Apple TV, and we have season tickets at Tulane, where I got my MBA. Baseball—helping coach Rivers and watching at any level—has been one of the things that has flourished, despite my physical decline from ALS.

“We started a new project last fall, the Gleason Life Skills Sports Clinics. The clinics teach the essential skills to succeed in athletics, but also the essential skills to succeed in life. Our first two clinics have been baseball.”

Zito had no idea why someone wanted to reach him to talk about a college home run he gave up on a 28-degree day in eastern Washington 18 years ago, in a nine-inning complete game, in which he threw 148 pitches and struck out 14. He’s damn proud of the game. But at the end of the conversation, he sounded damn glad he gave up the home run, just because it let him get to know someone in a different, important world.

“Sounds like an incredible man,” Zito said of Gleason. “I want to get familiar with him. What a story.”

Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is examined after being tackled by the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: NFC Wild Card-Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is examined after being tackled by the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is examined after being tackled by the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: NFC Wild Card-Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is examined after being tackled by the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is examined after being tackled by the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: NFC Wild Card-Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Jan 7, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is examined after being tackled by the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
<p>There are eight teams still alive in this NFL season and just 27 days until Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.</p><p>Despite <a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Johnny" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Johnny </a><a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Manziel" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Manziel</a><a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:news circulating" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"> news circulating</a>, we’ll focus the Huddle on American football on this frigid (at least for our Northeastern readers) Monday. Here was my immediate reaction from all four of wild-card games, setting the table for this year’s divisional round.</p><p><strong>Titans 22, Chiefs 21: </strong>An interesting point <a href="https://twitter.com/smartfootball/status/950071149794340865" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:brought up by Smart Football’s Chris Brown" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">brought up by Smart Football’s <strong>Chris Brown</strong></a>: A day after the Titans squeezed by Kansas City, partially on the heels of a once and a lifetime circus play by <strong>Marcus </strong><strong>Mariota</strong>, team ownership confirmed that head coach <strong>Mike </strong><strong>Mularkey</strong> would be back for another season. Brown wondered: “How impactful on Mariota’s career—and in which direction—was his second half performance?” Tennessee ownership let Mularkey twist in the wind leading up to Black Monday and paid the price. Now, for better or worse, they’ll sit out another coaching carousel while some bright offensive minds get jobs elsewhere.</p><p><strong>Falcons 26, Rams 13: </strong>The Falcons now ride into Philadelphia with their defense in top form. The Eagles don’t have<strong> Carson </strong><strong>Wentz</strong> and <strong>Dan Quinn</strong>’s unit just held <strong>Sean </strong><strong>McVay’s</strong> prolific offense to just one touchdown. Seeing them make it back to the NFC championship game would be fascinating, and only strengthen Quinn’s case for <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/falcons-rams-dan-quinn-2018-nfl-playoffs-nfc-wild-card" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:coach of the year given the horrific scenario" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">coach of the year given the horrific scenario </a>his team endured in the Super Bowl last year.</p><p><strong>Jaguars 10, Bills 3: </strong><strong>Todd Wash</strong>’s defense is that good. While it was sad to see the freewheeling, table-smashing Bills fan base go home, the Jaguars are one of the most enticing clubs remaining in the playoffs for fans looking to latch onto a temporary storyline. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles this unit a second time around. On Oct. 8, Jacksonville pounded the Steelers, 30-9. <strong>Ben </strong><strong>Roethlisberger</strong> threw five interceptions. Despite taking New England to the 12th round a few weeks ago, the Steelers are nowhere near as automatic on offense as they should be (especially with <strong>Antonio Brown</strong> a question mark). That game will be fascinating.</p><p><strong>Saints 31, Panthers 26: </strong><strong>Alvin </strong><strong>Kamara</strong> put up fewer than 40 total yards, but that <strong>Drew </strong><strong>Brees</strong> guy isn’t bad. Outside of New England, the Saints are the most explosive offense left in the postseason. While they lose the comfort of the SuperDome, they come into next weekend’s matchup against the Vikings a far different team than the one that was upended by Sam Bradford in the season opener. </p><p><b><i>Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet?</i></b> <a href="https://www.si.com/static/newsletter/signup" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><i>Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle</i></a><i>.</i></p><h3><strong>HOT READS</strong></h3><p><b>NOW ON THE MMQB: </b>Have the Panthers <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/saints-panthers-cam-newton-ron-rivera-2018-nfl-playoffs" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:squandered Cam Newton&#39;s prime" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">squandered <strong>Cam Newton&#39;s</strong> prime</a>? . . . Jonathan Jones on <strong>Blake Bortles </strong><a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/jaguars-bills-blake-bortles-nfl-playoffs-2018-afc-wild-card" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:doing just enough to get by" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">doing just enough to get by</a> . . . A good question from Richard Deitsch: <a href="https://www.si.com/tech-media/2018/01/07/jon-gruden-raiders-espn-monday-night-football" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Will ESPN go at Jon Gruden when he&#39;s a head coach" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Will ESPN go at <strong>Jon Gruden </strong>when he&#39;s a head coach</a>?</p><p><b>LATER TODAY: </b>The Monday Morning Quarterback: America&#39;s finest football column . . . A pair of strong reads from Robert Klemko. I won&#39;t spoil the subjects, but be sure to carve out some time on Monday . . . Albert Breer on the Georgia Bulldogs, the next NFL draft factory. </p><p><b>WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: </b>Kalyn Kahler on the Solder family&#39;s heartbreaking, yet <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/04/nate-solder-cancer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:inspiring battle with cancer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">inspiring battle with cancer</a> . . . Sports Illustrated True Crime: Jenny Vrentas and Klemko <a href="https://www.si.com/longform/true-crime/tom-brady-patriots-super-bowl-jersey-thief-mmqb/index.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:track down the Tom Brady jersey thief" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">track down the <strong>Tom Brady </strong>jersey thief</a>.</p><h3><b>PRESS COVERAGE</b></h3><p><strong>1</strong>. A late-breaking story Sunday, something we&#39;ll certainly be discussing this week. Jaguars defensive end <strong>Yannick Ngakoue</strong> said of Bills guard <strong>Richie Incognito </strong>on Twitter: &quot;Great win to day! And 64, you goin have to come harder than some weak racist slurs. I&#39;m proud of my African heritage, as are 70% of the other Black players in this league. #Iaintjonathanmartin.&quot; Incognito&#39;s use of racial slurs was documented during the <strong>Jonathan Martin</strong> bullying scandal back in 2014. The league&#39;s report on their investigation <a href="http://63bba9dfdf9675bf3f10-68be460ce43dd2a60dd64ca5eca4ae1d.r37.cf1.rackcdn.com/PaulWeissReport.pdf" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:can be found here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">can be found here</a>. We&#39;ve reached out to the NFL for comment as well, and will certainly have more to come today. </p><p><strong>2. </strong> The Packers&#39; decision to name <strong>Brian Gutekunst</strong> as their next general manager followed <a href="http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/01/07/mccarthy-rodgers-get-their-wish-russ-ball-wont-be-g-m-in-g-b/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:months of reported palace intrigue" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">months of reported palace intrigue</a>. It will be interesting to see how some of their talented evaluators and administrators, like <strong>Russ Ball</strong> and <strong>Eliot Wolf</strong>,respond to the move. </p><p><b>3. Teryl Austin </b>is long overdue for a head coaching gig, but at least he&#39;s landed on his feet. The former Lions defensive coordinator will accept the <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000904178/article/bengals-in-negotiations-to-hire-teryl-austin-as-dc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:same role under Marvin Lewis" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">same role under Marvin Lewis</a> with the Bengals.</p><p><b>4.</b> <strong>Antonio Brown </strong>spent the weekend training with . . . <a href="http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21993383/pittsburgh-steelers-wr-antonio-brown-getting-ready-chad-johnson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:former Bengals" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">former Bengals</a> wideout <strong>Chad Johnson</strong>?</p><p><strong>5. </strong>Jaguars head coach<strong> Doug Marrone </strong>continues the blunt <a href="http://www.espn.com/blog/jacksonville-jaguars/post/_/id/24358/jaguars-survive-bills-and-blake-bortles-the-passer-for-first-playoff-win-since-07" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:assessments of his offense" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">assessments of his offense</a><strong>.</strong></p><p>?</p><p><b>6. </b> The Titans&#39; one hope heading into the playoffs? <strong>Derrick Henry </strong><a href="https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/pro-pff-elite-stats-that-defined-the-wild-card-playoff-games" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:is a monster after contact" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">is a monster after contact</a>. </p><p><strong>7. </strong>An interesting question from Danny Kelly at The Ringer: <a href="https://www.theringer.com/2018/1/7/16859140/andy-reid-kansas-city-chiefs-titans-postseason-choker-narrative" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:What do we make of Andy Reid&#39;s coaching legacy" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">What do we make of <strong>Andy Reid&#39;s</strong> coaching legacy</a>?</p><p><strong>8. </strong> More information is coming on this, but there are hard questions being asked as to whether the Panthers followed concussion <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/panthers/2018/01/07/cam-newton-concussion-protocol-carolina-panthers-nfl/1011890001/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:protocol with Cam Newton after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">protocol with <strong>Cam Newton</strong> after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half</a>.</p><p><b>9. </b>For the dog lovers out there: Ravens tackle <strong>Ronnie Stanley </strong>is your new hero. A piece on his <a href="https://www.simplemost.com/ravens-ronnie-stanley-adopted-dog-shelter/?llid=3JldV&#38;utm_campaign=liquidsocial&#38;utm_source=facebook&#38;utm_medium=partner&#38;utm_partner=liquidsocial&#38;utm_content=pyOx" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:drive to adopt a pup no one wanted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">drive to adopt a pup no one wanted</a>. </p><p><strong>10. Elias Sports Bureau </strong>strikes again: This weekend&#39;s <strong>Tom Brady-Marcus Mariota </strong>tilt will be the largest age gap <a href="https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/950215461194649600" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:between playoff QBs in NFL history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">between playoff QBs in NFL history</a> (16 years). </p><p><b><i>Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage?</i></b> <span><i>Let us know here.</i></span></p><h3><b>THE KICKER</b></h3><p>A song for the Jaguars, who may be down and confused about their quarterback situation. In reality, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY4HI_vqf0c" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the solution is simple" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the solution is simple</a>. </p><p><i>Question? Comment? Story idea?</i><i> Let the team know at </i><i><span>talkback@themmqb.com</span></i></p>
NFL Wild Card Weekend: What We Learned

There are eight teams still alive in this NFL season and just 27 days until Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

Despite Johnny Manziel news circulating, we’ll focus the Huddle on American football on this frigid (at least for our Northeastern readers) Monday. Here was my immediate reaction from all four of wild-card games, setting the table for this year’s divisional round.

Titans 22, Chiefs 21: An interesting point brought up by Smart Football’s Chris Brown: A day after the Titans squeezed by Kansas City, partially on the heels of a once and a lifetime circus play by Marcus Mariota, team ownership confirmed that head coach Mike Mularkey would be back for another season. Brown wondered: “How impactful on Mariota’s career—and in which direction—was his second half performance?” Tennessee ownership let Mularkey twist in the wind leading up to Black Monday and paid the price. Now, for better or worse, they’ll sit out another coaching carousel while some bright offensive minds get jobs elsewhere.

Falcons 26, Rams 13: The Falcons now ride into Philadelphia with their defense in top form. The Eagles don’t have Carson Wentz and Dan Quinn’s unit just held Sean McVay’s prolific offense to just one touchdown. Seeing them make it back to the NFC championship game would be fascinating, and only strengthen Quinn’s case for coach of the year given the horrific scenario his team endured in the Super Bowl last year.

Jaguars 10, Bills 3: Todd Wash’s defense is that good. While it was sad to see the freewheeling, table-smashing Bills fan base go home, the Jaguars are one of the most enticing clubs remaining in the playoffs for fans looking to latch onto a temporary storyline. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles this unit a second time around. On Oct. 8, Jacksonville pounded the Steelers, 30-9. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions. Despite taking New England to the 12th round a few weeks ago, the Steelers are nowhere near as automatic on offense as they should be (especially with Antonio Brown a question mark). That game will be fascinating.

Saints 31, Panthers 26: Alvin Kamara put up fewer than 40 total yards, but that Drew Brees guy isn’t bad. Outside of New England, the Saints are the most explosive offense left in the postseason. While they lose the comfort of the SuperDome, they come into next weekend’s matchup against the Vikings a far different team than the one that was upended by Sam Bradford in the season opener.

Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet? Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle.

HOT READS

NOW ON THE MMQB: Have the Panthers squandered Cam Newton's prime? . . . Jonathan Jones on Blake Bortles doing just enough to get by . . . A good question from Richard Deitsch: Will ESPN go at Jon Gruden when he's a head coach?

LATER TODAY: The Monday Morning Quarterback: America's finest football column . . . A pair of strong reads from Robert Klemko. I won't spoil the subjects, but be sure to carve out some time on Monday . . . Albert Breer on the Georgia Bulldogs, the next NFL draft factory.

WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: Kalyn Kahler on the Solder family's heartbreaking, yet inspiring battle with cancer . . . Sports Illustrated True Crime: Jenny Vrentas and Klemko track down the Tom Brady jersey thief.

PRESS COVERAGE

1. A late-breaking story Sunday, something we'll certainly be discussing this week. Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said of Bills guard Richie Incognito on Twitter: "Great win to day! And 64, you goin have to come harder than some weak racist slurs. I'm proud of my African heritage, as are 70% of the other Black players in this league. #Iaintjonathanmartin." Incognito's use of racial slurs was documented during the Jonathan Martin bullying scandal back in 2014. The league's report on their investigation can be found here. We've reached out to the NFL for comment as well, and will certainly have more to come today.

2. The Packers' decision to name Brian Gutekunst as their next general manager followed months of reported palace intrigue. It will be interesting to see how some of their talented evaluators and administrators, like Russ Ball and Eliot Wolf,respond to the move.

3. Teryl Austin is long overdue for a head coaching gig, but at least he's landed on his feet. The former Lions defensive coordinator will accept the same role under Marvin Lewis with the Bengals.

4. Antonio Brown spent the weekend training with . . . former Bengals wideout Chad Johnson?

5. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone continues the blunt assessments of his offense.

?

6. The Titans' one hope heading into the playoffs? Derrick Henry is a monster after contact.

7. An interesting question from Danny Kelly at The Ringer: What do we make of Andy Reid's coaching legacy?

8. More information is coming on this, but there are hard questions being asked as to whether the Panthers followed concussion protocol with Cam Newton after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half.

9. For the dog lovers out there: Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley is your new hero. A piece on his drive to adopt a pup no one wanted.

10. Elias Sports Bureau strikes again: This weekend's Tom Brady-Marcus Mariota tilt will be the largest age gap between playoff QBs in NFL history (16 years).

Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let us know here.

THE KICKER

A song for the Jaguars, who may be down and confused about their quarterback situation. In reality, the solution is simple.

Question? Comment? Story idea? Let the team know at talkback@themmqb.com

<p>There are eight teams still alive in this NFL season and just 27 days until Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.</p><p>Despite <a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Johnny" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Johnny </a><a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Manziel" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Manziel</a><a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:news circulating" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"> news circulating</a>, we’ll focus the Huddle on American football on this frigid (at least for our Northeastern readers) Monday. Here was my immediate reaction from all four of wild-card games, setting the table for this year’s divisional round.</p><p><strong>Titans 22, Chiefs 21: </strong>An interesting point <a href="https://twitter.com/smartfootball/status/950071149794340865" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:brought up by Smart Football’s Chris Brown" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">brought up by Smart Football’s <strong>Chris Brown</strong></a>: A day after the Titans squeezed by Kansas City, partially on the heels of a once and a lifetime circus play by <strong>Marcus </strong><strong>Mariota</strong>, team ownership confirmed that head coach <strong>Mike </strong><strong>Mularkey</strong> would be back for another season. Brown wondered: “How impactful on Mariota’s career—and in which direction—was his second half performance?” Tennessee ownership let Mularkey twist in the wind leading up to Black Monday and paid the price. Now, for better or worse, they’ll sit out another coaching carousel while some bright offensive minds get jobs elsewhere.</p><p><strong>Falcons 26, Rams 13: </strong>The Falcons now ride into Philadelphia with their defense in top form. The Eagles don’t have<strong> Carson </strong><strong>Wentz</strong> and <strong>Dan Quinn</strong>’s unit just held <strong>Sean </strong><strong>McVay’s</strong> prolific offense to just one touchdown. Seeing them make it back to the NFC championship game would be fascinating, and only strengthen Quinn’s case for <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/falcons-rams-dan-quinn-2018-nfl-playoffs-nfc-wild-card" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:coach of the year given the horrific scenario" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">coach of the year given the horrific scenario </a>his team endured in the Super Bowl last year.</p><p><strong>Jaguars 10, Bills 3: </strong><strong>Todd Wash</strong>’s defense is that good. While it was sad to see the freewheeling, table-smashing Bills fan base go home, the Jaguars are one of the most enticing clubs remaining in the playoffs for fans looking to latch onto a temporary storyline. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles this unit a second time around. On Oct. 8, Jacksonville pounded the Steelers, 30-9. <strong>Ben </strong><strong>Roethlisberger</strong> threw five interceptions. Despite taking New England to the 12th round a few weeks ago, the Steelers are nowhere near as automatic on offense as they should be (especially with <strong>Antonio Brown</strong> a question mark). That game will be fascinating.</p><p><strong>Saints 31, Panthers 26: </strong><strong>Alvin </strong><strong>Kamara</strong> put up fewer than 40 total yards, but that <strong>Drew </strong><strong>Brees</strong> guy isn’t bad. Outside of New England, the Saints are the most explosive offense left in the postseason. While they lose the comfort of the SuperDome, they come into next weekend’s matchup against the Vikings a far different team than the one that was upended by Sam Bradford in the season opener. </p><p><b><i>Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet?</i></b> <a href="https://www.si.com/static/newsletter/signup" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><i>Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle</i></a><i>.</i></p><h3><strong>HOT READS</strong></h3><p><b>NOW ON THE MMQB: </b>Have the Panthers <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/saints-panthers-cam-newton-ron-rivera-2018-nfl-playoffs" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:squandered Cam Newton&#39;s prime" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">squandered <strong>Cam Newton&#39;s</strong> prime</a>? . . . Jonathan Jones on <strong>Blake Bortles </strong><a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/jaguars-bills-blake-bortles-nfl-playoffs-2018-afc-wild-card" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:doing just enough to get by" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">doing just enough to get by</a> . . . A good question from Richard Deitsch: <a href="https://www.si.com/tech-media/2018/01/07/jon-gruden-raiders-espn-monday-night-football" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Will ESPN go at Jon Gruden when he&#39;s a head coach" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Will ESPN go at <strong>Jon Gruden </strong>when he&#39;s a head coach</a>?</p><p><b>LATER TODAY: </b>The Monday Morning Quarterback: America&#39;s finest football column . . . A pair of strong reads from Robert Klemko. I won&#39;t spoil the subjects, but be sure to carve out some time on Monday . . . Albert Breer on the Georgia Bulldogs, the next NFL draft factory. </p><p><b>WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: </b>Kalyn Kahler on the Solder family&#39;s heartbreaking, yet <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/04/nate-solder-cancer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:inspiring battle with cancer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">inspiring battle with cancer</a> . . . Sports Illustrated True Crime: Jenny Vrentas and Klemko <a href="https://www.si.com/longform/true-crime/tom-brady-patriots-super-bowl-jersey-thief-mmqb/index.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:track down the Tom Brady jersey thief" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">track down the <strong>Tom Brady </strong>jersey thief</a>.</p><h3><b>PRESS COVERAGE</b></h3><p><strong>1</strong>. A late-breaking story Sunday, something we&#39;ll certainly be discussing this week. Jaguars defensive end <strong>Yannick Ngakoue</strong> said of Bills guard <strong>Richie Incognito </strong>on Twitter: &quot;Great win to day! And 64, you goin have to come harder than some weak racist slurs. I&#39;m proud of my African heritage, as are 70% of the other Black players in this league. #Iaintjonathanmartin.&quot; Incognito&#39;s use of racial slurs was documented during the <strong>Jonathan Martin</strong> bullying scandal back in 2014. The league&#39;s report on their investigation <a href="http://63bba9dfdf9675bf3f10-68be460ce43dd2a60dd64ca5eca4ae1d.r37.cf1.rackcdn.com/PaulWeissReport.pdf" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:can be found here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">can be found here</a>. We&#39;ve reached out to the NFL for comment as well, and will certainly have more to come today. </p><p><strong>2. </strong> The Packers&#39; decision to name <strong>Brian Gutekunst</strong> as their next general manager followed <a href="http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/01/07/mccarthy-rodgers-get-their-wish-russ-ball-wont-be-g-m-in-g-b/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:months of reported palace intrigue" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">months of reported palace intrigue</a>. It will be interesting to see how some of their talented evaluators and administrators, like <strong>Russ Ball</strong> and <strong>Eliot Wolf</strong>,respond to the move. </p><p><b>3. Teryl Austin </b>is long overdue for a head coaching gig, but at least he&#39;s landed on his feet. The former Lions defensive coordinator will accept the <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000904178/article/bengals-in-negotiations-to-hire-teryl-austin-as-dc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:same role under Marvin Lewis" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">same role under Marvin Lewis</a> with the Bengals.</p><p><b>4.</b> <strong>Antonio Brown </strong>spent the weekend training with . . . <a href="http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21993383/pittsburgh-steelers-wr-antonio-brown-getting-ready-chad-johnson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:former Bengals" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">former Bengals</a> wideout <strong>Chad Johnson</strong>?</p><p><strong>5. </strong>Jaguars head coach<strong> Doug Marrone </strong>continues the blunt <a href="http://www.espn.com/blog/jacksonville-jaguars/post/_/id/24358/jaguars-survive-bills-and-blake-bortles-the-passer-for-first-playoff-win-since-07" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:assessments of his offense" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">assessments of his offense</a><strong>.</strong></p><p>?</p><p><b>6. </b> The Titans&#39; one hope heading into the playoffs? <strong>Derrick Henry </strong><a href="https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/pro-pff-elite-stats-that-defined-the-wild-card-playoff-games" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:is a monster after contact" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">is a monster after contact</a>. </p><p><strong>7. </strong>An interesting question from Danny Kelly at The Ringer: <a href="https://www.theringer.com/2018/1/7/16859140/andy-reid-kansas-city-chiefs-titans-postseason-choker-narrative" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:What do we make of Andy Reid&#39;s coaching legacy" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">What do we make of <strong>Andy Reid&#39;s</strong> coaching legacy</a>?</p><p><strong>8. </strong> More information is coming on this, but there are hard questions being asked as to whether the Panthers followed concussion <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/panthers/2018/01/07/cam-newton-concussion-protocol-carolina-panthers-nfl/1011890001/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:protocol with Cam Newton after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">protocol with <strong>Cam Newton</strong> after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half</a>.</p><p><b>9. </b>For the dog lovers out there: Ravens tackle <strong>Ronnie Stanley </strong>is your new hero. A piece on his <a href="https://www.simplemost.com/ravens-ronnie-stanley-adopted-dog-shelter/?llid=3JldV&#38;utm_campaign=liquidsocial&#38;utm_source=facebook&#38;utm_medium=partner&#38;utm_partner=liquidsocial&#38;utm_content=pyOx" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:drive to adopt a pup no one wanted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">drive to adopt a pup no one wanted</a>. </p><p><strong>10. Elias Sports Bureau </strong>strikes again: This weekend&#39;s <strong>Tom Brady-Marcus Mariota </strong>tilt will be the largest age gap <a href="https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/950215461194649600" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:between playoff QBs in NFL history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">between playoff QBs in NFL history</a> (16 years). </p><p><b><i>Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage?</i></b> <span><i>Let us know here.</i></span></p><h3><b>THE KICKER</b></h3><p>A song for the Jaguars, who may be down and confused about their quarterback situation. In reality, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY4HI_vqf0c" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the solution is simple" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the solution is simple</a>. </p><p><i>Question? Comment? Story idea?</i><i> Let the team know at </i><i><span>talkback@themmqb.com</span></i></p>
NFL Wild Card Weekend: What We Learned

There are eight teams still alive in this NFL season and just 27 days until Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

Despite Johnny Manziel news circulating, we’ll focus the Huddle on American football on this frigid (at least for our Northeastern readers) Monday. Here was my immediate reaction from all four of wild-card games, setting the table for this year’s divisional round.

Titans 22, Chiefs 21: An interesting point brought up by Smart Football’s Chris Brown: A day after the Titans squeezed by Kansas City, partially on the heels of a once and a lifetime circus play by Marcus Mariota, team ownership confirmed that head coach Mike Mularkey would be back for another season. Brown wondered: “How impactful on Mariota’s career—and in which direction—was his second half performance?” Tennessee ownership let Mularkey twist in the wind leading up to Black Monday and paid the price. Now, for better or worse, they’ll sit out another coaching carousel while some bright offensive minds get jobs elsewhere.

Falcons 26, Rams 13: The Falcons now ride into Philadelphia with their defense in top form. The Eagles don’t have Carson Wentz and Dan Quinn’s unit just held Sean McVay’s prolific offense to just one touchdown. Seeing them make it back to the NFC championship game would be fascinating, and only strengthen Quinn’s case for coach of the year given the horrific scenario his team endured in the Super Bowl last year.

Jaguars 10, Bills 3: Todd Wash’s defense is that good. While it was sad to see the freewheeling, table-smashing Bills fan base go home, the Jaguars are one of the most enticing clubs remaining in the playoffs for fans looking to latch onto a temporary storyline. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles this unit a second time around. On Oct. 8, Jacksonville pounded the Steelers, 30-9. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions. Despite taking New England to the 12th round a few weeks ago, the Steelers are nowhere near as automatic on offense as they should be (especially with Antonio Brown a question mark). That game will be fascinating.

Saints 31, Panthers 26: Alvin Kamara put up fewer than 40 total yards, but that Drew Brees guy isn’t bad. Outside of New England, the Saints are the most explosive offense left in the postseason. While they lose the comfort of the SuperDome, they come into next weekend’s matchup against the Vikings a far different team than the one that was upended by Sam Bradford in the season opener.

Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet? Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle.

HOT READS

NOW ON THE MMQB: Have the Panthers squandered Cam Newton's prime? . . . Jonathan Jones on Blake Bortles doing just enough to get by . . . A good question from Richard Deitsch: Will ESPN go at Jon Gruden when he's a head coach?

LATER TODAY: The Monday Morning Quarterback: America's finest football column . . . A pair of strong reads from Robert Klemko. I won't spoil the subjects, but be sure to carve out some time on Monday . . . Albert Breer on the Georgia Bulldogs, the next NFL draft factory.

WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: Kalyn Kahler on the Solder family's heartbreaking, yet inspiring battle with cancer . . . Sports Illustrated True Crime: Jenny Vrentas and Klemko track down the Tom Brady jersey thief.

PRESS COVERAGE

1. A late-breaking story Sunday, something we'll certainly be discussing this week. Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said of Bills guard Richie Incognito on Twitter: "Great win to day! And 64, you goin have to come harder than some weak racist slurs. I'm proud of my African heritage, as are 70% of the other Black players in this league. #Iaintjonathanmartin." Incognito's use of racial slurs was documented during the Jonathan Martin bullying scandal back in 2014. The league's report on their investigation can be found here. We've reached out to the NFL for comment as well, and will certainly have more to come today.

2. The Packers' decision to name Brian Gutekunst as their next general manager followed months of reported palace intrigue. It will be interesting to see how some of their talented evaluators and administrators, like Russ Ball and Eliot Wolf,respond to the move.

3. Teryl Austin is long overdue for a head coaching gig, but at least he's landed on his feet. The former Lions defensive coordinator will accept the same role under Marvin Lewis with the Bengals.

4. Antonio Brown spent the weekend training with . . . former Bengals wideout Chad Johnson?

5. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone continues the blunt assessments of his offense.

?

6. The Titans' one hope heading into the playoffs? Derrick Henry is a monster after contact.

7. An interesting question from Danny Kelly at The Ringer: What do we make of Andy Reid's coaching legacy?

8. More information is coming on this, but there are hard questions being asked as to whether the Panthers followed concussion protocol with Cam Newton after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half.

9. For the dog lovers out there: Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley is your new hero. A piece on his drive to adopt a pup no one wanted.

10. Elias Sports Bureau strikes again: This weekend's Tom Brady-Marcus Mariota tilt will be the largest age gap between playoff QBs in NFL history (16 years).

Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let us know here.

THE KICKER

A song for the Jaguars, who may be down and confused about their quarterback situation. In reality, the solution is simple.

Question? Comment? Story idea? Let the team know at talkback@themmqb.com

<p>There are eight teams still alive in this NFL season and just 27 days until Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.</p><p>Despite <a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Johnny" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Johnny </a><a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Manziel" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Manziel</a><a href="http://www.espn.com/cfl/story/_/id/21994526/hamilton-tiger-cats-negotiating-contract-agreement-qb-johnny-manziel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:news circulating" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"> news circulating</a>, we’ll focus the Huddle on American football on this frigid (at least for our Northeastern readers) Monday. Here was my immediate reaction from all four of wild-card games, setting the table for this year’s divisional round.</p><p><strong>Titans 22, Chiefs 21: </strong>An interesting point <a href="https://twitter.com/smartfootball/status/950071149794340865" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:brought up by Smart Football’s Chris Brown" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">brought up by Smart Football’s <strong>Chris Brown</strong></a>: A day after the Titans squeezed by Kansas City, partially on the heels of a once and a lifetime circus play by <strong>Marcus </strong><strong>Mariota</strong>, team ownership confirmed that head coach <strong>Mike </strong><strong>Mularkey</strong> would be back for another season. Brown wondered: “How impactful on Mariota’s career—and in which direction—was his second half performance?” Tennessee ownership let Mularkey twist in the wind leading up to Black Monday and paid the price. Now, for better or worse, they’ll sit out another coaching carousel while some bright offensive minds get jobs elsewhere.</p><p><strong>Falcons 26, Rams 13: </strong>The Falcons now ride into Philadelphia with their defense in top form. The Eagles don’t have<strong> Carson </strong><strong>Wentz</strong> and <strong>Dan Quinn</strong>’s unit just held <strong>Sean </strong><strong>McVay’s</strong> prolific offense to just one touchdown. Seeing them make it back to the NFC championship game would be fascinating, and only strengthen Quinn’s case for <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/falcons-rams-dan-quinn-2018-nfl-playoffs-nfc-wild-card" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:coach of the year given the horrific scenario" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">coach of the year given the horrific scenario </a>his team endured in the Super Bowl last year.</p><p><strong>Jaguars 10, Bills 3: </strong><strong>Todd Wash</strong>’s defense is that good. While it was sad to see the freewheeling, table-smashing Bills fan base go home, the Jaguars are one of the most enticing clubs remaining in the playoffs for fans looking to latch onto a temporary storyline. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles this unit a second time around. On Oct. 8, Jacksonville pounded the Steelers, 30-9. <strong>Ben </strong><strong>Roethlisberger</strong> threw five interceptions. Despite taking New England to the 12th round a few weeks ago, the Steelers are nowhere near as automatic on offense as they should be (especially with <strong>Antonio Brown</strong> a question mark). That game will be fascinating.</p><p><strong>Saints 31, Panthers 26: </strong><strong>Alvin </strong><strong>Kamara</strong> put up fewer than 40 total yards, but that <strong>Drew </strong><strong>Brees</strong> guy isn’t bad. Outside of New England, the Saints are the most explosive offense left in the postseason. While they lose the comfort of the SuperDome, they come into next weekend’s matchup against the Vikings a far different team than the one that was upended by Sam Bradford in the season opener. </p><p><b><i>Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet?</i></b> <a href="https://www.si.com/static/newsletter/signup" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><i>Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle</i></a><i>.</i></p><h3><strong>HOT READS</strong></h3><p><b>NOW ON THE MMQB: </b>Have the Panthers <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/saints-panthers-cam-newton-ron-rivera-2018-nfl-playoffs" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:squandered Cam Newton&#39;s prime" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">squandered <strong>Cam Newton&#39;s</strong> prime</a>? . . . Jonathan Jones on <strong>Blake Bortles </strong><a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/07/jaguars-bills-blake-bortles-nfl-playoffs-2018-afc-wild-card" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:doing just enough to get by" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">doing just enough to get by</a> . . . A good question from Richard Deitsch: <a href="https://www.si.com/tech-media/2018/01/07/jon-gruden-raiders-espn-monday-night-football" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Will ESPN go at Jon Gruden when he&#39;s a head coach" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Will ESPN go at <strong>Jon Gruden </strong>when he&#39;s a head coach</a>?</p><p><b>LATER TODAY: </b>The Monday Morning Quarterback: America&#39;s finest football column . . . A pair of strong reads from Robert Klemko. I won&#39;t spoil the subjects, but be sure to carve out some time on Monday . . . Albert Breer on the Georgia Bulldogs, the next NFL draft factory. </p><p><b>WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: </b>Kalyn Kahler on the Solder family&#39;s heartbreaking, yet <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/04/nate-solder-cancer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:inspiring battle with cancer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">inspiring battle with cancer</a> . . . Sports Illustrated True Crime: Jenny Vrentas and Klemko <a href="https://www.si.com/longform/true-crime/tom-brady-patriots-super-bowl-jersey-thief-mmqb/index.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:track down the Tom Brady jersey thief" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">track down the <strong>Tom Brady </strong>jersey thief</a>.</p><h3><b>PRESS COVERAGE</b></h3><p><strong>1</strong>. A late-breaking story Sunday, something we&#39;ll certainly be discussing this week. Jaguars defensive end <strong>Yannick Ngakoue</strong> said of Bills guard <strong>Richie Incognito </strong>on Twitter: &quot;Great win to day! And 64, you goin have to come harder than some weak racist slurs. I&#39;m proud of my African heritage, as are 70% of the other Black players in this league. #Iaintjonathanmartin.&quot; Incognito&#39;s use of racial slurs was documented during the <strong>Jonathan Martin</strong> bullying scandal back in 2014. The league&#39;s report on their investigation <a href="http://63bba9dfdf9675bf3f10-68be460ce43dd2a60dd64ca5eca4ae1d.r37.cf1.rackcdn.com/PaulWeissReport.pdf" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:can be found here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">can be found here</a>. We&#39;ve reached out to the NFL for comment as well, and will certainly have more to come today. </p><p><strong>2. </strong> The Packers&#39; decision to name <strong>Brian Gutekunst</strong> as their next general manager followed <a href="http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/01/07/mccarthy-rodgers-get-their-wish-russ-ball-wont-be-g-m-in-g-b/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:months of reported palace intrigue" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">months of reported palace intrigue</a>. It will be interesting to see how some of their talented evaluators and administrators, like <strong>Russ Ball</strong> and <strong>Eliot Wolf</strong>,respond to the move. </p><p><b>3. Teryl Austin </b>is long overdue for a head coaching gig, but at least he&#39;s landed on his feet. The former Lions defensive coordinator will accept the <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000904178/article/bengals-in-negotiations-to-hire-teryl-austin-as-dc" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:same role under Marvin Lewis" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">same role under Marvin Lewis</a> with the Bengals.</p><p><b>4.</b> <strong>Antonio Brown </strong>spent the weekend training with . . . <a href="http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21993383/pittsburgh-steelers-wr-antonio-brown-getting-ready-chad-johnson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:former Bengals" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">former Bengals</a> wideout <strong>Chad Johnson</strong>?</p><p><strong>5. </strong>Jaguars head coach<strong> Doug Marrone </strong>continues the blunt <a href="http://www.espn.com/blog/jacksonville-jaguars/post/_/id/24358/jaguars-survive-bills-and-blake-bortles-the-passer-for-first-playoff-win-since-07" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:assessments of his offense" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">assessments of his offense</a><strong>.</strong></p><p>?</p><p><b>6. </b> The Titans&#39; one hope heading into the playoffs? <strong>Derrick Henry </strong><a href="https://www.profootballfocus.com/news/pro-pff-elite-stats-that-defined-the-wild-card-playoff-games" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:is a monster after contact" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">is a monster after contact</a>. </p><p><strong>7. </strong>An interesting question from Danny Kelly at The Ringer: <a href="https://www.theringer.com/2018/1/7/16859140/andy-reid-kansas-city-chiefs-titans-postseason-choker-narrative" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:What do we make of Andy Reid&#39;s coaching legacy" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">What do we make of <strong>Andy Reid&#39;s</strong> coaching legacy</a>?</p><p><strong>8. </strong> More information is coming on this, but there are hard questions being asked as to whether the Panthers followed concussion <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/panthers/2018/01/07/cam-newton-concussion-protocol-carolina-panthers-nfl/1011890001/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:protocol with Cam Newton after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">protocol with <strong>Cam Newton</strong> after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half</a>.</p><p><b>9. </b>For the dog lovers out there: Ravens tackle <strong>Ronnie Stanley </strong>is your new hero. A piece on his <a href="https://www.simplemost.com/ravens-ronnie-stanley-adopted-dog-shelter/?llid=3JldV&#38;utm_campaign=liquidsocial&#38;utm_source=facebook&#38;utm_medium=partner&#38;utm_partner=liquidsocial&#38;utm_content=pyOx" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:drive to adopt a pup no one wanted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">drive to adopt a pup no one wanted</a>. </p><p><strong>10. Elias Sports Bureau </strong>strikes again: This weekend&#39;s <strong>Tom Brady-Marcus Mariota </strong>tilt will be the largest age gap <a href="https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/950215461194649600" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:between playoff QBs in NFL history" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">between playoff QBs in NFL history</a> (16 years). </p><p><b><i>Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage?</i></b> <span><i>Let us know here.</i></span></p><h3><b>THE KICKER</b></h3><p>A song for the Jaguars, who may be down and confused about their quarterback situation. In reality, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY4HI_vqf0c" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the solution is simple" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the solution is simple</a>. </p><p><i>Question? Comment? Story idea?</i><i> Let the team know at </i><i><span>talkback@themmqb.com</span></i></p>
NFL Wild Card Weekend: What We Learned

There are eight teams still alive in this NFL season and just 27 days until Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.

Despite Johnny Manziel news circulating, we’ll focus the Huddle on American football on this frigid (at least for our Northeastern readers) Monday. Here was my immediate reaction from all four of wild-card games, setting the table for this year’s divisional round.

Titans 22, Chiefs 21: An interesting point brought up by Smart Football’s Chris Brown: A day after the Titans squeezed by Kansas City, partially on the heels of a once and a lifetime circus play by Marcus Mariota, team ownership confirmed that head coach Mike Mularkey would be back for another season. Brown wondered: “How impactful on Mariota’s career—and in which direction—was his second half performance?” Tennessee ownership let Mularkey twist in the wind leading up to Black Monday and paid the price. Now, for better or worse, they’ll sit out another coaching carousel while some bright offensive minds get jobs elsewhere.

Falcons 26, Rams 13: The Falcons now ride into Philadelphia with their defense in top form. The Eagles don’t have Carson Wentz and Dan Quinn’s unit just held Sean McVay’s prolific offense to just one touchdown. Seeing them make it back to the NFC championship game would be fascinating, and only strengthen Quinn’s case for coach of the year given the horrific scenario his team endured in the Super Bowl last year.

Jaguars 10, Bills 3: Todd Wash’s defense is that good. While it was sad to see the freewheeling, table-smashing Bills fan base go home, the Jaguars are one of the most enticing clubs remaining in the playoffs for fans looking to latch onto a temporary storyline. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh handles this unit a second time around. On Oct. 8, Jacksonville pounded the Steelers, 30-9. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions. Despite taking New England to the 12th round a few weeks ago, the Steelers are nowhere near as automatic on offense as they should be (especially with Antonio Brown a question mark). That game will be fascinating.

Saints 31, Panthers 26: Alvin Kamara put up fewer than 40 total yards, but that Drew Brees guy isn’t bad. Outside of New England, the Saints are the most explosive offense left in the postseason. While they lose the comfort of the SuperDome, they come into next weekend’s matchup against the Vikings a far different team than the one that was upended by Sam Bradford in the season opener.

Not getting this newsletter in your inbox yet? Join The MMQB’s Morning Huddle.

HOT READS

NOW ON THE MMQB: Have the Panthers squandered Cam Newton's prime? . . . Jonathan Jones on Blake Bortles doing just enough to get by . . . A good question from Richard Deitsch: Will ESPN go at Jon Gruden when he's a head coach?

LATER TODAY: The Monday Morning Quarterback: America's finest football column . . . A pair of strong reads from Robert Klemko. I won't spoil the subjects, but be sure to carve out some time on Monday . . . Albert Breer on the Georgia Bulldogs, the next NFL draft factory.

WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: Kalyn Kahler on the Solder family's heartbreaking, yet inspiring battle with cancer . . . Sports Illustrated True Crime: Jenny Vrentas and Klemko track down the Tom Brady jersey thief.

PRESS COVERAGE

1. A late-breaking story Sunday, something we'll certainly be discussing this week. Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said of Bills guard Richie Incognito on Twitter: "Great win to day! And 64, you goin have to come harder than some weak racist slurs. I'm proud of my African heritage, as are 70% of the other Black players in this league. #Iaintjonathanmartin." Incognito's use of racial slurs was documented during the Jonathan Martin bullying scandal back in 2014. The league's report on their investigation can be found here. We've reached out to the NFL for comment as well, and will certainly have more to come today.

2. The Packers' decision to name Brian Gutekunst as their next general manager followed months of reported palace intrigue. It will be interesting to see how some of their talented evaluators and administrators, like Russ Ball and Eliot Wolf,respond to the move.

3. Teryl Austin is long overdue for a head coaching gig, but at least he's landed on his feet. The former Lions defensive coordinator will accept the same role under Marvin Lewis with the Bengals.

4. Antonio Brown spent the weekend training with . . . former Bengals wideout Chad Johnson?

5. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone continues the blunt assessments of his offense.

?

6. The Titans' one hope heading into the playoffs? Derrick Henry is a monster after contact.

7. An interesting question from Danny Kelly at The Ringer: What do we make of Andy Reid's coaching legacy?

8. More information is coming on this, but there are hard questions being asked as to whether the Panthers followed concussion protocol with Cam Newton after the quarterback absorbed a head shot in the second half.

9. For the dog lovers out there: Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley is your new hero. A piece on his drive to adopt a pup no one wanted.

10. Elias Sports Bureau strikes again: This weekend's Tom Brady-Marcus Mariota tilt will be the largest age gap between playoff QBs in NFL history (16 years).

Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let us know here.

THE KICKER

A song for the Jaguars, who may be down and confused about their quarterback situation. In reality, the solution is simple.

Question? Comment? Story idea? Let the team know at talkback@themmqb.com

<p>A fan is seen prior to the NFL Wild Card Round between the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) </p>
Wild card weekend

A fan is seen prior to the NFL Wild Card Round between the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

<p>A fan is seen prior to the NFL Wild Card Round between the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) </p>
Wild card weekend

A fan is seen prior to the NFL Wild Card Round between the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2017, file photo, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) celebrates his touchdown in front of Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry (24) during the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans. Whether Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Kamara are standing side-by-side in the Superdome locker room for one of their joint postgame news conferences, or side-by-side on the sidelined of a college football game they attended together, it looks as though they not only feel invested in one anothers success, but actually like one another. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
Saints' Ingram, Kamara aim to embody friendly competition
FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2017, file photo, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) celebrates his touchdown in front of Carolina Panthers cornerback James Bradberry (24) during the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans. Whether Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Kamara are standing side-by-side in the Superdome locker room for one of their joint postgame news conferences, or side-by-side on the sidelined of a college football game they attended together, it looks as though they not only feel invested in one anothers success, but actually like one another. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 24, 2017, file photo, New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) carries for a touchdown as Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal (22) pursues during the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans. Whether Saints running back Ingram and Alvin Kamara are standing side-by-side in the Superdome locker room for one of their joint postgame news conferences, or side-by-side on the sidelined of a college football game they attended together, it looks as though they not only feel invested in one anothers success, but actually like one another.(AP Photo/Bill Feig, File)
Saints' Ingram, Kamara aim to embody friendly competition
FILE - In this Dec. 24, 2017, file photo, New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) carries for a touchdown as Atlanta Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal (22) pursues during the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans. Whether Saints running back Ingram and Alvin Kamara are standing side-by-side in the Superdome locker room for one of their joint postgame news conferences, or side-by-side on the sidelined of a college football game they attended together, it looks as though they not only feel invested in one anothers success, but actually like one another.(AP Photo/Bill Feig, File)
<p>Before this season, many NFL bettors would probably be surprised to see the Buffalo Bills (9-7) and Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) squaring off in the playoffs, with one of them guaranteed of advancing for the first time in at least a decade.</p><p>The Jaguars last earned a postseason victory in 2007 while the Bills have not won a playoff game since 1995. Jacksonville is listed as a <a href="http://www.oddsshark.com/nfl/odds" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:consensus 8.5-point home favorite" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">consensus 8.5-point home favorite</a> at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com for this Sunday&#39;s Wild Card game, with Buffalo back in the state of Florida for the second straight week after defeating the Miami Dolphins 22-16 last Sunday.</p><p>The Bills are returning to the postseason for the first time since 1999—when they lost 22-16 to the Tennessee Titans on the &quot;Music City Miracle&quot; play. They are hoping to have running back LeSean McCoy available, as he has been nursing an ankle injury that limited him against the Dolphins when he totaled just 10 yards on 11 carries.</p><p>The Jaguars have one of the best defenses in the league, but their real strength is in the secondary. They have held opponents to an NFL-low 169.9 yards per game through the air while surrendering an average of 116.3 on the ground.</p><p>Jacksonville has failed to cover the number in four of its last five Wild Card appearances, and the visiting team is 5-1 against the spread in the past six meetings with Buffalo, according to the </p><p>Later on Sunday, an NFC South Wild Card matchup will take place at the Superdome in New Orleans when the Saints (11-5) host the Carolina Panthers (11-5) for the second time in six weeks <a href="http://www.oddsshark.com/nfl/carolina-new-orleans-odds-january-7-2018-933507" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as seven-point betting favorites" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as seven-point betting favorites</a>. New Orleans swept two regular-season meetings with Carolina, winning each by double digits to easily cover the spread both times.</p><p>The Panthers are also 0-5-1 ATS in the past six meetings with the Saints, who are riding a five-game home winning streak in the playoffs. On a positive note, Carolina has gone 7-3 ATS in its previous 10 road games, but two of the failed covers have occurred in the team&#39;s last two away from home versus New Orleans and the Atlanta Falcons.</p>
NFL Odds: Betting Lines and Trends for Sunday's Wild Card Games

Before this season, many NFL bettors would probably be surprised to see the Buffalo Bills (9-7) and Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6) squaring off in the playoffs, with one of them guaranteed of advancing for the first time in at least a decade.

The Jaguars last earned a postseason victory in 2007 while the Bills have not won a playoff game since 1995. Jacksonville is listed as a consensus 8.5-point home favorite at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com for this Sunday's Wild Card game, with Buffalo back in the state of Florida for the second straight week after defeating the Miami Dolphins 22-16 last Sunday.

The Bills are returning to the postseason for the first time since 1999—when they lost 22-16 to the Tennessee Titans on the "Music City Miracle" play. They are hoping to have running back LeSean McCoy available, as he has been nursing an ankle injury that limited him against the Dolphins when he totaled just 10 yards on 11 carries.

The Jaguars have one of the best defenses in the league, but their real strength is in the secondary. They have held opponents to an NFL-low 169.9 yards per game through the air while surrendering an average of 116.3 on the ground.

Jacksonville has failed to cover the number in four of its last five Wild Card appearances, and the visiting team is 5-1 against the spread in the past six meetings with Buffalo, according to the

Later on Sunday, an NFC South Wild Card matchup will take place at the Superdome in New Orleans when the Saints (11-5) host the Carolina Panthers (11-5) for the second time in six weeks as seven-point betting favorites. New Orleans swept two regular-season meetings with Carolina, winning each by double digits to easily cover the spread both times.

The Panthers are also 0-5-1 ATS in the past six meetings with the Saints, who are riding a five-game home winning streak in the playoffs. On a positive note, Carolina has gone 7-3 ATS in its previous 10 road games, but two of the failed covers have occurred in the team's last two away from home versus New Orleans and the Atlanta Falcons.

FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017 file photo, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) tries to avoid the tackle by New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Hau&#39;oli Kikaha (44) and cornerback Sterling Moore (24) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans. Cam Newton knows the Panthers will be walking into a pressure-packed environment Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 when they face the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in an NFC wild card game. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
Panthers hoping playoff experience pays off in postseason
FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017 file photo, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) tries to avoid the tackle by New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha (44) and cornerback Sterling Moore (24) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans. Cam Newton knows the Panthers will be walking into a pressure-packed environment Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 when they face the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in an NFC wild card game. (AP Photo/Butch Dill, File)
<p>NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.</p><p>He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.</p><p>“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”</p><p><em>Vibe.</em> It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.</p><p>If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.</p><p>But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.</p><p>It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream <em>“Who Dat!”</em> A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.</p><p>After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.</p><p>While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.</p><p>Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.</p><p>If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.</p><p>It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.</p><p>“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”</p><p>Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.</p><p>Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”</p><p>He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.</p><p>He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading <em>The Seven Stages of Power and Healing</em>, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. <em>We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.</em></p><p>He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.</p><p>Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.</p><p>His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.</p><p>All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player <em>should</em> be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.</p><p>Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—<em>The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. </em>The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.</p><p>Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.</p><p>Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”</p><p>Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.</p><p>When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.</p><p>“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”</p><p>He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.</p><p>So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.</p><p>On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. <em>This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. </em>Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell <em>he </em>was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.</p><p>His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. <em>“</em>This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.</p><p>Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.</p><p>After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.</p><p>For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.</p><p>At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.</p><p>“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.</p><p>Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he <em>had</em> to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.</p><p>Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.</p><p>Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier <em>actual</em> wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.</p><p>Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the <em>next </em>would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get <em>there</em>.”</p><p>Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”</p><p>Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.</p><p>Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.</p><p>Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.</p><p>Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.</p><p>A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.</p><p>At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the <em>Avenger</em> movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.</p><p>“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”</p><p>Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s <em>Moana </em>on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët &#38; Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.</p><p>“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”</p><p>At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken &#38; Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the <em>real</em> New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.</p><p>At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.</p><p>At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.</p><p>The vibe is off. He can feel it.</p><p><em><strong>Question or comment?</strong> Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara Can Feel the Vibe

NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.

He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.

“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”

Vibe. It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.

If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.

But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream “Who Dat!” A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.

After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.

While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.

Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.

If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.

It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.

“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”

Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.

Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”

He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.

He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.

He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.

Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.

His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.

All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player should be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.

Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.

Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.

Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”

Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.

When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.

“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”

He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.

So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.

On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell he was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.

His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.

Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.

After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.

For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.

At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.

“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.

Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he had to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.

Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.

Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier actual wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.

Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the next would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get there.”

Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”

Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.

Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.

Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.

Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.

A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.

At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the Avenger movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.

“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”

Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s Moana on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët & Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.

“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”

At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken & Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the real New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.

At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.

At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.

The vibe is off. He can feel it.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.</p><p>He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.</p><p>“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”</p><p><em>Vibe.</em> It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.</p><p>If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.</p><p>But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.</p><p>It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream <em>“Who Dat!”</em> A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.</p><p>After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.</p><p>While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.</p><p>Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.</p><p>If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.</p><p>It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.</p><p>“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”</p><p>Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.</p><p>Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”</p><p>He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.</p><p>He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading <em>The Seven Stages of Power and Healing</em>, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. <em>We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.</em></p><p>He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.</p><p>Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.</p><p>His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.</p><p>All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player <em>should</em> be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.</p><p>Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—<em>The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. </em>The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.</p><p>Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.</p><p>Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”</p><p>Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.</p><p>When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.</p><p>“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”</p><p>He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.</p><p>So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.</p><p>On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. <em>This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. </em>Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell <em>he </em>was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.</p><p>His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. <em>“</em>This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.</p><p>Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.</p><p>After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.</p><p>For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.</p><p>At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.</p><p>“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.</p><p>Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he <em>had</em> to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.</p><p>Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.</p><p>Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier <em>actual</em> wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.</p><p>Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the <em>next </em>would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get <em>there</em>.”</p><p>Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”</p><p>Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.</p><p>Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.</p><p>Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.</p><p>Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.</p><p>A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.</p><p>At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the <em>Avenger</em> movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.</p><p>“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”</p><p>Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s <em>Moana </em>on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët &#38; Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.</p><p>“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”</p><p>At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken &#38; Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the <em>real</em> New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.</p><p>At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.</p><p>At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.</p><p>The vibe is off. He can feel it.</p><p><em><strong>Question or comment?</strong> Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara Can Feel the Vibe

NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.

He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.

“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”

Vibe. It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.

If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.

But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream “Who Dat!” A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.

After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.

While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.

Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.

If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.

It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.

“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”

Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.

Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”

He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.

He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.

He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.

Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.

His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.

All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player should be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.

Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.

Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.

Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”

Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.

When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.

“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”

He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.

So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.

On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell he was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.

His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.

Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.

After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.

For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.

At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.

“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.

Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he had to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.

Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.

Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier actual wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.

Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the next would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get there.”

Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”

Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.

Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.

Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.

Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.

A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.

At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the Avenger movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.

“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”

Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s Moana on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët & Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.

“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”

At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken & Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the real New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.

At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.

At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.

The vibe is off. He can feel it.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.</p><p>He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.</p><p>“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”</p><p><em>Vibe.</em> It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.</p><p>If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.</p><p>But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.</p><p>It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream <em>“Who Dat!”</em> A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.</p><p>After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.</p><p>While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.</p><p>Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.</p><p>If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.</p><p>It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.</p><p>“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”</p><p>Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.</p><p>Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”</p><p>He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.</p><p>He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading <em>The Seven Stages of Power and Healing</em>, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. <em>We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.</em></p><p>He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.</p><p>Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.</p><p>His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.</p><p>All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player <em>should</em> be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.</p><p>Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—<em>The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. </em>The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.</p><p>Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.</p><p>Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”</p><p>Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.</p><p>When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.</p><p>“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”</p><p>He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.</p><p>So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.</p><p>On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. <em>This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. </em>Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell <em>he </em>was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.</p><p>His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. <em>“</em>This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.</p><p>Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.</p><p>After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.</p><p>For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.</p><p>At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.</p><p>“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.</p><p>Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he <em>had</em> to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.</p><p>Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.</p><p>Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier <em>actual</em> wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.</p><p>Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the <em>next </em>would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get <em>there</em>.”</p><p>Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”</p><p>Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.</p><p>Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.</p><p>Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.</p><p>Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.</p><p>A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.</p><p>At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the <em>Avenger</em> movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.</p><p>“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”</p><p>Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s <em>Moana </em>on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët &#38; Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.</p><p>“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”</p><p>At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken &#38; Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the <em>real</em> New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.</p><p>At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.</p><p>At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.</p><p>The vibe is off. He can feel it.</p><p><em><strong>Question or comment?</strong> Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara Can Feel the Vibe

NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.

He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.

“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”

Vibe. It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.

If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.

But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream “Who Dat!” A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.

After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.

While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.

Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.

If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.

It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.

“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”

Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.

Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”

He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.

He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.

He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.

Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.

His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.

All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player should be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.

Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.

Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.

Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”

Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.

When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.

“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”

He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.

So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.

On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell he was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.

His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.

Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.

After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.

For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.

At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.

“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.

Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he had to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.

Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.

Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier actual wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.

Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the next would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get there.”

Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”

Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.

Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.

Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.

Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.

A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.

At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the Avenger movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.

“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”

Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s Moana on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët & Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.

“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”

At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken & Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the real New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.

At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.

At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.

The vibe is off. He can feel it.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.</p><p>He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.</p><p>“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”</p><p><em>Vibe.</em> It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.</p><p>If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.</p><p>But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.</p><p>It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream <em>“Who Dat!”</em> A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.</p><p>After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.</p><p>While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.</p><p>Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.</p><p>If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.</p><p>It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.</p><p>“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”</p><p>Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.</p><p>Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”</p><p>He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.</p><p>He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading <em>The Seven Stages of Power and Healing</em>, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. <em>We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.</em></p><p>He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.</p><p>Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.</p><p>His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.</p><p>All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player <em>should</em> be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.</p><p>Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—<em>The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. </em>The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.</p><p>Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.</p><p>Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”</p><p>Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.</p><p>When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.</p><p>“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”</p><p>He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.</p><p>So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.</p><p>On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. <em>This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. </em>Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell <em>he </em>was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.</p><p>His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. <em>“</em>This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.</p><p>Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.</p><p>After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.</p><p>For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.</p><p>At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.</p><p>“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.</p><p>Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he <em>had</em> to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.</p><p>Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.</p><p>Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier <em>actual</em> wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.</p><p>Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the <em>next </em>would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get <em>there</em>.”</p><p>Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”</p><p>Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.</p><p>Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.</p><p>Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.</p><p>Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.</p><p>A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.</p><p>At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the <em>Avenger</em> movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.</p><p>“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”</p><p>Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s <em>Moana </em>on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët &#38; Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.</p><p>“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”</p><p>At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken &#38; Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the <em>real</em> New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.</p><p>At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.</p><p>At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.</p><p>The vibe is off. He can feel it.</p><p><em><strong>Question or comment?</strong> Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara Can Feel the Vibe

NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.

He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.

“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”

Vibe. It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.

If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.

But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream “Who Dat!” A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.

After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.

While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.

Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.

If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.

It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.

“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”

Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.

Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”

He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.

He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.

He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.

Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.

His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.

All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player should be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.

Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.

Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.

Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”

Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.

When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.

“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”

He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.

So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.

On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell he was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.

His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.

Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.

After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.

For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.

At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.

“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.

Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he had to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.

Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.

Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier actual wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.

Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the next would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get there.”

Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”

Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.

Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.

Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.

Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.

A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.

At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the Avenger movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.

“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”

Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s Moana on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët & Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.

“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”

At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken & Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the real New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.

At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.

At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.

The vibe is off. He can feel it.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.</p><p>He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.</p><p>“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”</p><p><em>Vibe.</em> It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.</p><p>If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.</p><p>But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.</p><p>It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream <em>“Who Dat!”</em> A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.</p><p>After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.</p><p>While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.</p><p>Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.</p><p>If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.</p><p>It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.</p><p>“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”</p><p>Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.</p><p>Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”</p><p>He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.</p><p>He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading <em>The Seven Stages of Power and Healing</em>, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. <em>We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.</em></p><p>He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.</p><p>Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.</p><p>His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.</p><p>All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player <em>should</em> be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.</p><p>Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—<em>The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. </em>The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.</p><p>Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.</p><p>Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”</p><p>Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.</p><p>When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.</p><p>“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”</p><p>He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.</p><p>So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.</p><p>On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. <em>This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. </em>Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell <em>he </em>was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.</p><p>His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. <em>“</em>This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.</p><p>Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.</p><p>After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.</p><p>For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.</p><p>At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.</p><p>“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.</p><p>Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he <em>had</em> to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.</p><p>Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.</p><p>Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier <em>actual</em> wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.</p><p>Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the <em>next </em>would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get <em>there</em>.”</p><p>Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”</p><p>Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.</p><p>Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.</p><p>Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.</p><p>Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.</p><p>A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.</p><p>At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the <em>Avenger</em> movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.</p><p>“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”</p><p>Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s <em>Moana </em>on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët &#38; Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.</p><p>“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”</p><p>At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken &#38; Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the <em>real</em> New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.</p><p>At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.</p><p>At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.</p><p>The vibe is off. He can feel it.</p><p><em><strong>Question or comment?</strong> Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara Can Feel the Vibe

NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.

He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.

“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”

Vibe. It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.

If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.

But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream “Who Dat!” A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.

After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.

While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.

Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.

If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.

It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.

“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”

Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.

Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”

He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.

He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.

He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.

Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.

His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.

All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player should be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.

Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.

Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.

Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”

Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.

When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.

“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”

He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.

So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.

On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell he was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.

His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.

Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.

After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.

For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.

At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.

“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.

Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he had to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.

Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.

Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier actual wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.

Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the next would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get there.”

Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”

Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.

Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.

Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.

Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.

A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.

At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the Avenger movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.

“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”

Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s Moana on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët & Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.

“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”

At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken & Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the real New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.

At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.

At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.

The vibe is off. He can feel it.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.</p><p>He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.</p><p>“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”</p><p><em>Vibe.</em> It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.</p><p>If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.</p><p>But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.</p><p>It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream <em>“Who Dat!”</em> A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.</p><p>After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.</p><p>While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.</p><p>Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.</p><p>If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.</p><p>It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.</p><p>“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”</p><p>Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.</p><p>Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”</p><p>He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.</p><p>He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading <em>The Seven Stages of Power and Healing</em>, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. <em>We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.</em></p><p>He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.</p><p>Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.</p><p>His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.</p><p>All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player <em>should</em> be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.</p><p>Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—<em>The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. </em>The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.</p><p>Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.</p><p>Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”</p><p>Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.</p><p>When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.</p><p>“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”</p><p>He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.</p><p>So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.</p><p>On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. <em>This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. </em>Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell <em>he </em>was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.</p><p>His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. <em>“</em>This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.</p><p>Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.</p><p>After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.</p><p>For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.</p><p>At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.</p><p>“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.</p><p>Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he <em>had</em> to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.</p><p>Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.</p><p>Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier <em>actual</em> wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.</p><p>Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the <em>next </em>would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get <em>there</em>.”</p><p>Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”</p><p>Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.</p><p>Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.</p><p>Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.</p><p>Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.</p><p>A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.</p><p>At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the <em>Avenger</em> movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.</p><p>“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”</p><p>Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s <em>Moana </em>on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët &#38; Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.</p><p>“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”</p><p>At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken &#38; Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the <em>real</em> New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.</p><p>At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.</p><p>At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.</p><p>The vibe is off. He can feel it.</p><p><em><strong>Question or comment?</strong> Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara Can Feel the Vibe

NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.

He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.

“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”

Vibe. It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.

If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.

But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream “Who Dat!” A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.

After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.

While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.

Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.

If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.

It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.

“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”

Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.

Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”

He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.

He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.

He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.

Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.

His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.

All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player should be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.

Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.

Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.

Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”

Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.

When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.

“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”

He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.

So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.

On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell he was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.

His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.

Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.

After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.

For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.

At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.

“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.

Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he had to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.

Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.

Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier actual wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.

Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the next would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get there.”

Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”

Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.

Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.

Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.

Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.

A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.

At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the Avenger movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.

“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”

Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s Moana on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët & Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.

“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”

At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken & Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the real New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.

At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.

At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.

The vibe is off. He can feel it.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.</p><p>He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.</p><p>“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”</p><p><em>Vibe.</em> It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.</p><p>If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.</p><p>But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.</p><p>It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream <em>“Who Dat!”</em> A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.</p><p>After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.</p><p>While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.</p><p>Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.</p><p>If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.</p><p>It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.</p><p>“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”</p><p>Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.</p><p>Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”</p><p>He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.</p><p>He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading <em>The Seven Stages of Power and Healing</em>, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. <em>We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.</em></p><p>He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.</p><p>Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.</p><p>His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.</p><p>All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player <em>should</em> be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.</p><p>Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—<em>The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. </em>The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.</p><p>Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.</p><p>Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”</p><p>Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.</p><p>When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.</p><p>“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”</p><p>He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.</p><p>So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.</p><p>On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. <em>This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. </em>Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell <em>he </em>was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.</p><p>His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. <em>“</em>This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.</p><p>Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.</p><p>After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.</p><p>For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.</p><p>At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.</p><p>“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.</p><p>Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he <em>had</em> to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.</p><p>Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.</p><p>Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier <em>actual</em> wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.</p><p>Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the <em>next </em>would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get <em>there</em>.”</p><p>Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”</p><p>Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.</p><p>Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.</p><p>Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.</p><p>Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.</p><p>A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.</p><p>At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the <em>Avenger</em> movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.</p><p>“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”</p><p>Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s <em>Moana </em>on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët &#38; Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.</p><p>“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”</p><p>At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken &#38; Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the <em>real</em> New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.</p><p>At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.</p><p>At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.</p><p>The vibe is off. He can feel it.</p><p><em><strong>Question or comment?</strong> Email us at <span>talkback@themmqb.com</span>.</em></p>
In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara Can Feel the Vibe

NEW ORLEANS — Two street performers strum fiddles under ornate cast-iron balconies in the French Quarter of New Orleans as Alvin Kamara strolls through the streets. He walks past art galleries, voodoo stores and antique shops. Fans follow behind, the horde continually growing, all ages and genders and ethnicities, the whole city chasing after him. Chefs come out of restaurants with aprons on, asking for pictures. “Rookie of the Year!” is a frequent greeting. An elderly man tells him he already has plane tickets to Minnesota for the Super Bowl; the man’s wife says that she was the one who sent Kamara a box of Airheads last week. “Thank you so much from our whole city,” she beams, hugging him tight.

He continues through the eccentric scene that is Jackson Square, past the tarot card readers and the psychics and the men dressed up as female pirates and the women painted bronze who stand on carts and pose as statues. Two adolescent street drummers ask if he could help them pull apart their buckets that got stuck together; Kamara stops and spends a few minutes tugging, straining, using his foot as leverage until he finally pries them apart. They thank him and he continues, through cobblestone corridors, past Creole cottages, the whole city of New Orleans at his feet, adoration awaiting on every corner.

“There’s a lot of love here,” Kamara says. “There’s a feel-good vibe [in this city].”

Vibe. It’s a concept Kamara talks often about, something he believes he is acutely attuned to. He says he got that from his mother, Adama, who fled Liberia in 1989 when she was 29 years old, escaping right before the civil war broke out because she sensed it was coming. She often has premonitions based on instinct—once when he was a college student back home in Atlanta for winter break, she called Alvin dozens of times throughout the day, pleading with him to come home; he ignored her, and the night ended with him getting into a car crash. Kamara now believes he is the same way, in touch with himself and the way he feels.

If his gut tells him that something is off, Kamara will simply leave. He’s done it before. Every city, every situation, has its own energy, its own vibe, he says. And the vibe’s been off before. Many times throughout his life everything has felt wrong.

But not here, not in this city, with these people and this team.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late December, and the sun is beginning to set in the Quarter. Cars honk as they drive past. Some stop in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, just to scream “Who Dat!” A homeless man lying on the sidewalk sits up and says, “AK.” A trumpeter follows him around the block and plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” A horse-drawn carriage pulls back abruptly so that the driver can pay his respects. Fans ask for pictures— he always obliges—and then say that they love him. “I love you, too,” Kamara responds.

After years of being underappreciated, undervalued and underutilized, Kamara has finally found what he has long been searching for. A home. An ideal fit, both in football and in life. A scheme that accentuates his skills, a coach who maximizes his abilities, a team and a city that allow him to be him—bull nose ring, gold grill, dreadlocks and all. The 22-year-old has put up historic numbers in his rookie season, quickly becoming one of the most exciting players in the league and a paragon of efficiency, more productive per touch (9.0 yards) than any other NFL running back in the last 25 years. He has lifted a team at the very tail-end of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s career back to the playoffs, and back into Super Bowl contention. But it is his connection with New Orleans and its denizens, the way that his vibe flows with theirs, that has made this pairing work so well. It is organic, authentic. It is distinctly Kamara.

While most of his Saints teammates live near the team facility in Metarie or Kenner, Kamara decided to move downtown, into a ground-floor apartment, his floor-to-very-high-ceiling windows facing directly out to the street and the people on them. He walks home from games, from the Superdome to his front door, amid the revelry and the hordes of adoring fans; down Canal Street to high-end fashion stores to browse; around the block to get breakfast at the Ruby Slipper or to pick up groceries. He considers himself a foodie and has dined at the city’s most famous establishments and the hidden gems on every street, in fancy neighborhoods and not-so-fancy— he has tried beignets and oysters for the first time, and has grown to love the char-grilled variety of the latter.

Eventually he hopes to sit at every great restaurant in the city. He knows this might take years to accomplish, but he’s in no rush. He plans to be here for a while.

If you ever find yourself in Alvin Kamara’s apartment, one of the first things that will happen is that you will be offered an Airhead. Just open the bottom drawer in the kitchen, he says.

It’s about four hours after practice ended on Friday and Kamara is hanging out on his couch with Antonio Morgan (DJ Tonee if you’re from Atlanta), who flew in for the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday. The two have been friends since Kamara was in 6th grade. When Kamara is asked what has changed in his life this year, the year that everything seems to have changed, Morgan answers for him.

“Ain’t nothing changed,” he says. “I’m still here.”

Which brings us back to that drawer in the kitchen. In it you’ll find Airhead Bites, Xtreme Airhead Sour Belts, regular-sized Airheads and mini Airheads—every flavor except Watermelon, because that’s Kamara’s favorite and he’s already eaten all of them. Earlier this year the company saw a picture of the star rookie with a handful of their product—which has always been his preferred candy—and reached out on Twitter to ask if they could send him a care package. Now Kamara reiterates that nothing has changed in his life this year—other than the Airheads.

Like most famous people, Kamara has received offers for other free things. A protein drink company has sent him several cases, unsolicited, which he keeps in the corner of his kitchen and says he needs to donate or get rid of, because he doesn’t drink that protein shake and refuses to endorse a product he doesn’t use. That wouldn’t be organic. That wouldn’t be Kamara. Neither would taking the free cars that several dealerships have offered. Or the yacht that one fan on Twitter said he’d give him. “Even if I wanted a boat,” Kamara says, “what the f--- am I going to do with a boat right now?”

He had no desire to make an outlandish purchase after he was drafted, because there was nothing he wanted. “I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf---ing wings,” he says. That is Kamara.

He has no problem with telling you who he is, because he’s already done his soul searching and is content with what he found. He often sits on his couch after practice, by himself, watches the 75-inch LG TV mounted in his living room, and reads. Right now he is reading The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, which uses “wisdom from Hindu, Christian and Kaballah traditions” to create a “comprehensive guide to energy healing.” Kamara now flips through the iBook on his phone and shows off some of the passages he has highlighted. We all have negative feelings, but not all negativity produces disease.

He often jots down his own thoughts in the Notes app on his iPhone, whenever something profound strikes him. During training camp Kamara cut off communication with everyone—responding with one word answers to family and close friends—but he still needed to express his feelings, so he wrote down entries everyday, like a journal. He often goes back to reread what he wrote at a specific point in his life because, he says, you can’t grow as a person unless you assess, honestly, from the outside looking in, everything that you have done before, both the negative and the positive.

Kamara’s life is structured. He sticks to the same regimen every weekend. “There’s no exceptions,” he says, noting that he is a bit OCD as he gets up to sweep a speck of dust that he spotted in his immaculately clean kitchen and then rearrange the slightly askew pillows on his couch. “The angles and s--- is very particular in here,” he says.

His routine is long and exacting. The highlights: He has two chocolate chip cookies on Saturday night, but throws away the last bite of the first one. He sleeps on the bed furthest from the door in his hotel room and places his shoes on the very bottom of the other bed, so he can’t see them when he lies down. He balls up his schedule before he leaves his hotel room on Sunday morning and shoots it into the trashcan. Then he takes a cup, not a bowl, and places two spoonfuls of oatmeal and a touch of brown sugar into it and eats it all; then he pours a glass of water and drinks only some.

All of that has allowed Kamara to remain himself in the midst of sudden fame. He knows who he is and is comfortable being that person, refusing to conform to someone else’s vision of what a star football player should be. He is an eccentric, a bit odd and unconventional, and he hasn’t changed, even when everything else around him has.

Most days Kamara will go on Netflix and throw on some of his old favorite Disney titles—The Lion King, Atlantis, Little Mermaid. The movies remind him of the most innocent time in his life, when he was a kid and had no obligations, nothing to worry about. They provide a brief escape from the responsibilities and craziness of his new existence, tethering him to reality, because being Alvin Kamara hasn’t always been this easy. Especially for Alvin Kamara.

Nick Saban sold Kamara on the idea that Alabama wanted a versatile back like him, something they never had before. Kamara didn’t care that the team had a glut of running back talent. He had grown up watching Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. The best running backs in the country go to Alabama, he figured, and he’d be the best of them all.

Or as Kamara puts it, “I was ’bout to go to Bama and show everybody why I’m the s---.”

Just a week and a half before the Tide’s 2013 season started, Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus on a non-contact play and was red-shirted. It was the first significant injury he had ever suffered, and he responded by shutting everyone out. He didn’t return calls or texts from coaches or trainers, locking himself in his dorm suite all day. Staff members started to worry, asking if he was OK—not physically, but mentally. He told everyone he was fine, but as he lay in bed the word “why” kept repeating in his head.

When Kamara eventually got back on the field, he knew that he was not playing for the rest of the season, so he loafed through drills. Saban created a punishment system called The Box, specifically for Kamara, which was four cones set up on the sideline where he would be sent to do push-ups, sit-ups and body weight squats for the duration of practice. He was suspended for the team’s game against LSU in November and again for the Sugar Bowl in January. By that point, Kamara had already decided he was transferring.

“I started feeling like this isn’t it, this isn’t for me,” Kamara says. “I had to follow my gut. Follow my heart.”

He was convinced the vibe was off. He could sense it. His actions were immature; he had been caught up in the allure of being a big-time college football player, thinking he had already made it, then he got hurt and lost focus. He knew he had to be honest with himself. He had never had any behavioral or disciplinary issues before. He needed a change, a fresh start.

So he abruptly left school two days into his second semester, returned home to Atlanta, and quickly realized that he had no plan, no idea what he was doing. He ignored repeated calls from college coaches looking to recruit him. He had lost focus, lost track of his vision for the future. “Lost myself,” he says. Then, the low point: In February, Kamara took his mom’s car to do his laundry. He was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, and the police officer discovered that Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit. He was handcuffed and arrested.

On the drive to the police station, the officer lectured Kamara. This is what you want to do with your life? No kids would look up to you. Kamara sat in a cell for eight hours, as fellow prisoners asked the local star what the hell he was doing in there. He started to wonder the same. He had been playing college football two months ago. This wasn’t him.

His mother bailed him out at 3 am. She wasn’t mad. She simply asked, “What’s next?” When he left Alabama he had been excoriated by Tide fans on Twitter and on the team message boards, and he had read every comment. This kid can’t play in the SEC,” he says now, repeating the criticisms. “He’s selfish. He’s a crybaby. He’s not built for it. He’s a coward. He’s not good enough.” Kamara was barred from transferring to an SEC school, per Alabama stipulations, but he could have joined another conference and sat out a season. He didn’t want that. He needed to get back to the SEC. “Had something to prove,” he says.

Less than a week later Kamara was in Kansas, enrolling at Hutchinson Community College. That year he did nothing but go to class, then to practice, then back to his dorm room to play Call of Duty on PS4 all night. When teammates traveled to Wichita or Manhattan to party on weekends, Kamara never joined in. He knew where he wanted to go, and this was just a quick detour. He got the bull nose ring that year; he was slowly finding himself and growing comfortable with what he found.

After one season, and one conference offensive player of the year award, Kamara transferred to Tennessee, finally back in the SEC. But he’d soon learn that something felt off, again. “F---ed up” is how Kamara describes the football experience in Knoxville. Kamara is clearly a dynamic force on the field, but a coach must scheme for his abilities. To fully actualize his impact on the field, an offense needs to adapt around him, create specific packages and plays that utilize his rare versatility and skill set. Tennessee chose not to do that.

For two years he was the backup to Jalen Hurd, despite averaging 2.31 more yards per touch than the starter. Of course it was frustrating. But Kamara still believed that wherever he ended up in the NFL, whatever round he was drafted, it would work out. As long as I get the chance, he would tell friends before the draft, I’ll shine.

At Tennessee, Kamara had gotten his hair dreaded and begun to wear the gold grill in his mouth during games. He had discovered his own vibe, figured out who he was. And he had learned that the more he could simply be himself, the better he played.

“I have to be unapologetically me,” he says.

Nobody, not even Kamara, could have predicted how successful the match of team and player would be. Not this quickly. Saints coach Sean Payton was one of the first in the league to use the “Joker” position, a multidimensional back who can line up all over the field and create mismatches—Reggie Bush first, Darren Sproles later. After Kamara displayed nonpareil athleticism at the NFL combine (he posted the best numbers of all running backs in both the broad jump and vertical jump), and then impressed with his route-running abilities during a private workout with New Orleans, Payton vowed to confidants that he had to have the back on his team. He was the next in line.

Kamara has since proven to be the ideal fit for that role and the Saints offense, a hybrid player with size and speed and endless versatility, a precise route-runner, hard to tackle, unfathomably efficient. A running back who can seamlessly slot out to play receiver, a receiver who can line up in the backfield and run between the tackles, a threat to score every time he touches the ball, including kick returns.

Despite splitting playing time with Mark Ingram, Kamara is only the third rookie in NFL history, and the first in more than 30 years, to have more than 800 receiving yards and 700 rushing yards. Per Pro Football Focus, he had the third most yards per passing route run, behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, two of the premier actual wide receivers in the NFL. His PFF “elusive” rating—meaning his “success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers”—is the best in the league. As a receiver, his 81 catches rank 13th in the league and second for running backs, behind only Le’Veon Bell, who averages 2.5 fewer yards per reception than Kamara. As a running back, his 6.1 yards per carry led the NFL. And his 14 total touchdowns were second in the league. He is only the second rookie, after Gale Sayers in 1965, to have at least five touchdowns both receiving and rushing, plus a kickoff return TD.

Kamara’s ability to make defenders miss is hard for even him to describe. He says that when he has the ball in his hands he goes into “Matrix mode.” The play slows down around him, everything becomes clearer, and he’s able to see “ten steps ahead.” He’s not worried about the defender who’s currently trying to tackle him, because he already knows how he’s going to evade him. He’s thinking about the next would-be tackler. “I’m diagnosing moves before I make them,” he says. “Ten yards down the field—I’m thinking about what I’m going to do when I get there.”

Even when defenders seem to have him cornered, when it looks like there is no way for him to escape, he’s still difficult to tackle him. Why? Simple, Kamara says. “Cuz I’m not trying to get tackled.” He just seems slippery. “Like water,” he adds. “I’m flowing.”

Kamara also points out that the Saints “allow me to be me.” His look, his personality, his vibe, embody the spirit of New Orleans. Fans now wear gold teeth to the Superdome, fake dreadlocks on their heads, bull nose rings in their septa. His ability, Kamara says, to be “organic and authentic” in his new city is a main factor in his success. The energy is right, the perfect fit of franchise, city and player. After touchdowns, he’s leapt into the Superdome stands and sat down, just one of the crowd, openly and proudly being Alvin Kamara, an eccentric, suddenly famous, in a city where eccentrics thrive.

Alvin Kamara is taking pictures. Again. This time he’s in the Family and Friends room at the Superdome, about an hour after the Saints have beaten the Falcons. Employees line up beside teammates’ mothers and wives and children, waiting for autographs and pictures, next to the sign that reads “No Autographs or Pictures.” Soon Kamara is off, heading through the tunnels of the stadium and out onto the New Orleans streets. He is flanked by a crew of two dozen—childhood friends and family members who flew in for the game. No one he hasn’t known for years, since day one, before the fame and everything that came with it.

Kamara says he has never spoken with his father. He’s OK with that. The last time he saw him was in Atlanta last year, he says, and the two walked right past each other, dad not recognizing son. Before the Saints’ first game this season, Kamara found a Post-it note stuck in his mailbox. His dad had called the team’s front desk and asked them to pass along a message. Kamara took the sticky note, balled it up and threw it in the trash.

Now, as he walks east down Poyrdas Street, only his Day One crew tailing behind, he is, unsurprisingly, stopped at every block. A man with a barbecue grill attached to his black Chevy Silverado offers up some free food. Kamara stops and talk with him for 10 minutes. Then he gets a styrofoam container with ribs placed between two pieces of white bread and continues his walk.

A red Suburu Outlander pulls to the side of the road. The car’s windows roll down, and four women ask him if he needs a ride. Kamara briefly hops in the back seat, much to their delight. A man in a wheelchair rolls down the block at double speed, desperately attempting to catch up, but a half a street length behind and losing ground; Kamara notices him, turns around, and walks back to take a picture.

At the next street corner Kamara is stopped by a man in a Saints jersey. It turns out to be actor Anthony Mackie, from the Avenger movies. The two embrace and talk privately. Mackie, a New Orleans native and lifelong Saints fan, says that nobody has affected the team this season the way Kamara has. Then he’s asked if the rookie could hang with his group of Superfriends, be a part of the Avengers.

“Motherf---er is the best Avenger in the squad,” Mackie says. “When I wake up as the Falcon, I wish I was Alvin Kamara.”

Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s Moana on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët & Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.

“I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”

At around 10 p.m., gold grill still in his mouth, he heads to Chicken & Watermelon, a counter-service wings dive. “I’m finna take you to the hood,” he announces, saying that’s where the best food is. Not to mention the daquiri shack next door, where the drinks are strong and the DJ is spinning Juvenile. “I gotta get some food in me before I do some crazy s--- tonight,” Kamara says, before ordering 100 BBQ and lemon pepper wings and several colorful daiquiris for the group. He daps up the group of men standing in a circle outside the front door, smoking cigarettes and passing blunts. “Your real n---- points out the roof right now,” one man says to the Saints player just hanging in the hood with the real New Orleanians. As he leaves, there’s a loud bang somewhere in the distance. “That one was a gunshot,” Kamara notes.

At 11 p.m., Kamara is shirtless in his kitchen, drinking Cupcake white wine straight out of the bottle. His mom calls. “I’m bout to get f---ed up,” he tells her. “Bout to get turnt.” He opens a drawer and pulls out a stack of $1 bills. “Left over from the strip club,” he says, being unapologetically Alvin Kamara, the best rookie in the NFL, organic, authentic, distinctly himself.

At 1 a.m., he piles into an eight-seat Mercedes Sprinter to fit his 13-person crew and heads to the club. The van pulls up to the front, and Kamara leads the way inside, turning around frequently to make sure everyone gets through the velvet ropes. He weaves through the crowd, frequently being stopped for pictures and well wishes, arriving in his section at 2 a.m. But within minutes he leaves the club, abruptly.

The vibe is off. He can feel it.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p><em>Note: The Raiders were excluded from this list because, apparently, <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/03/jon-gruden-oakland-raiders-coach-peter-king-mmqb-mailbag" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:they&#39;ve already found their next head coach" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">they&#39;ve already found their next head coach</a>.</em></p><h3><b>5. CHICAGO BEARS</b></h3><p>Some coaches might be leery of this job. John Fox, a proven head coach, just got canned after his team started a rookie quarterback and played with no wide receivers. A 5-11 season was all but guaranteed. How secure will the next coach be?</p><p>GM Ryan Pace must determine what style of offense best suits Mitchell Trubisky. Pace came up through the Saints front office. That team was built around Drew Brees, Sean Payton and a vertical passing game. That’s a great approach in the climate-controlled Superdome, but it doesn’t work in the inclement weather and slow track of Soldier Field. And it doesn’t fit Trubisky’s style, anyway. Trubisky is a timing and rhythm thrower who can also make plays on the move. He best fits a zone running-based offense that’s built around play-action and intermediate crossing patterns.</p><p>This isn’t to say the Bears need a Shanahan style offensive-minded head coach. But they certainly need someone who at least brings that sort of coordinator with him. Pace might have better candidates to choose from if he goes the defensive route, given that he quietly has a top-10 unit there already. Of course, a big reason it was top-10 is coordinator Vic Fangio did a fantastic job installing blurry, nuanced hybrid zone coverages. Those gave quarterbacks fits. If Fangio follows Fox out the door (which is likely), you’re left with a defense that’s decent, but only decent, especially considering it may need to replenish at cornerback (starters Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are both free agents).</p><p>Stylistically, Texans defensive coordinator <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/02/mike-vrabel-nfl-head-coach-candidate-black-monday-coaching-carousel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Mike Vrabel could be seen as a good fit" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Mike Vrabel could be seen as a good fit</a>. Vrabel has spent much of his playing and coaching career in Romeo Crennel’s intricate system. But will Pace take a chance on a coach with just one year of coordinating experience? He may see a safer option in Dennis Allen, who has four years of coordinating experience, plus head-coaching battle scars from his three years in Oakland. Allen, who is still only 45, just turned around the perennially unfixable Saints defense. Pace, more than anyone, can appreciate how exemplary that is.</p><p><b><i>Best Fit:</i></b><i> Dennis Allen, Saints defensive coordinator</i></p><p>?</p><h3><b>4. DETROIT LIONS</b></h3><p>The Lions gave Jim Caldwell a .500 caliber roster; he managed to go a little above .500 and make the playoffs twice in four years, but apparently that didn’t matter. And so here they sit, looking for a replacement. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is reportedly at the top of their list. The question is: Who would Patricia bring as his offensive coordinator? That was one concern teams had last season when Patricia was passed over for head coaching jobs.</p><p>It’s an especially important question because the Lions have an offense that can succeed right now. Just like Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford’s reputation within the NFL is sterling. Coaches talk privately all the time about wanting to build an offense for him simply because his physical toolkit is second only to Aaron Rodgers. (Every coach believes they’re the guy who can harness a QB’s talent.)</p><p><a href="https://www.si.com/mmqb/2016/11/28/nfl-matt-patricia-bill-belichick-patriots-defense" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Patricia has been highly visible in New England" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Patricia has been highly visible in New England</a>, but much about him remains a mystery. We can surmise what kind of defense he’d run; under Bill Belichick, it’s been a fundamentally sound, coverage-based scheme with a lot of personnel rotations and different D-line fronts. For the most part, that would suit Detroit’s personnel, especially given that second-round rookie cornerback Teez Tabor showed such improvement down the stretch.</p><p>But Patricia’s offensive beliefs? That’s what the Lions must find out. GM Bob Quinn, who spent 16 years in the Patriots front office, might already have an idea. If he doesn’t, and if what he hears from Patricia isn’t satisfactory, this becomes a fascinating search, as the Lions are playoff-ready. But for now…</p><p><b><i>Best Fit:</i></b><i> Matt Patricia, Patriots defensive coordinator</i></p><p>?</p><h3><b>3. ARIZONA CARDINALS</b></h3><p>Upon promotion to general manager in 2013, Steve Keim inherited an offense in need of rebranding and a defense that, while far from flawless, had a handful of stars: Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington and Adrian Wilson.</p><p>Keim has a similar landscape again. On defense, the stars are different—Peterson remains, but with him now are Tyrann Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Deone Bucannon and scintillatingly gifted (but raw) rookies Haason Reddick and Budda Baker. Still, the results have been tremendous. Aside from No. 2 corner, there are no concerns on that side of the ball. It might be prudent for Keim to do what someone once did for him: promote from within. Thirty-nine-year-old defensive coordinator <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/01/james-bettcher-arizona-cardinals-head-coach-candidate" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:James Bettcher is an under-the-radar head coaching candidate whom some perceive as another Todd Bowles" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">James Bettcher is an under-the-radar head coaching candidate whom some perceive as another Todd Bowles</a>.</p><p>But the whispers within league circles suggest Keim wants an offensive-minded head coach, most likely one who values traditional dropback pocket passing— essentially, another Bruce Arians. <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/02/josh-mcdaniels-coach-interview-bears-colts-giants-mmqb" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Josh McDaniels is the biggest name out there" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Josh McDaniels is the biggest name out there</a>, but there are multiple jobs that come with a ready-made quarterback, and Arizona isn’t one of them. Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is a possible candidate, but his passing game isn’t as sophisticated as Arians’ was. Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy’s stock has sky-rocketed in the past month after Andy Reid appointed him as the play-caller. It doesn’t hurt that Nagy’s predecessor, Doug Pederson, is now a Coach of the Year candidate in Philadelphia. But Nagy, given his inexperience, represents a serious gamble. Someone with previous head coaching experience and many more years of play-calling would be safer. Keim may want to consider an older branch from the Andy Reid tree.</p><p><b><i>Best Fit:</i></b><i> Pat Shurmur, Vikings offensive coordinator</i></p><p>?</p><h3><b>2. NEW YORK GIANTS</b></h3><p>New GM Dave Gettleman spent 14 years with the Giants before his successful four-year run at the head of Carolina’s front office. Given his experience and age (66), he might not be interested in a long-term rebuilding effort, especially for a team that has so much defensive talent along the front line and backfield, as well as a quarterback who, though 37, can still play. Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch know their franchise needs a firm shaking, not an overhaul. A head coach with prior experience is in store, preferably one who will update, but not rewrite, the offensive and defensive playbooks. All the better that the candidate who most fits this description happens to currently work for a division rival.</p><p><b><i>Best Fit:</i></b><i> Jim Schwartz, Eagles defensive coordinator</i></p><p>?</p><h3><b>1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS</b></h3><p>What is Andrew Luck’s status? That is what candidates will ask first when discussing this opening with their agent. If Luck is healthy, this is the most attractive job by default. Fans and talk radio hosts might debate the legitimacy of Luck’s superstar reputation, but football people don’t. Within the league, he’s seen as a first-tier quarterback, no ifs ands or buts. There are usually no more than seven of those in the NFL at a given time; rarely is one waiting to get a new head coach.</p><p>Jim Irsay understands this, and given that he’s been under fire for, in the minds of some, “wasting” Luck’s prime years under the defensive-minded Chuck Pagano, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Colts owner nudges new GM Chris Ballard toward offensive candidates. Luck has spent his career in systems that feature deep dropbacks. That plays to his predilection and ability to push the ball downfield, but it also subjects him to more hits. Given what Luck’s body has recently gone through, Ballard might be inclined to find a coach who will install a passing game that’s both complex and quick-timed. That’s an unusual combination, but there’s a certain quarterback in New England who has mastered it. The Colts could go hard after <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/01/02/josh-mcdaniels-coach-interview-bears-colts-giants-mmqb" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the guy who has helped that quarterback most recently" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the guy who has helped that quarterback most recently</a>.</p><p><b><i>Best Fit:</i></b><i> Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator</i></p><p><strong><em>• Question or comment? </em></strong><em>Email us at </em><span><em>talkback@themmqb.com</em></span><em>.</em></p>
Ranking the NFL’s Five Head Coach Openings, and Identifying Who Should Fill Them

Note: The Raiders were excluded from this list because, apparently, they've already found their next head coach.

5. CHICAGO BEARS

Some coaches might be leery of this job. John Fox, a proven head coach, just got canned after his team started a rookie quarterback and played with no wide receivers. A 5-11 season was all but guaranteed. How secure will the next coach be?

GM Ryan Pace must determine what style of offense best suits Mitchell Trubisky. Pace came up through the Saints front office. That team was built around Drew Brees, Sean Payton and a vertical passing game. That’s a great approach in the climate-controlled Superdome, but it doesn’t work in the inclement weather and slow track of Soldier Field. And it doesn’t fit Trubisky’s style, anyway. Trubisky is a timing and rhythm thrower who can also make plays on the move. He best fits a zone running-based offense that’s built around play-action and intermediate crossing patterns.

This isn’t to say the Bears need a Shanahan style offensive-minded head coach. But they certainly need someone who at least brings that sort of coordinator with him. Pace might have better candidates to choose from if he goes the defensive route, given that he quietly has a top-10 unit there already. Of course, a big reason it was top-10 is coordinator Vic Fangio did a fantastic job installing blurry, nuanced hybrid zone coverages. Those gave quarterbacks fits. If Fangio follows Fox out the door (which is likely), you’re left with a defense that’s decent, but only decent, especially considering it may need to replenish at cornerback (starters Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are both free agents).

Stylistically, Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel could be seen as a good fit. Vrabel has spent much of his playing and coaching career in Romeo Crennel’s intricate system. But will Pace take a chance on a coach with just one year of coordinating experience? He may see a safer option in Dennis Allen, who has four years of coordinating experience, plus head-coaching battle scars from his three years in Oakland. Allen, who is still only 45, just turned around the perennially unfixable Saints defense. Pace, more than anyone, can appreciate how exemplary that is.

Best Fit: Dennis Allen, Saints defensive coordinator

?

4. DETROIT LIONS

The Lions gave Jim Caldwell a .500 caliber roster; he managed to go a little above .500 and make the playoffs twice in four years, but apparently that didn’t matter. And so here they sit, looking for a replacement. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is reportedly at the top of their list. The question is: Who would Patricia bring as his offensive coordinator? That was one concern teams had last season when Patricia was passed over for head coaching jobs.

It’s an especially important question because the Lions have an offense that can succeed right now. Just like Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford’s reputation within the NFL is sterling. Coaches talk privately all the time about wanting to build an offense for him simply because his physical toolkit is second only to Aaron Rodgers. (Every coach believes they’re the guy who can harness a QB’s talent.)

Patricia has been highly visible in New England, but much about him remains a mystery. We can surmise what kind of defense he’d run; under Bill Belichick, it’s been a fundamentally sound, coverage-based scheme with a lot of personnel rotations and different D-line fronts. For the most part, that would suit Detroit’s personnel, especially given that second-round rookie cornerback Teez Tabor showed such improvement down the stretch.

But Patricia’s offensive beliefs? That’s what the Lions must find out. GM Bob Quinn, who spent 16 years in the Patriots front office, might already have an idea. If he doesn’t, and if what he hears from Patricia isn’t satisfactory, this becomes a fascinating search, as the Lions are playoff-ready. But for now…

Best Fit: Matt Patricia, Patriots defensive coordinator

?

3. ARIZONA CARDINALS

Upon promotion to general manager in 2013, Steve Keim inherited an offense in need of rebranding and a defense that, while far from flawless, had a handful of stars: Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington and Adrian Wilson.

Keim has a similar landscape again. On defense, the stars are different—Peterson remains, but with him now are Tyrann Mathieu, Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, Deone Bucannon and scintillatingly gifted (but raw) rookies Haason Reddick and Budda Baker. Still, the results have been tremendous. Aside from No. 2 corner, there are no concerns on that side of the ball. It might be prudent for Keim to do what someone once did for him: promote from within. Thirty-nine-year-old defensive coordinator James Bettcher is an under-the-radar head coaching candidate whom some perceive as another Todd Bowles.

But the whispers within league circles suggest Keim wants an offensive-minded head coach, most likely one who values traditional dropback pocket passing— essentially, another Bruce Arians. Josh McDaniels is the biggest name out there, but there are multiple jobs that come with a ready-made quarterback, and Arizona isn’t one of them. Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is a possible candidate, but his passing game isn’t as sophisticated as Arians’ was. Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy’s stock has sky-rocketed in the past month after Andy Reid appointed him as the play-caller. It doesn’t hurt that Nagy’s predecessor, Doug Pederson, is now a Coach of the Year candidate in Philadelphia. But Nagy, given his inexperience, represents a serious gamble. Someone with previous head coaching experience and many more years of play-calling would be safer. Keim may want to consider an older branch from the Andy Reid tree.

Best Fit: Pat Shurmur, Vikings offensive coordinator

?

2. NEW YORK GIANTS

New GM Dave Gettleman spent 14 years with the Giants before his successful four-year run at the head of Carolina’s front office. Given his experience and age (66), he might not be interested in a long-term rebuilding effort, especially for a team that has so much defensive talent along the front line and backfield, as well as a quarterback who, though 37, can still play. Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch know their franchise needs a firm shaking, not an overhaul. A head coach with prior experience is in store, preferably one who will update, but not rewrite, the offensive and defensive playbooks. All the better that the candidate who most fits this description happens to currently work for a division rival.

Best Fit: Jim Schwartz, Eagles defensive coordinator

?

1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

What is Andrew Luck’s status? That is what candidates will ask first when discussing this opening with their agent. If Luck is healthy, this is the most attractive job by default. Fans and talk radio hosts might debate the legitimacy of Luck’s superstar reputation, but football people don’t. Within the league, he’s seen as a first-tier quarterback, no ifs ands or buts. There are usually no more than seven of those in the NFL at a given time; rarely is one waiting to get a new head coach.

Jim Irsay understands this, and given that he’s been under fire for, in the minds of some, “wasting” Luck’s prime years under the defensive-minded Chuck Pagano, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Colts owner nudges new GM Chris Ballard toward offensive candidates. Luck has spent his career in systems that feature deep dropbacks. That plays to his predilection and ability to push the ball downfield, but it also subjects him to more hits. Given what Luck’s body has recently gone through, Ballard might be inclined to find a coach who will install a passing game that’s both complex and quick-timed. That’s an unusual combination, but there’s a certain quarterback in New England who has mastered it. The Colts could go hard after the guy who has helped that quarterback most recently.

Best Fit: Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

<p>New Orleans Saints players kneel before the National Anthem and before their game against the New York Jets at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. All players stood for the playing of the Anthem. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports </p>
NFL Week 15

New Orleans Saints players kneel before the National Anthem and before their game against the New York Jets at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. All players stood for the playing of the Anthem. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

<p>The bittersweet arrival of the first day of bowls reminds us all that only 40 games remain in the college football season, but it also sets the table for what figures to be a thrilling College Football Playoff finale. All month long in the Daily Bowl Digest, we’ll be setting the table for each day of bowl action, with game-by-game previews and a quick look back at what happened last night. First up: A marathon Saturday highlighted by one of the most intriguing matchups of the first half of the slate.</p><h3>R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)</h3><p><strong>Why you should watch:</strong> With all due respect to the Celebration Bowl, the annual showdown between the MEAC and SWAC champions that is entering its third year of existence, the New Orleans Bowl is the official start of the bowl season, and the Sun Belt traditionally plays into the fanfare by sending its conference champion to the Superdome. This year, that’s Troy, which only lost to Mountain West champ Boise State on the road and South Alabama in a midweek letdown game. Conference USA runner-up North Texas was certainly outclassed by Florida Atlantic in the conference title game, but the Mean Green will be playing for the school’s first 10-win season ever.</p><p>This is the first time since 2010 that the game hasn’t featured at least one team from Louisiana, but it’s safe to expect a high-energy contest just the same as two dangerous offenses trade possessions in the Superdome’s fast track.</p><p><strong>Most interesting player on the field: Troy RB Jordan Chunn.</strong> ?The last time the college football world was focused on Chunn, he was rumbling through LSU’s defense on the way to a 30-carry, 190-yard night that keyed the Trojans’ upset win in Tiger Stadium. The next game against South Alabama, Chunn suffered a leg laceration that required 18 stitches and sidelined him for the next two weeks. Now back at full strength, Chunn enters his college finale one touchdown shy of the Sun Belt’s all-time record (48, held by Tyrell Fenroy of Louisiana-Lafayette) with a juicy matchup against North Texas’s 107th-ranked run D.? <em>— Eric Single</em></p><h3>Autonation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State (2:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)</h3><p><strong>Why you should watch:</strong> Passing enthusiasts, pull up a chair. Western Kentucky and Georgia State both field putrid running games, so taking to the air might be the only way the ball moves up and down the field. Western Kentucky finished dead last in FBS in rushing offense, and Georgia State sits 116th. This game was built for fans who don’t have time for trench battles. </p><p><strong>Most interesting player on the field: WKU LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe. </strong>Iyiegbuniwe (pronounced ee-yay-boo-nee-way) led the Hilltoppers in tackles and forced three fumbles on his way to all-Conference USA honors. The Bowling Green native has become a team captain for a Hilltoppers team that can’t always lean on a high-powered offense the way it has in recent years. <em>— Scooby Axson</em></p><h3>Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)</h3><p><strong>Why you should watch:</strong> No Willie Taggart, no problem for Oregon? We’ll see in the Ducks’ first game after Taggart bolted for Florida State with former offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal serving as the team’s head coach. Cristobal does have prior experience as a head coach with FIU, but it will be interesting to see if there are any bumps in the transition and how the team responds to the switch.</p><p>The good news for Cristobal is that the Ducks were one of the top offenses in the country with a healthy Justin Herbert under center, and Herbert is good to go against Boise State. Herbert and an explosive Oregon rushing attack featuring Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James will certainly be a challenge for Boise State to try to stop. But the Broncos also boast an intriguing offense of their own, with quarterback Brett Rypien a key reason behind Boise State’s status as one of the top passing offenses in the Mountain West Conference. </p><p><strong>Most interesting player on the field: Oregon QB Justin Herbert.</strong> The Pac-12 has a couple quarterbacks vying for top draft pick honors in the 2018 NFL draft, but Herbert could end up as the crown jewel of the 2019 class. Oregon’s offense was among the best in the country with a healthy Herbert under center. With senior running back Royce Freeman deciding to skip the bowl game, Herbert has a good chance to showcase his arm talent.? <em>— Max Meyer</em></p><h3>Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)</h3><p><strong>Why you should watch:</strong> Colorado Sate enters the game with a solid offense and two big time weapons in receiver Michael Gallup and running back Dalyn Dawkins. Gallup is fifth in the nation in receiving yards and Dawkins is 16th in rushing yards. However, the duo will have its work cut out for it against a Marshall defense that is allowing less than 20 points a game.</p><p>Marshall is 25th in the country in defensive yards per game and allows only 212.3 passing yards per game. Seeing how the unit can matchup with Dawkins and Gallup will be interesting as the two are some of the best talents Marshall will face all season.</p><p><strong>Most interesting player on the field: Colorado State WR Michael Gallup.</strong> Gallup has put together one of the best seasons of any receiver in the nation. With 94 catches for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns, the senior from Monroe, Ga. has established himself as one of the top threats in the Mountain West. He has gone for more than 100 receiving yards six times this year, and the Rams are 4–2 in those games. He has also eclipsed 200 receiving yards twice this year, both in victories. <em>— Khadrice Rollins</em></p><h3>Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Middle Tennessee (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)</h3><p><strong>Why you should watch:</strong> If you like offense, you’re going to enjoy watching Arkansas State. The Red Wolves ranked sixth in the country in passing yards per game behind Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen, whose numbers include 3,630 passing yards, a 63.7% completion rate and 34 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. He’ll look to be slowed by a Blue Raiders defense that ranks 46th, including linebacker Khalil Brooks, who ranked third in the C-USA in tackles for loss.</p><p>Can Middle Tennessee score enough to hang with the Red Wolves? Their quarterback, Brent Stockstill, is no slouch, returning from injury to throw 10 touchdowns in his final four games after throwing 61 total in the last two seasons. But the key to this game will likely remain Middle Tennessee’s defense, which got burned by the best QB it faced this season, Western Kentucky QB Mike White, and will need to do a better job against Hansen and Co.</p><p><strong>Most interesting player on the field: Arkansas State DE Ja&#39;Von Rolland-Jones.</strong> The senior is a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year (offense or defense), owns the conference’s all-time sacks record and ranks second in the nation this season with 13. Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill and the Blue Raiders’ offensive line should be on high alert, especially since Rolland-Jones is one sack shy of breaking Terrell Suggs’s all-time FBS record. <em>— Molly Geary</em></p>
The Case for Watching All Five Games of the First Day of Bowl Season

The bittersweet arrival of the first day of bowls reminds us all that only 40 games remain in the college football season, but it also sets the table for what figures to be a thrilling College Football Playoff finale. All month long in the Daily Bowl Digest, we’ll be setting the table for each day of bowl action, with game-by-game previews and a quick look back at what happened last night. First up: A marathon Saturday highlighted by one of the most intriguing matchups of the first half of the slate.

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Why you should watch: With all due respect to the Celebration Bowl, the annual showdown between the MEAC and SWAC champions that is entering its third year of existence, the New Orleans Bowl is the official start of the bowl season, and the Sun Belt traditionally plays into the fanfare by sending its conference champion to the Superdome. This year, that’s Troy, which only lost to Mountain West champ Boise State on the road and South Alabama in a midweek letdown game. Conference USA runner-up North Texas was certainly outclassed by Florida Atlantic in the conference title game, but the Mean Green will be playing for the school’s first 10-win season ever.

This is the first time since 2010 that the game hasn’t featured at least one team from Louisiana, but it’s safe to expect a high-energy contest just the same as two dangerous offenses trade possessions in the Superdome’s fast track.

Most interesting player on the field: Troy RB Jordan Chunn. ?The last time the college football world was focused on Chunn, he was rumbling through LSU’s defense on the way to a 30-carry, 190-yard night that keyed the Trojans’ upset win in Tiger Stadium. The next game against South Alabama, Chunn suffered a leg laceration that required 18 stitches and sidelined him for the next two weeks. Now back at full strength, Chunn enters his college finale one touchdown shy of the Sun Belt’s all-time record (48, held by Tyrell Fenroy of Louisiana-Lafayette) with a juicy matchup against North Texas’s 107th-ranked run D.? — Eric Single

Autonation Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State (2:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)

Why you should watch: Passing enthusiasts, pull up a chair. Western Kentucky and Georgia State both field putrid running games, so taking to the air might be the only way the ball moves up and down the field. Western Kentucky finished dead last in FBS in rushing offense, and Georgia State sits 116th. This game was built for fans who don’t have time for trench battles.

Most interesting player on the field: WKU LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe. Iyiegbuniwe (pronounced ee-yay-boo-nee-way) led the Hilltoppers in tackles and forced three fumbles on his way to all-Conference USA honors. The Bowling Green native has become a team captain for a Hilltoppers team that can’t always lean on a high-powered offense the way it has in recent years. — Scooby Axson

Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)

Why you should watch: No Willie Taggart, no problem for Oregon? We’ll see in the Ducks’ first game after Taggart bolted for Florida State with former offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal serving as the team’s head coach. Cristobal does have prior experience as a head coach with FIU, but it will be interesting to see if there are any bumps in the transition and how the team responds to the switch.

The good news for Cristobal is that the Ducks were one of the top offenses in the country with a healthy Justin Herbert under center, and Herbert is good to go against Boise State. Herbert and an explosive Oregon rushing attack featuring Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James will certainly be a challenge for Boise State to try to stop. But the Broncos also boast an intriguing offense of their own, with quarterback Brett Rypien a key reason behind Boise State’s status as one of the top passing offenses in the Mountain West Conference.

Most interesting player on the field: Oregon QB Justin Herbert. The Pac-12 has a couple quarterbacks vying for top draft pick honors in the 2018 NFL draft, but Herbert could end up as the crown jewel of the 2019 class. Oregon’s offense was among the best in the country with a healthy Herbert under center. With senior running back Royce Freeman deciding to skip the bowl game, Herbert has a good chance to showcase his arm talent.? — Max Meyer

Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Why you should watch: Colorado Sate enters the game with a solid offense and two big time weapons in receiver Michael Gallup and running back Dalyn Dawkins. Gallup is fifth in the nation in receiving yards and Dawkins is 16th in rushing yards. However, the duo will have its work cut out for it against a Marshall defense that is allowing less than 20 points a game.

Marshall is 25th in the country in defensive yards per game and allows only 212.3 passing yards per game. Seeing how the unit can matchup with Dawkins and Gallup will be interesting as the two are some of the best talents Marshall will face all season.

Most interesting player on the field: Colorado State WR Michael Gallup. Gallup has put together one of the best seasons of any receiver in the nation. With 94 catches for 1,345 yards and seven touchdowns, the senior from Monroe, Ga. has established himself as one of the top threats in the Mountain West. He has gone for more than 100 receiving yards six times this year, and the Rams are 4–2 in those games. He has also eclipsed 200 receiving yards twice this year, both in victories. — Khadrice Rollins

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Middle Tennessee (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Why you should watch: If you like offense, you’re going to enjoy watching Arkansas State. The Red Wolves ranked sixth in the country in passing yards per game behind Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen, whose numbers include 3,630 passing yards, a 63.7% completion rate and 34 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. He’ll look to be slowed by a Blue Raiders defense that ranks 46th, including linebacker Khalil Brooks, who ranked third in the C-USA in tackles for loss.

Can Middle Tennessee score enough to hang with the Red Wolves? Their quarterback, Brent Stockstill, is no slouch, returning from injury to throw 10 touchdowns in his final four games after throwing 61 total in the last two seasons. But the key to this game will likely remain Middle Tennessee’s defense, which got burned by the best QB it faced this season, Western Kentucky QB Mike White, and will need to do a better job against Hansen and Co.

Most interesting player on the field: Arkansas State DE Ja'Von Rolland-Jones. The senior is a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year (offense or defense), owns the conference’s all-time sacks record and ranks second in the nation this season with 13. Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill and the Blue Raiders’ offensive line should be on high alert, especially since Rolland-Jones is one sack shy of breaking Terrell Suggs’s all-time FBS record. — Molly Geary

<p>Saints coach Sean Payton said rookie running back Alvin Kamara, who suffered a concussion during New Orleans&#39; 20-17 loss to Atlanta last Thursday night, is expected to play Sunday when the Saints host the Jets. </p><p>Kamara, a third-round pick out of Tennessee, has had a ridiculously productive rookie season. He&#39;s second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,017 yards, and he&#39;s only the third rookie in NFL history to surpass 600 yards receiving and 600 yards rushing. Kamara&#39;s unexpected fantasy value—he went undrafted in the vast majority of leagues—has led to him being the player on the most fantasy teams to make the playoffs (<a href="http://www.espn.com/fantasy/football/story/_/id/21681912/rookies-kicker-most-popular-players-fantasy-football-playoff-rosters" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:via ESPN" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">via ESPN</a>). </p><p>Before last week&#39;s game against Atlanta, which he left in the first quarter, Kamara had put up at least 19 points in standard scoring leagues in five straight games. He is remarkable in the open field but also possesses incredible balance, which has allowed him to average a full seven yards per carry on 87 attempts. </p><p>The extra three days of rest should benefit Kamara&#39;s recovery, though every concussion is different, which makes it hard to forecast what kind of workload the Saints will trust him with. Mark Ingram has received the majority of the carries all season, and that&#39;ll likely continue again on Sunday (though Ingram himself has been dealing with a toe injury). The Jets have also allowed the 10th fewest points to opposing running backs, but both Kamara and Ingram have been sensational all season, particularly in the Superdome. </p><p>Even with some risk that he will be somewhat limited, Kamara owners should start the rook without any hesitation this week.</p>
Saints RB Alvin Kamara Expected to Play Sunday vs. Jets

Saints coach Sean Payton said rookie running back Alvin Kamara, who suffered a concussion during New Orleans' 20-17 loss to Atlanta last Thursday night, is expected to play Sunday when the Saints host the Jets.

Kamara, a third-round pick out of Tennessee, has had a ridiculously productive rookie season. He's second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,017 yards, and he's only the third rookie in NFL history to surpass 600 yards receiving and 600 yards rushing. Kamara's unexpected fantasy value—he went undrafted in the vast majority of leagues—has led to him being the player on the most fantasy teams to make the playoffs (via ESPN).

Before last week's game against Atlanta, which he left in the first quarter, Kamara had put up at least 19 points in standard scoring leagues in five straight games. He is remarkable in the open field but also possesses incredible balance, which has allowed him to average a full seven yards per carry on 87 attempts.

The extra three days of rest should benefit Kamara's recovery, though every concussion is different, which makes it hard to forecast what kind of workload the Saints will trust him with. Mark Ingram has received the majority of the carries all season, and that'll likely continue again on Sunday (though Ingram himself has been dealing with a toe injury). The Jets have also allowed the 10th fewest points to opposing running backs, but both Kamara and Ingram have been sensational all season, particularly in the Superdome.

Even with some risk that he will be somewhat limited, Kamara owners should start the rook without any hesitation this week.

<p>The networks that own the rights to the bowl slate arrange everything so that if you wanted to, you could take in a significant chunk of all 40 games of the FBS postseason, a three-week-long binge to close out a satisfying season. But if we’re being realistic, things come up. Holiday traditions get in the way of the Holiday Bowl. The cheapest flights home happen to overlap with the first three quarters of the Boca Raton Bowl (this specific scenario hits particularly close to home). Sacrifices must be made, and accordingly, priorities must be set.</p><p>To help you make those tough choices, we’re counting down 2017’s 37 bowl games outside the College Football Playoff, from the least watchable matchups to the can’t-miss events. The criteria used to sift through the clutter, in no particular order: the potential for offensive fireworks, any intriguing contrast in schematic styles, the presence of a superstar player or future first-round draft pick, the prestige of the bowl game and/or venue itself, the TV time slot and the quality of the teams involved.</p><p>If you weren’t already planning to watch the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the national title game, these rankings aren’t for you, so for the sake of suspense at the top of the list we’ve left out the three games with national title implications. (But for the record, Georgia-Oklahoma just barely edges out Alabama-Clemson as the postseason’s most entertaining bowl due to the unique matchup and offensive contrast.)</p><h3>37. Independence Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Florida State</h3><p>After Jimbo Fisher’s messy exit, the Seminoles might be regretting the lengths they went to just to get to six wins and extend their record bowl streak to 36 years, rescheduling a game against Louisiana-Monroe that was cancelled by Hurricane Irma to avoid a 5–6 finish. Now they’ll travel to Shreveport for a matchup with a decidedly middle-tier Conference USA foe in the middle of a weekday afternoon two days after Christmas.</p><h3>36. Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State</h3><p>These aren’t quite the same high-flying Hilltoppers we’ve seen in years past: Western Kentucky only topped 40 points twice all season, in part because senior quarterback Mike White was sacked a stunning 38 times. At least the Panthers will want to be in Orlando, making the program’s second bowl appearance ever.</p><h3>35. Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs. Boston College</h3><p>Boston College’s stretch-run offensive explosion (36 points per game in the second half of the regular season) still feels too good to be true, and a meeting with the Hawkeyes—traditionally a stylistic kindred spirit—inside a baseball stadium should remind the Eagles of the first-to-14-points thrillers from whence they came.</p><h3>34. Gasparilla Bowl: Temple vs. Florida International</h3><p>Another baseball stadium bowl venue, and this one (Tropicana Field) is barely accepted as a suitable place to play baseball. When Bad Boy Mowers famously signed on for the St. Petersburg Bowl’s flashy rebrand, it had to have been hoping for a little better luck than this. This game should at least shine some light on Butch Davis’s impressive one-year turnaround at FIU, which has been completely overshadowed by Lane Kiffin’s impressive one-year turnaround at FAU.</p><h3>33. Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State</h3><p>Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill bought $10,000 worth of tickets to incentivize students to make the trip to Montgomery—the Blue Raiders were sent to Hawaii and the Bahamas the last two postseasons, but their lackluster 6–6 finish kept them a little closer to home. Keep an eye on Red Wolves sack master Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, and make sure you watch the postgame press conference to see if head coach Blake Anderson sends any more digs Arkansas’s way.</p><h3>32. Frisco Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. SMU</h3><p>This might be your last chance to see Courtland Sutton in an SMU uniform: The 6&#39;4&quot; junior receiver has the NFL’s attention after a few eye-popping campaigns within head coach Chad Morris’s breakneck-fast offense. But Morris couldn’t make it to this game before being hired by Arkansas.</p><h3>31. Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Utah State</h3><p>This year’s Just Happy to Be Here winner in a landslide is New Mexico State, which last went to a bowl in 1960. Emotions were high after the Aggies clinched their sixth win on Saturday, so expect an atypically charged atmosphere in Tucson.</p><h3>30. Sun Bowl: NC State vs. Arizona State</h3><p>The Sun Devils’ final game before the official start of <a href="https://www.si.com/college-football/2017/12/04/best-moments-herm-edwards-arizona-state-introductory-press-conference" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the Herm Edwards era" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the Herm Edwards era</a> comes against an NC State team that has beaten just three teams that finished with winning records this year. The Wolfpack faithful thought this season might end somewhere a little closer to the beach than El Paso, but they have several young receivers to be excited about. Sophomores Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers and do-everything weapon Jaylen Samuels could rip off some big plays against Arizona State’s suspect defense.</p><h3>29. Military Bowl: Virginia vs. Navy</h3><p>Given the recent heights Navy has reached, this counts as a down year, but the Midshipmen should pose an interesting challenge for the Cavaliers, whose only win in their final six games came over another triple-option team, Georgia Tech.</p><h3>28. Quick Lane Bowl: Duke vs. Northern Illinois</h3><p>Northern Illinois is 0–4 in bowl games under Rod Carey; Duke got its first postseason win in half a century two years ago at the Pinstripe Bowl. Nobody will be in their element. On a fast track at Ford Field, look out for Blue Devils leading receiver T.J. Rahming, whose one touchdown this season belies his quick-twitch athleticism.</p><h3>27. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan v. Wyoming</h3><p>NFL draft darling Josh Allen hurt his throwing shoulder in mid-November but is expected to be good to go by the time Wyoming gets to Boise. If the Cowboys’ free-slinging quarterback can’t play, drop this matchup down 10 slots.</p><h3>26. Belk Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&#38;M</h3><p>The Aggies are playing out the string in between Kevin Sumlin and Jimbo Fisher, while Greg Dortch, the star of Wake Forest’s upstart passing attack with nine catches this year, was lost for the season with an abdominal injury. His absence won’t stop Demon Deacons QB John Wolford from chucking it around the yard in his final game, but there may not be enough on the line for this to devolve into a back-and-forth shootout.</p><h3>25. Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. Northwestern</h3><p>One Wildcats team is a lot hotter than the other: Northwestern has won seven straight, while Kentucky has lost three of four. Both teams would prefer to do most of their work on the ground, which may limit the scoring potential but should wrap up with plenty of time for fans to switch gears before the No. 1 game on this list (stay tuned).</p><h3>24. Orange Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Miami</h3><p>It’s the Turnover Chain vs. the nation’s top defense by yards allowed per game, which could mean a long night for quarterbacks Malik Rosier and Alex Hornibrook. The losers of Saturday’s two primetime Power 5 conference championship games square off in Miami’s home stadium with considerably lower stakes than they had hoped for, taking the edge off the lowest New Year’s Six matchup on our rankings. You’ll be able to tell how much juice the Hurricanes’ breakout season has left by whether Miami fans are out-attended by the well-traveled Badger faithful.</p><h3>23. New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State</h3><p>A game can only drop so far in these rankings if it features a receiver with a very real chance at going for 200-plus yards, and Colorado State senior Michael Gallup is just that kind of player—he did it twice in the regular season.</p><h3>22. Hawai’i Bowl: Fresno State vs. Houston</h3><p>Ed Oliver’s disruptive dominance in the middle of the line is the gift that keeps on giving for those who have stuck with Houston games even after Tom Herman jumped to Texas. After playing Washington and Alabama in back-to-back weeks in December, Jeff Tedford’s Fresno State team has earned itself a Christmas Eve in Hawaii.</p><h3>21. Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA</h3><p>This figures to be Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen’s final collegiate game before the NFL comes calling. Scouts will be watching Kansas State junior corner D.J. Reed closely, as well. There’s some sneaky shootout potential here, as the Wildcats spent half the season scoring at will and the other half searching for stability at quarterback. Will freshman Skylar Thompson’s tenure as the starter outlast Bill Snyder’s coaching career?</p><h3>20. Holiday Bowl: Washington State vs. Michigan State</h3><p>On paper, it seems like these two teams might present a refreshing contrast of styles and strengths, but Cougars QB Luke Falk was terrible in last year’s bowl game and the Spartans are unlikely to get the benefit of bad weather in San Diego, so neither team seems set up to play its best. Plus, after this matchup was announced, the Spartans and their fans promptly made it known they’d rather be in Tampa for the Outback Bowl.</p><h3>19. Bahamas Bowl: UAB vs. Ohio</h3><p>UAB deserves a trip to the Bahamas to cap its first season back after the miraculous resurrection of its football program, and although Ohio played its way out of a shot at the MAC title with a puzzling late-season loss to Akron, the Blazers get a quality opponent to measure themselves against.</p><h3>18. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon</h3><p>This was higher before Oregon head coach Willie Taggart bolted for Florida State, but it should still provide a decent glimpse at what the Ducks might look like next year with a healthy Justin Herbert at the helm of the offense. The Mountain West champs suffered two embarrassing losses to Power 5 opponents (one in triple-overtime, one by a wider margin than the Broncos had allowed at home in over a decade) and should have a little something extra to prove.</p><h3>17. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah vs. West Virginia</h3><p>The Utes may be 6–6, but they kept the Pac-12’s four best teams all within a possession. The Mountaineers may be 7–5, but they put a scare into almost everyone except Oklahoma. This game has the Boxing Day afternoon window all to itself, and there should be enough offensive fireworks here not to spoil it.</p><h3>16. Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State</h3><p>The Cowboys are one of the most fun teams in the country to watch when their offense is clicking, but that fun can burn out quickly if it becomes apparent the opponent has no chance of scoring with them. Virginia Tech’s last game was a 10–0 slog of a win over Virginia. This was a risky yet undeniably intriguing pairing.</p><h3>15. New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas</h3><p>The first game of the FBS bowl slate pits the Sun Belt champs against the Conference USA runners-up in the Superdome. Will Troy’s Neal Brown or North Texas’s Seth Littrell get the call to coach a Power 5 program first? And will Trojans running back Jordan Chunn, who put up 190 yards on LSU’s defense, return to form once he crosses back over the Louisiana state line?</p><h3>14. Boca Raton Bowl: Akron vs. Florida Atlantic</h3><p>With a prime-time national audience to himself, Lane Kiffin is going to try to get everyone’s attention one way or another. The clearest path to that goal seems like it will be dropping 60 on the Zips, who can’t hang with FAU’s lethal offense. Owls running back Devin Singletary is 204 rushing yards away from 2,000 on the season, and Akron is 99th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (197.2). Just keep an eye on it.</p><h3>13. Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU</h3><p>It’s a New Year’s Day bowl, sure, but one between two teams everybody seems to have pretty much figured out by this point. If Josh Adams and Derrius Guice don’t get going (or skip the game altogether) against two solid run defenses, this could turn into a slog.</p><h3>12. Alamo Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU</h3><p>The mysteries of bowl season: Why do the Pac-12’s two top games outside the New Year’s Six kick off at the same time (9 p.m. ET) on the same day (Dec. 28) on different channels (FS1 for the Holiday Bowl, ESPN for the Alamo)? If the conference is making you choose between two top teams, choose the Cardinal as Bryce Love tries to burn Gary Patterson’s defense.</p><h3>11. Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State vs. Army</h3><p>With the No. 1 (Army) and No. 12 (SDSU) rushing offenses in the country on hand, this one might get wrapped up in under three hours. The stars of those ground games are both seniors trying to go out in style: Black Knights quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (1,472 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Aztecs running back Rashaad Penny (2,027 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns) have toiled in relative obscurity for too long.</p><h3>10. Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue</h3><p>Two of the season’s great underdog stories meet in Santa Clara, as electrifying quarterback Khalil Tate and Arizona take on coach Jeff Brohm’s turnaround-in-progress at Purdue. Tate is a house call waiting to happen every time he touches the ball, and the Boilermakers have no shortage of offensive tricks up their sleeve.</p><h3>9. TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State</h3><p>We were robbed of a dual-threat QB duel between Lamar Jackson and Nick Fitzgerald when Fitzgerald suffered a season-ending injury in the Egg Bowl, and then we were robbed of the Todd Grantham Bowl between the fiery defensive coordinator’s past and present employer when Grantham followed Dan Mullen to Florida. It’s a testament to Jackson’s entertainment value that this remains a top-10 game. Enjoy him at his peak while you still can.</p><h3>8. Fiesta Bowl: Washington vs. Penn State</h3><p>Saquon Barkley has committed to playing in this game before hopping to the draft, and NFL executives everywhere will be wincing at each hit he takes from Washington’s punishing defense. Under-the-radar matchup to watch: Penn State’s 21st-ranked punt coverage team (just 73 return yards allowed all year) against Dante Pettis, the all-time leader with nine career punt return TDs, including four this season.</p><h3>7. Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech vs. South Florida</h3><p>Points ... points everywhere. This game might take five hours, and nobody will care. Head coaches Kliff Kingsbury and Charlie Strong are more than acquainted with each other from Strong’s time at Texas, as well.</p><h3>6. Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo</h3><p>Just as was the case in the New Orleans Bowl above, both head coaches are on the way up. Scott Satterfield ushered Appalachian State into FBS play, and Jason Candle’s Rockets just wrapped up a dominant MAC campaign. Make some time for two of the most underrated teams in the Group of Five.</p><h3>5. Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Missouri</h3><p>Missouri started out the season 1–5 and then won six straight, scoring a ton of points and unleashing the full potential of quarterback Drew Lock in the process. A handful of Texas defenders are already skipping this game to prepare for the NFL, so Longhorns QB Sam Ehlinger should be asked to cut it loose in response. The result should be consequence-free offensive football.</p><h3>4. Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. South Carolina</h3><p>It’s been five long years since The Hit. The game itself is worth watching to see whether Gamecocks QB Jake Bentley can find a way through the Wolverines’ stout defense after South Carolina fired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, but we’re all just looking for excuses to watch The Hit again, and the telecast is sure to oblige.</p><h3>3. Peach Bowl: UCF vs. Auburn</h3><p>UCF coach Scott Frost’s decision to come back from his new job at Nebraska to coach the bowl game has raised the intrigue of this one considerably. As the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six rep, the Knights were destined to draw a top-10 team in a no-win situation, and that certainly applies to Auburn, which may still be emotionally deflated (if not still physically depleted) from its SEC title game loss. A win here would put UCF’s perfect season near the very top of college football’s pact two decades of underdog stories.</p><h3>2. Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Memphis</h3><p>It seems like these teams were involved in a disproportionate number of the season’s most exciting games: Iowa State with its upset of Oklahoma and last-second losses to Oklahoma State and Iowa, Memphis with its shootout win over UCLA and double-overtime loss to UCF. Both programs also recently locked in their rising coaches with new deals, meaning no one will be caught looking towards 2018. And Iowa State’s Allen Lazard and Memphis’s Anthony Miller are two of the best receivers in the country, full stop.</p><h3>1. Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Ohio State</h3><p>Who will respond better to the committee’s controversial playoff snub? The Buckeyes would like nothing more than to finish ahead of Alabama in the final rankings, while USC just wrapped a whisper-quiet 11-win season without hardly any of the fanfare that normally hijacks Trojans runs. Sam Darnold and J.T. Barrett are set up to wage an imperfect yet enthralling quarterback duel, and both teams are loaded at the skill positions. Clear your Friday night now for Dec. 29—given the deep lineup over the next three weeks, rescheduling any plans last-minute won’t be easy.</p>
Bowl Entertainment Rankings: From Can't-Miss Matchups to Uninspiring Undercards

The networks that own the rights to the bowl slate arrange everything so that if you wanted to, you could take in a significant chunk of all 40 games of the FBS postseason, a three-week-long binge to close out a satisfying season. But if we’re being realistic, things come up. Holiday traditions get in the way of the Holiday Bowl. The cheapest flights home happen to overlap with the first three quarters of the Boca Raton Bowl (this specific scenario hits particularly close to home). Sacrifices must be made, and accordingly, priorities must be set.

To help you make those tough choices, we’re counting down 2017’s 37 bowl games outside the College Football Playoff, from the least watchable matchups to the can’t-miss events. The criteria used to sift through the clutter, in no particular order: the potential for offensive fireworks, any intriguing contrast in schematic styles, the presence of a superstar player or future first-round draft pick, the prestige of the bowl game and/or venue itself, the TV time slot and the quality of the teams involved.

If you weren’t already planning to watch the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the national title game, these rankings aren’t for you, so for the sake of suspense at the top of the list we’ve left out the three games with national title implications. (But for the record, Georgia-Oklahoma just barely edges out Alabama-Clemson as the postseason’s most entertaining bowl due to the unique matchup and offensive contrast.)

37. Independence Bowl: Southern Miss vs. Florida State

After Jimbo Fisher’s messy exit, the Seminoles might be regretting the lengths they went to just to get to six wins and extend their record bowl streak to 36 years, rescheduling a game against Louisiana-Monroe that was cancelled by Hurricane Irma to avoid a 5–6 finish. Now they’ll travel to Shreveport for a matchup with a decidedly middle-tier Conference USA foe in the middle of a weekday afternoon two days after Christmas.

36. Cure Bowl: Western Kentucky vs. Georgia State

These aren’t quite the same high-flying Hilltoppers we’ve seen in years past: Western Kentucky only topped 40 points twice all season, in part because senior quarterback Mike White was sacked a stunning 38 times. At least the Panthers will want to be in Orlando, making the program’s second bowl appearance ever.

35. Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs. Boston College

Boston College’s stretch-run offensive explosion (36 points per game in the second half of the regular season) still feels too good to be true, and a meeting with the Hawkeyes—traditionally a stylistic kindred spirit—inside a baseball stadium should remind the Eagles of the first-to-14-points thrillers from whence they came.

34. Gasparilla Bowl: Temple vs. Florida International

Another baseball stadium bowl venue, and this one (Tropicana Field) is barely accepted as a suitable place to play baseball. When Bad Boy Mowers famously signed on for the St. Petersburg Bowl’s flashy rebrand, it had to have been hoping for a little better luck than this. This game should at least shine some light on Butch Davis’s impressive one-year turnaround at FIU, which has been completely overshadowed by Lane Kiffin’s impressive one-year turnaround at FAU.

33. Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Arkansas State

Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill bought $10,000 worth of tickets to incentivize students to make the trip to Montgomery—the Blue Raiders were sent to Hawaii and the Bahamas the last two postseasons, but their lackluster 6–6 finish kept them a little closer to home. Keep an eye on Red Wolves sack master Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, and make sure you watch the postgame press conference to see if head coach Blake Anderson sends any more digs Arkansas’s way.

32. Frisco Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. SMU

This might be your last chance to see Courtland Sutton in an SMU uniform: The 6'4" junior receiver has the NFL’s attention after a few eye-popping campaigns within head coach Chad Morris’s breakneck-fast offense. But Morris couldn’t make it to this game before being hired by Arkansas.

31. Arizona Bowl: New Mexico State vs. Utah State

This year’s Just Happy to Be Here winner in a landslide is New Mexico State, which last went to a bowl in 1960. Emotions were high after the Aggies clinched their sixth win on Saturday, so expect an atypically charged atmosphere in Tucson.

30. Sun Bowl: NC State vs. Arizona State

The Sun Devils’ final game before the official start of the Herm Edwards era comes against an NC State team that has beaten just three teams that finished with winning records this year. The Wolfpack faithful thought this season might end somewhere a little closer to the beach than El Paso, but they have several young receivers to be excited about. Sophomores Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers and do-everything weapon Jaylen Samuels could rip off some big plays against Arizona State’s suspect defense.

29. Military Bowl: Virginia vs. Navy

Given the recent heights Navy has reached, this counts as a down year, but the Midshipmen should pose an interesting challenge for the Cavaliers, whose only win in their final six games came over another triple-option team, Georgia Tech.

28. Quick Lane Bowl: Duke vs. Northern Illinois

Northern Illinois is 0–4 in bowl games under Rod Carey; Duke got its first postseason win in half a century two years ago at the Pinstripe Bowl. Nobody will be in their element. On a fast track at Ford Field, look out for Blue Devils leading receiver T.J. Rahming, whose one touchdown this season belies his quick-twitch athleticism.

27. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Central Michigan v. Wyoming

NFL draft darling Josh Allen hurt his throwing shoulder in mid-November but is expected to be good to go by the time Wyoming gets to Boise. If the Cowboys’ free-slinging quarterback can’t play, drop this matchup down 10 slots.

26. Belk Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M

The Aggies are playing out the string in between Kevin Sumlin and Jimbo Fisher, while Greg Dortch, the star of Wake Forest’s upstart passing attack with nine catches this year, was lost for the season with an abdominal injury. His absence won’t stop Demon Deacons QB John Wolford from chucking it around the yard in his final game, but there may not be enough on the line for this to devolve into a back-and-forth shootout.

25. Music City Bowl: Kentucky vs. Northwestern

One Wildcats team is a lot hotter than the other: Northwestern has won seven straight, while Kentucky has lost three of four. Both teams would prefer to do most of their work on the ground, which may limit the scoring potential but should wrap up with plenty of time for fans to switch gears before the No. 1 game on this list (stay tuned).

24. Orange Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Miami

It’s the Turnover Chain vs. the nation’s top defense by yards allowed per game, which could mean a long night for quarterbacks Malik Rosier and Alex Hornibrook. The losers of Saturday’s two primetime Power 5 conference championship games square off in Miami’s home stadium with considerably lower stakes than they had hoped for, taking the edge off the lowest New Year’s Six matchup on our rankings. You’ll be able to tell how much juice the Hurricanes’ breakout season has left by whether Miami fans are out-attended by the well-traveled Badger faithful.

23. New Mexico Bowl: Marshall vs. Colorado State

A game can only drop so far in these rankings if it features a receiver with a very real chance at going for 200-plus yards, and Colorado State senior Michael Gallup is just that kind of player—he did it twice in the regular season.

22. Hawai’i Bowl: Fresno State vs. Houston

Ed Oliver’s disruptive dominance in the middle of the line is the gift that keeps on giving for those who have stuck with Houston games even after Tom Herman jumped to Texas. After playing Washington and Alabama in back-to-back weeks in December, Jeff Tedford’s Fresno State team has earned itself a Christmas Eve in Hawaii.

21. Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA

This figures to be Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen’s final collegiate game before the NFL comes calling. Scouts will be watching Kansas State junior corner D.J. Reed closely, as well. There’s some sneaky shootout potential here, as the Wildcats spent half the season scoring at will and the other half searching for stability at quarterback. Will freshman Skylar Thompson’s tenure as the starter outlast Bill Snyder’s coaching career?

20. Holiday Bowl: Washington State vs. Michigan State

On paper, it seems like these two teams might present a refreshing contrast of styles and strengths, but Cougars QB Luke Falk was terrible in last year’s bowl game and the Spartans are unlikely to get the benefit of bad weather in San Diego, so neither team seems set up to play its best. Plus, after this matchup was announced, the Spartans and their fans promptly made it known they’d rather be in Tampa for the Outback Bowl.

19. Bahamas Bowl: UAB vs. Ohio

UAB deserves a trip to the Bahamas to cap its first season back after the miraculous resurrection of its football program, and although Ohio played its way out of a shot at the MAC title with a puzzling late-season loss to Akron, the Blazers get a quality opponent to measure themselves against.

18. Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Oregon

This was higher before Oregon head coach Willie Taggart bolted for Florida State, but it should still provide a decent glimpse at what the Ducks might look like next year with a healthy Justin Herbert at the helm of the offense. The Mountain West champs suffered two embarrassing losses to Power 5 opponents (one in triple-overtime, one by a wider margin than the Broncos had allowed at home in over a decade) and should have a little something extra to prove.

17. Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah vs. West Virginia

The Utes may be 6–6, but they kept the Pac-12’s four best teams all within a possession. The Mountaineers may be 7–5, but they put a scare into almost everyone except Oklahoma. This game has the Boxing Day afternoon window all to itself, and there should be enough offensive fireworks here not to spoil it.

16. Camping World Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys are one of the most fun teams in the country to watch when their offense is clicking, but that fun can burn out quickly if it becomes apparent the opponent has no chance of scoring with them. Virginia Tech’s last game was a 10–0 slog of a win over Virginia. This was a risky yet undeniably intriguing pairing.

15. New Orleans Bowl: Troy vs. North Texas

The first game of the FBS bowl slate pits the Sun Belt champs against the Conference USA runners-up in the Superdome. Will Troy’s Neal Brown or North Texas’s Seth Littrell get the call to coach a Power 5 program first? And will Trojans running back Jordan Chunn, who put up 190 yards on LSU’s defense, return to form once he crosses back over the Louisiana state line?

14. Boca Raton Bowl: Akron vs. Florida Atlantic

With a prime-time national audience to himself, Lane Kiffin is going to try to get everyone’s attention one way or another. The clearest path to that goal seems like it will be dropping 60 on the Zips, who can’t hang with FAU’s lethal offense. Owls running back Devin Singletary is 204 rushing yards away from 2,000 on the season, and Akron is 99th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (197.2). Just keep an eye on it.

13. Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU

It’s a New Year’s Day bowl, sure, but one between two teams everybody seems to have pretty much figured out by this point. If Josh Adams and Derrius Guice don’t get going (or skip the game altogether) against two solid run defenses, this could turn into a slog.

12. Alamo Bowl: Stanford vs. TCU

The mysteries of bowl season: Why do the Pac-12’s two top games outside the New Year’s Six kick off at the same time (9 p.m. ET) on the same day (Dec. 28) on different channels (FS1 for the Holiday Bowl, ESPN for the Alamo)? If the conference is making you choose between two top teams, choose the Cardinal as Bryce Love tries to burn Gary Patterson’s defense.

11. Armed Forces Bowl: San Diego State vs. Army

With the No. 1 (Army) and No. 12 (SDSU) rushing offenses in the country on hand, this one might get wrapped up in under three hours. The stars of those ground games are both seniors trying to go out in style: Black Knights quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (1,472 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Aztecs running back Rashaad Penny (2,027 rushing yards, 19 touchdowns) have toiled in relative obscurity for too long.

10. Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona vs. Purdue

Two of the season’s great underdog stories meet in Santa Clara, as electrifying quarterback Khalil Tate and Arizona take on coach Jeff Brohm’s turnaround-in-progress at Purdue. Tate is a house call waiting to happen every time he touches the ball, and the Boilermakers have no shortage of offensive tricks up their sleeve.

9. TaxSlayer Bowl: Louisville vs. Mississippi State

We were robbed of a dual-threat QB duel between Lamar Jackson and Nick Fitzgerald when Fitzgerald suffered a season-ending injury in the Egg Bowl, and then we were robbed of the Todd Grantham Bowl between the fiery defensive coordinator’s past and present employer when Grantham followed Dan Mullen to Florida. It’s a testament to Jackson’s entertainment value that this remains a top-10 game. Enjoy him at his peak while you still can.

8. Fiesta Bowl: Washington vs. Penn State

Saquon Barkley has committed to playing in this game before hopping to the draft, and NFL executives everywhere will be wincing at each hit he takes from Washington’s punishing defense. Under-the-radar matchup to watch: Penn State’s 21st-ranked punt coverage team (just 73 return yards allowed all year) against Dante Pettis, the all-time leader with nine career punt return TDs, including four this season.

7. Birmingham Bowl: Texas Tech vs. South Florida

Points ... points everywhere. This game might take five hours, and nobody will care. Head coaches Kliff Kingsbury and Charlie Strong are more than acquainted with each other from Strong’s time at Texas, as well.

6. Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State vs. Toledo

Just as was the case in the New Orleans Bowl above, both head coaches are on the way up. Scott Satterfield ushered Appalachian State into FBS play, and Jason Candle’s Rockets just wrapped up a dominant MAC campaign. Make some time for two of the most underrated teams in the Group of Five.

5. Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Missouri

Missouri started out the season 1–5 and then won six straight, scoring a ton of points and unleashing the full potential of quarterback Drew Lock in the process. A handful of Texas defenders are already skipping this game to prepare for the NFL, so Longhorns QB Sam Ehlinger should be asked to cut it loose in response. The result should be consequence-free offensive football.

4. Outback Bowl: Michigan vs. South Carolina

It’s been five long years since The Hit. The game itself is worth watching to see whether Gamecocks QB Jake Bentley can find a way through the Wolverines’ stout defense after South Carolina fired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, but we’re all just looking for excuses to watch The Hit again, and the telecast is sure to oblige.

3. Peach Bowl: UCF vs. Auburn

UCF coach Scott Frost’s decision to come back from his new job at Nebraska to coach the bowl game has raised the intrigue of this one considerably. As the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six rep, the Knights were destined to draw a top-10 team in a no-win situation, and that certainly applies to Auburn, which may still be emotionally deflated (if not still physically depleted) from its SEC title game loss. A win here would put UCF’s perfect season near the very top of college football’s pact two decades of underdog stories.

2. Liberty Bowl: Iowa State vs. Memphis

It seems like these teams were involved in a disproportionate number of the season’s most exciting games: Iowa State with its upset of Oklahoma and last-second losses to Oklahoma State and Iowa, Memphis with its shootout win over UCLA and double-overtime loss to UCF. Both programs also recently locked in their rising coaches with new deals, meaning no one will be caught looking towards 2018. And Iowa State’s Allen Lazard and Memphis’s Anthony Miller are two of the best receivers in the country, full stop.

1. Cotton Bowl: USC vs. Ohio State

Who will respond better to the committee’s controversial playoff snub? The Buckeyes would like nothing more than to finish ahead of Alabama in the final rankings, while USC just wrapped a whisper-quiet 11-win season without hardly any of the fanfare that normally hijacks Trojans runs. Sam Darnold and J.T. Barrett are set up to wage an imperfect yet enthralling quarterback duel, and both teams are loaded at the skill positions. Clear your Friday night now for Dec. 29—given the deep lineup over the next three weeks, rescheduling any plans last-minute won’t be easy.

In this Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 file photo, Carolina Panthers&#39; Christian McCaffrey (22) stays in front of New Orleans Saints&#39; Ken Crawley (20) during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. The Saints won 34-13. The Panthers are heading into the biggest game of their season with some major injury concerns. Carolina is tied with New Orleans for first place in the NFC South at 8-3 entering a pivotal showdown at the Superdome on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017 . But just how many Panthers will be available to play remains a mystery. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone, File)
Looking for the best NFL matchups this week? Look South
In this Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 file photo, Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) stays in front of New Orleans Saints' Ken Crawley (20) during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. The Saints won 34-13. The Panthers are heading into the biggest game of their season with some major injury concerns. Carolina is tied with New Orleans for first place in the NFC South at 8-3 entering a pivotal showdown at the Superdome on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017 . But just how many Panthers will be available to play remains a mystery. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone, File)
Nov 19, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Okafor (57) is taken off the field on a cart after an injury in the second half against the Washington Redskins at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 34-31 in overtime. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints
Nov 19, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Alex Okafor (57) is taken off the field on a cart after an injury in the second half against the Washington Redskins at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 34-31 in overtime. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
<p>New Orleans Saints perform during the second half of a game against the Washington Redskins at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) </p>
NFL Week 11 cheerleaders

New Orleans Saints perform during the second half of a game against the Washington Redskins at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Nov 19, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints
Nov 19, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 19, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Washington Redskins at New Orleans Saints
Nov 19, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs with Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) and outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) defending in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 30-10. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Nov 5, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs with Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) and outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) defending in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 30-10. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 30-10. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
Nov 5, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 30-10. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
<p>New Orleans Saints Justin Hardee (center) celebrates with special teams teammates posing for a photo in the endzone after a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports </p>
NFL Week 9

New Orleans Saints Justin Hardee (center) celebrates with special teams teammates posing for a photo in the endzone after a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston throws a pass during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla. Winston is throwing early in a week for the first time since injuring his right shoulder, and the Buccaneers hope that will be beneficial against the New Orleans Saints. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken, File)
Paths of surprising Saints, sagging Bucs clash in Superdome
FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston throws a pass during the second quarter of an NFL football game in Tampa, Fla. Winston is throwing early in a week for the first time since injuring his right shoulder, and the Buccaneers hope that will be beneficial against the New Orleans Saints. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken, File)
FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, file photo, New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) tackles Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) during the first half of an NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis. NFC North rivals looking for fixes on offense face off on Monday night when the Detroit Lions visit the Green Bay Packers. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, File)
Paths of surprising Saints, sagging Bucs clash in Superdome
FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, file photo, New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) tackles Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) during the first half of an NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis. NFC North rivals looking for fixes on offense face off on Monday night when the Detroit Lions visit the Green Bay Packers. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, File)
Oct 29, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller (86) is carted off the field after a leg injury during the second half against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 20-12. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
Oct 29, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller (86) is carted off the field after a leg injury during the second half against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 20-12. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller (86) is carted off the field after a leg injury during the second half against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 20-12. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints
Oct 29, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller (86) is carted off the field after a leg injury during the second half against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 20-12. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
<p>A New Orleans Saints cheerleader performs during a game against the Chicago Bears at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 29, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) </p>
NFL Week 8

A New Orleans Saints cheerleader performs during a game against the Chicago Bears at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 29, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

<p>A New Orleans Saints cheerleader performs during a game against the Chicago Bears at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 29, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) </p>
NFL Week 8

A New Orleans Saints cheerleader performs during a game against the Chicago Bears at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 29, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

<p>A New Orleans Saints cheerleader performs during a game against the Chicago Bears at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 29, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) </p>
NFL Week 8

A New Orleans Saints cheerleader performs during a game against the Chicago Bears at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 29, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

<p>1. I think these are my quick notes of Week 6:</p><p>a. Stunning penalty-yardage disparity Thursday night: Eagles 126, Panthers 1. I would love to be in the officials’ room on Park Avenue to hear the discussion over the fact that the Panthers were not whistled for one hold in a game that has become a clutch-and-grab-fest.</p><p>b. I have never heard what CBS analyst Nate Burleson said about rookie running back Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs: “He’s the carpet that brings the room together.” How did I miss that?</p><p>c. WHOOOOOOOSH! Marvin Hall just showed up Saturday on the active Atlanta roster for the first time, then got five yards behind the Miami secondary and caught a too-easy long TD.</p><p>d. Case Keenum is playing the best football of his life—and looks so confident doing it. His inside shovel pass to Kyle Rudolph for seven yards near the Green Bay goal line was a thing of beauty.</p><p>e. The Lions are in the NFC North race because of the Aaron Rodgers injury, not because of good football.</p><p>f. The book on C.J. Beathard is he’s one tough guy. Which he showed in the 26-24 loss at Washington. But he showed much more, enough that he’s got at least one more start next Sunday against Dallas.</p><p>g. Can someone please teach Jordan Howard that when your team is trying to bleed the clock, you don’t intentionally run out of bounds? Sheesh.</p><p>h. Oakland punter Marquette King had a day: four punts, 56.5-yard average, 55.0 net, all four inside the 20.</p><p>i. <a href="http://www.nfl.com/m/share?p=%2Fvideos%2Fnfl-cant-miss-plays%2F0ap3000000861156%2FCan-t-Miss-Play-Tarik-Cohen-throws-perfect-pass-to-Zach-Miller-for-a-touchdown" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:What a pass" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">What a pass</a> by Tarik Cohen, the bowling ball of a back for Chicago. He rolled right with a handoff and let one fly, 37 yards in the air, and it nestled perfectly into the arms of Zach Miller in the right corner of the end zone. First Bears rookie running back to throw a TD pass since Gale Sayers did it in 1965.</p><p>j. Good for the Chargers winning in Oakland. Anthony Lynn is keeping that team together against so many odds.</p><p>k. Jack Del Rio has a big problem, and it’s not only that the Raiders are 2-4. They’re an uninspired, toothless 2-4. They’ve got a must-win game Thursday night against the Chiefs—and they’ve only lost five in a row to Kansas City.</p><p>l. Where to start with that New Orleans-Detroit game. Well, I’ll leave you with one note on it: The Cam Jordan <a href="http://www.nfl.com/m/share?p=%2Fvideos%2Fnfl-cant-miss-plays%2F0ap3000000861532%2FCan-t-Miss-Play-Cameron-Jordan-makes-goal-line-pick-six" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tipped-to-himself interception" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tipped-to-himself interception</a> for a touchdown was the biggest play in a game with 90 points scored, and one of the most athletic plays of the season. Jordan’s a heck of a player. The Saints need about five more of him on defense.</p><p>m. When he’s healthy, Janoris Jenkins is a top-five NFL cornerback. Showed it again Sunday night with the pick-six in Denver.</p><p>n. Could be that I jinxed him, but if you want to see my &quot;Football Night in America&quot; ride-along with Trevor Siemian, <a href="http://www.nbcsports.com/video/broncos-qb-trevor-siemian-rides-along-peter-king" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here it is" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here it is</a>.</p><p>o. Cam Newton will not put the Thursday-nighter in his time capsule.</p><p>p. There is no good reason—nor a crappy reason—to fine a celebrating football player for throwing a football into the stands after a great play. I mean, the player is happy, the player is celebrating, the player gives the souvenir touchdown football to a fan. I do understand the NFL’s reasoning. The league doesn’t want anyone to get hurt in a scrum for a prize football. And if there is an instance of a fan getting hurt beyond a couple of scratches on a ball thrown into the stands, maybe I’d change my tune. But Davante Adams got fined $6,076 for throwing his winning touchdown catch into the stands in Texas last week, and there’s the cutest picture of the recipient, a little girl, cradling it this week. It’s wrong.</p><p>q. Thomas Davis still has it, even after three ACL surgeries.</p><p>2. I think, Luke Kuechly, it’s time for that deep conversation with yourself and with your family and maybe with your good friends on the Panthers. You’re 26, and when you’re on the field you’re as dominant and instinctive as you were in 2013, when you were named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But with a likely third concussion in three years Thursday night, the danger with playing such a physical position and risking further head trauma is something Kuechly and those closest to him are going to have to consider when trying to decide about his future in football. Kuechly came steaming around right end to get an Eagles’ ball-carrier, and he was met directly by guard Brandon Brooks. Brooks didn’t Kuechly him helmet-to-helmet; rather, he simply stopped Kuechly and leveled him with a strong block into his shoulder/neck area. Players get up from that almost every time … but when players have a history of concussions, even seemingly ordinary contact can be dangerous. Whatever Kuechly does—and he told me last year he planned to play as long he physically is able—the emotion has to be taken out of it. He’s got to make the best call for 50-year-old Luke Kuechly.</p><p>3. I think I get the release of NaVorro Bowman—a veteran on an 0-5 team who wouldn’t be there after this season. He’s been one of the best professionals and competitors I’ve covered. I also get the Niners releasing him instead of taking a low-round pick for him. I’ll tell you where I’d go if I were him: Carolina. Great insurance for Kuechly, and a great one-year landing place. Backup plan: Oakland.</p><p>4. I think when I saw the Panthers in training camp, coach Ron Rivera was adamant that Carolina was going to be a power-running team. If that was the case, Carolina would be at least one win better than its 4-2 record right now. But in the last two games, Carolina’s running backs have 35 carries for 37 yards. The Panthers should be using the speed and horizontal misdirection of Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey to create uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball.</p><p>5. I think it’s only mid-October, and it’s starting to be hard to fathom how a guy who seemed bulletproof on Labor Day, Giants coach Ben McAdoo, will still be in that job in 2018.</p><p>6. I think it’s only mid-October, and it’s starting to be hard to fathom how the Eagles won’t win the NFC East, with this schedule over the next four weeks: Washington, San Francisco and Denver, all at home, followed by the bye. The Eagles don’t play a road game until the Sunday before Thanksgiving.</p><p>7. I think I enjoyed the <a href="http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-films-presents/0ap3000000848938/NFL-Films-Presents-Touchdown-in-Israel" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:NFL Films Presents “Touchdown in Israel”" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">NFL Films Presents “Touchdown in Israel”</a> show I screened over the weekend. The show debuts Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. Patriots owner Robert Kraft took 18 Pro Football Hall of Famers to Israel, to promote football (the players actually coached a game between two teams of young players from Israel) and so Kraft could show off Israel, which he loves. Most touching parts: At the end of the show, Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson and others—most emotionally Marshall Faulk—discuss their experiences on the last night in Israel. Faulk, not an emotional sort, struggles to get through his thoughts speaking to the group, because the trip was so powerful to him. “Coming from the Ninth Ward in Louisiana, to be in Israel … UN-believable … And not just to be here, but [struggling to speak] … to be here with some guys who I look up to. I grew up poor. I sold POPCORN in the Superdome just to watch y’all play! [fighting off tears] … Cuz that’s the only way I could get in! … So to be here, and to be friends with y’all, and to hear your stories, and to have y’all listening to my stories, um, is unbelievable. I came here as just a member of the Hall. Man, I’m leaving with some special relationships.”</p><p>8. I think I applaud <a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/10/15/colin-kaepernick-collusion-lawsuit-against-nfl" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the filing of the Colin Kaepernick collusion case" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the filing of the Colin Kaepernick collusion case</a>, though I’m skeptical attorney Mark Geragos will find any evidence to prove that multiple NFL owners, or the league office, colluded to deny Kaepernick employment. This may not be the best thing to get Kaepernick on an NFL roster (the dreaded “distraction” that so many teams quake about would be the result of signing him now), but the more noise that’s made about Kaepernick not being given a chance to play the better.</p><p>9. I think there’s an <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Grondahl-A-friendship-rekindled-after-70-years-12266594.php" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:overlooked story you should know about it" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">overlooked story you should know about it</a>. It happened last week at a small-college football game in upstate New York, St. Lawrence at Union. Two friends from the Albany area from the early 1940s, World War II vets apart for more than 70 years, gathered to renew their friendship at the game in Schenectady, and the emotion that came out left both men weeping. Donald Sommers (Union class of ’45), age 95, and Ted Rosen (St. Lawrence class of ’48), 93, hadn’t seen each other because of the war and because life took them in different directions. Sommers’ daughter Caroline, a New York City-based TV producer, worked for months to locate Rosen, just as a favor to her father, who recently lost his wife. “This is unbelievable, to be able to spend time with such a good friend after so many years,” said Sommers. “I haven’t seen this young man in 70 years! We chose to do it at the football game. I am a very ardent football watcher.” Caroline Sommers was filled with emotion when the two friends stood with the teams from their respective alma maters as the anthem played. “This was a bucket list thing for me to do for my father,” she said. “You know the scene in the Grinch where his heart grows a lot at the end? That’s what this felt like—to do something that made these two great men so happy.”</p><p>10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:</p><p>a. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/sports/las-vegas-shooting.html?smid=tw-share&#38;_r=0" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Story of the Week" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Story of the Week</a>: by John Branch of the New York Times<em>, </em>“The Girl in the No. 8 Jersey,” on the tragedy in Las Vegas hitting home on a soccer field in California.</p><p>b. Stacee Etcheber and the Girl in the No. 8 Jersey should have some rights. Rights to live without the fear of being cut down by some normal-seeming sniper from 400 yards away.</p><p>c. <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/roger-goodell-has-a-secret-defender-on-twitter-his-wife-1507839658?mod=e2tws" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Goodellian Story of the Week" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Goodellian Story of the Week</a>: by Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal<em>, </em>about an anonymous (but no longer) defender of Roger Goodell on Twitter.</p><p>d. <a href="https://theathletic.com/126090/2017/10/12/gammons-in-49-years-covering-baseball-this-was-a-game-to-remember-with-players-you-cant-forget/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Baseball Story of the Week" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Baseball Story of the Week</a>: by Peter Gammons of The Athletic<em>, </em>on the Astros’ Game 4 ALDS win in Boston, writing about the rise of one franchise and the fall of another at Fenway Park on a murky October day. “This is what I live for. This place is so great, so electric,” said Justin Verlander, who almost was a goat in the first relief appearance of his life in professional baseball. “To me, baseball is about the moments, walking up on the mound with something on the line.” </p><p>e. And that wasn’t even the baseball game of the week. Cubs 9, Nats 8.</p><p>f. I cannot rave enough about Jose Altuve. The man invents runs. Friday against the Yankees, in a scoreless game, he bounced a normal ground ball up the middle, and the throw to first was a tick late. Then he stole second, safe by a whisker. Then, on a single up the middle, his little pistons took him home for the first run of a 2-1 game. The man is Pedroia with 40 percent better power and 30 percent better speed.</p><p>g. Justin Verlander with the game of his later career in ALCS Game 2. Then I looked up and saw he’s still only 34. Thought he was older. So glad to see a guy throw 124 pitches and a complete game and no one freaks out. Look how good Verlander was late: In the last four innings, he struck out seven, got five batted-ball outs, walked one, allowed one hit. That’s dominance.</p><p>h. Cleveland … that one hurt. Not as bad as losing the 3-1 Series lead last year. But watching Corey Kluber go cold, and Jose Ramirez go colder, will lead to some bummer evenings this winter. </p><p>i. Coffeenerdness: Not a good idea to run low on Italian Roast at my two local stores, Starbucks. You do realize I’m an addict, don’t you? STOCK THE ITALIAN ROAST!?</p><p>j. Beernerdness: I’ve gone Sober October, as you may have read last week, and you filled <span>my inbox</span> with your passion about favorite beers. So I’m going to use the next three columns to feature your choices. The first: from Mitch Clingman of Wisconsin: “I live in Milwaukee but I&#39;m from Minnesota, and I enjoy watching my Vikings while sipping on <a href="http://www.tgbrews.com/beer.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:King Sue" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">King Sue</a>, an American Double IPA from Toppling Goliath in Decorah, Iowa. Orange in color, one of the hoppiest fresh noses you will ever find, this is absolutely a life-changing event in a bottle. My leg starts twitching when I take my first sip. I highly suggest giving this one a try in the near future.” Toppling Goliath … well, of course I’m going to try anything from Toppling Goliath.</p><p>k. Great job by the Vegas Golden Knights feting the city, the police, the victims and the first-responders at the first home game in franchise history. That 58-second “moment” of silence was marvelous. Truly emotional. Nice start for the first big-league team in the history of the state.</p><p>l. Liked <a href="https://theathletic.com/125981/2017/10/12/banks-what-it-means-to-lose-the-locker-room-and-has-that-already-happened-to-the-hapless-giants/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the analysis by Don Banks" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the analysis by Don Banks</a> of The Athletic on the quote-unquote Ben McAdoo “losing the locker room” perception. Often, teams settle into cliques during really bad times, and Banks captures it.</p><h3>Who I Like Tonight</h3><p><strong>Tennessee 30, Indianapolis 24. </strong>I love the battle of the quarterbacks. Who’d have thought Jacoby Brissett might outduel Marcus Mariota on a Monday night in Nashville in October? This will be a competitive game with the Colts having a chance to win in the last five minutes. Tennessee defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s troops are having a very bad year (a league-high 28.4 points per game allowed through five weeks) and may have to make a stop here to win.</p><h3>The Adieu Haiku</h3><p>Huge week for Goodell.<br>Ultimate knotty problem.<br>It’s mayhem. Trump wins.</p><p><strong><em>• We have a newsletter, and you can subscribe, and it’s free</em></strong>. Get “The Morning Huddle” delivered to your inbox first thing each weekday, by <a href="https://www.si.com/static/newsletter/signup" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:going here and checking The MMQB newsletter box." class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>going here and checking The MMQB newsletter box.</em></a> Start your day with the best of the NFL, from The MMQB.</p><p><strong>• <em>Question or comment? Story idea?</em></strong> Email us at <span><em>talkback@themmqb.com</em></span>.</p>