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Friday
Feb052010

« In Which The Players Are More Interesting Than The Commercials »

Super Bowl Character Sketches

by J. RYAN STRADAL

SCOTT FUJITA

When Scott Fujita, outside linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, was six weeks old, his white parents put him up for adoption, and he ended up as the son of Rod and Helen Fujita. 

Rod was born in a Japanese internment camp during WWII and raised Scott amidst Japanese culture and tradition. Without one known blood relative, Scott adopted the culture of the parents that adopted him; from a young age, Scott would say “Japanese” when someone asked him his background. Today, Scott is, among other things, an advocate for awareness & education of the Japanese-American forced relocation and internment camps. Scott is also an outspoken supporter of GLBT rights, a public stance that’s insanely rare among active professional athletes.

Scott’s job during the Super Bowl will be to shut down Dallas Clark’s intermediate routes and make open-field stops on Joseph Addai and Donald Brown when they run off-tackle. The Saints will try to match him up with leaner, faster guys like Austin Collie and Pierre Garçon on slot routes and quick outs. Wish him well.

JONATHAN VILMA

Jonathan Vilma, Middle Linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, is the child of Haitian immigrants, as you may know from the PSAs. On Super Bowl Sunday, it’ll probably be brought up 4,000 times.

To turn the Saints success into money for the relief effort, he created a limited edition t-shirt for the Saints playoff run, with the proceeds from sales going to Haiti. He has yet to start his own foundation or charity for the cause like opponent and fellow Haitian Pierre Garcon, but he could and probably will.

Jonathan’s always said if he wasn’t a football player he’d be a banker or financial planner, and he’s already started, launching a program called Financial 51 to teach school-age and college kids on smart saving and financial planning. It’s up and running in Miami and New Orleans so far, and it’s worked well enough that he’s spreading it to the NFL.

Within two years of retirement, 78% of NFL players are bankrupt or under severe financial distress, so yeah, they need it, if you can believe it. Jonathan also models for RocaWear (not a merchandising deal – a modeling gig) and is a spokesman (and a model) for UnderArmour.

As the middle linebacker, Vilma is the quarterback of the defense. Watch him, and not Peyton Manning, for at least one drive during the Super Bowl and check out what kinds of furiously intense and split-second head games the two men are playing with each other. Maybe it looks uncomplicated, but you’d rather take a staple gun to your chode than replace either of these men for one play.

They say there’s only 11 minutes of actual “game” during a football game, but they’re wrong. This tete-a-tete between quarterback and middle linebacker is the equivalent of watching a player’s eyes during a chess match, if the pieces tried to kill each other, and their actions resulted in wanton crying and unnecessary financial ruin for some of the spectators. Enjoy.

PIERRE GARÇON

Pierre Garçon, Wide Receiver for the Indianapolis Colts, is also a child of Haitian immigrants. On the back of his jersey, there’s an awesome cedilla under the “ç” in Garçon. This makes it my third favorite piece of sports apparel ever. 

He’s the guy who’s been holding up a Haitian flag after every Colts victory. He started a Haitian relief organization called the Pierre Garçon Helping Hands Foundation, and he plans to go to Haiti after football season. 

Garçon played football at a Division III school called Mt. Union. Attending Mt. Union to become an NFL player is a bit like attending an online college to become a quantum physicist. Mt. Union has only produced four other NFL players ever, and only two since the 1920s. The odds have always been stacked against this guy. 

He is also widely considered to be one of the most affable, funniest, and most approachable players on the team. He seems to give an interview to just about anyone with ten minutes and a blog. You don’t always get a great sense of Pierre in these interviews, but the questions usually suck.

In the Super Bowl, Pierre will be split out wide pretty much all the time. Saints safety Darren Sharper, playing close to the line, might double-team Pierre or bump him off his routes. Watch for Sharper playing a deep zone in the Tampa-2, where he’ll try to cut off Garçon’s route and go for the pick 6. Your Super Bowl party will go nuts.

REGGIE BUSH

Reggie Bush, running back for the New Orleans Saints, is second to Peyton Manning in NFL endorsement deals, shilling for, among others, Pepsi, General Motors, Red Bull, and Subway. He is dating Kim Kardashian; they’ve been seen around South Beach shopping together this week.

Reggie is in Ciara’s music video for “Like A Boy” and appears on the cover of two different video games. He has had dinner with Condoleeza Rice. According to his Twitter feed, he wonders, “How is Legion? Should I go see it? Or wait for DVD?” The case about whether Reggie and his family received gifts in violation of NCAA policies while Reggie was at USC is going to trial this year.

Reggie has done quite a bit for Hurricane Katrina relief. He donated enough money to keep a special-needs school in Metairie open. He personally funded a new football field where six local high schools play their games. He donated Hummers to the police department in Slidell so they could travel through the flooded streets.

He was out in public distributing food. He donated 25% of his jersey sales to Katrina-related charities. Perhaps that sounds picayune, but in 2006 Reggie Bush had the top selling NFL jersey. In fact, he had the top-selling jersey in any sport that year.

Reggie won the Heisman Trophy in college. He was the second overall pick in 2006 and signed a contract worth tens of millions of dollars. After his Katrina work and a promising rookie year, to say he has not performed up to expectations is to trifle with a football fan’s affinity for superlatives.

Going into this season, he was not even a starting running back. He was a ludicrously expensive role player, widely considered to be a bust. In the Super Bowl, if Reggie scores at least one TD and the Saints win, he'll be considered worth every penny.

AUSTIN COLLIE

Austin Collie, Wide Receiver for the Indianapolis Colts, started his rookie season at age 24 because he took two years off for a Mormon mission in Buenos Aires. Austin had a 3.9 GPA in high school and turned down a scholarship at Stanford to attend Brigham Young. You can guess who he credits for ever.

His wife Brooke started a blog on blogspot that has since between switched over to “invite only” after some kind of incident involving embarrassing photos. On the field, he is exceptionally good for a rookie. This year, he led all NFL rookies in receiving touchdowns, with seven, and tied for the lead in receptions, with 60.

Even so, Peyton Manning is known to be hard on Austin and yells at him a lot. Austin says he doesn’t mind; Austin’s both Canadian by birth and a surfer in the off-season, which may help explain his famously mellow temperament. 

During the Super Bowl, the Colts will try to put him in the slot and line him up against a slower opponent, like linebacker Scott Fujita, unless Jonathan Vilma notices in time, and gets a defensive back like Tracy Porter or Jabari Greer over to cover Collie in time, depending on the formation.

GARY BRACKETT

Gary Brackett, middle linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, had a hell of a path to becoming a professional athlete. He attended Rutgers, but not for football – he joined the team as a walk-on. He wasn’t drafted out of college, and had to sign with the Colts for a few thousand bucks as a long-shot free agent in 2003. The Colts drafted two other linebackers that year.

For the layperson, that’s a bit like interviewing for one job against two people who are related to the boss and were flown in & put up in a hotel while you drove 700 miles and slept in your car in a parking lot. Gary is now the captain of the team’s entire defense.

Starting his rookie year in 2003, over a 17-month period, Gary also lost his father, mother, and brother.

Gary’s father was a PTSD-stricken Vietnam vet who had to watch Gary’s high school games from his car because he couldn’t handle crowds. He died of a heart attack. Gary’s mother died of a stroke after a routine hysterectomy. Gary’s older brother died of T-cell leukemia despite blood marrow transfusions from Gary.

When he takes the field, he pumps his fist against his chest three times, for each of them.

In 2007, Gary founded a charity called the IMPACT foundation to help children with dead and dying parents. He was awarded the Arthur S. Arkush Humanitarian Award in 2009 for his work. Through this charity, he also provides children in Indianapolis hospitals with books, computers, and games.

During the Super Bowl, when Gary tackles Reggie Bush, bear in mind that Reggie is being tackled by a man who, unlike Reggie, had nothing handed to him, who’s fought through all kinds of personal tragedy, and has made a fraction of the money. Then watch as each man returns to his respective huddle, as if nothing else matters but the next play, and know they are right.

PEYTON MANNING 

Peyton Manning you may already know. He is the man whose level of attractiveness/charisma relative to his face-time on TV commercials is completely skewed and morally discouraging.

His father, Archie Manning, played in the NFL from 1971 to 1984, almost entirely for the Saints, and never won a damn thing. Now Peyton is in his second Super Bowl, trying to beat the team he first cheered for, the team his father gave his life and body to, the team whose legacy of defeat Peyton endured through six hard formative years.

We are told that the city of New Orleans needs this, that the Saints need this, that maybe even Archie Manning needs this. Peyton will not let it happen. Peyton will do everything in his power to deny a city, a team, and his own father a beautifully scripted catharsis. It is not the storybook ending we want. It is sports.

J. Ryan Stradal is a contributor to This Recording. He is a writer in Los Angeles. This is his first appearance in these pages.

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Reader Comments (5)

This is absolutely perfect.

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Can this guy become a regular?

February 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDerek

a TR classic, first try?
fucking Gary Brackett
my god

February 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterWill

good goddamn.

(WHO DAT)

February 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterme

Austin Collie is known to be a legendary dick

February 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralex

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