Their earliest collaboration produced a flawed, but memorable character. He was coarse and incomplete. Instead of fingers, he had a set of blades that he wielded with uncanny dexterity. This quality, this amazing skill, made him difficult to characterize. Edward Scissorhands was a product of director Tim Burton’s mind, plucked from the most quirky corner of the most quirky attic of his imagination.
Tim Burton chose Johnny Depp to breathe life into Edward Scissorhands. It was a fine choice, because Johnny Depp is the kind of performer most suited for unconventional roles. Burton doesn’t ask Johnny Depp to be a typical leading man. Who needs Johnny Depp to be Sean Penn when Sean Penn is already doing that? Burton asks Depp to stretch our imagination of what a leading man should be. Depp happily obliges and we are usually treated to a most intriguing fantasy.
I think fantasy is best left to the big screen. I don’t think it has a place in sport. Yet it’s here. Statistical analysis, molded into a fictitious league -- once the sole property of baseball -- now has a comfy home in the NFL, existing as a parallel industry. While it’s cute to pretend to be a general manager building a team for each Sunday afternoon, those of us who prefer real football just can’t escape the actual business of the game. This is what keeps us tethered to reality, especially at this time of year.
In the past two weeks, Bob Sanders, Tommie Harris, Clinton Portis and Jeremy Shockey have been cut by their respective teams. This annual weighing of salaries against payroll limitations leads to some very public front office housekeeping. Some players will take their show to new cities while other shows are cancelled forever.
I’m hoping that Reggie Bush, who survived the March 1 deadline, will be allowed to keep his show in New Orleans. He’s due to make almost $12 million this year, which is, incidentally, about what your A-list movie star gets per film.
I happen to think he’s worth it.
Reggie Bush is the most thrilling player in football. In fact his brand of talent is what keeps me interested in the game. I dont care about wins as much as I want to be moved. I’m in the minority on this front, especially as it pertains to Reggie Bush.
See, Bush has yet to channel his skill into something that generates "stats." Bush is by trade a running back. But that doesn’t entirely describe what he does. See, Bush as a runner is immature. He lacks the patience to wait for things to happen. He’ll hit the hole before all of his blockers can make contact with their men. When there is no opening, Bush forces the play outside, where there is usually nothing but a fast approaching sideline.
But several times a season, Bush will turn the routine into something astonishing. Like a play against the Dolphins in ‘09, when he took off from the 6-yard line and levitated, (a la Michael Jordan, circa 1985) and sailed over Dolphins corner Nolan Carroll into the end zone.
Or that run against the Arizona Cardinals in the 2010 divisional playoffs. Bush, spinning away from a tackler, found himself on one heel and off-balance. Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell was one yard away, bearing down on Bush, a kill shot in his sights. But in one motion Bush righted himself, stutter-stepped, and skated to the end zone, leaving Campbell face down on the turf.
The problem with unconventional gifts is that they aren’t easily stored. Edward Scissorhands’ cheeks are scarred by the reckless wielding of his instruments. The same can be said for Reggie Bush. His speed is his nemesis. It’s as if he’s too fast for his own good. As a result, his 100-yard games are sparse and his 1,000-yard seasons are nil. Because of this, he’s not a fantasy league favorite. Then again, nuance is lost on number crunchers and stat hounds. But fortunately for Bush, there’s a visionary who harnesses all the creative aspects of 'ball.
In the business of conceiving schemes and calling plays, Saints coach Sean Payton is very much like a director or screenwriter. The Saints offense, in concept and execution, is a lovely thing to behold. Attacking the teeth of a defense is at the heart of the Saints method. Receivers Marcus Colston and Devery Henderson are large bodied men who slash at the seams in the middle of the field. The offensive linemen are a quick and limber group who expertly blend a mix of zone and man-to-man blocking schemes. And every play is run with a relentless pace and a pounding rhythm.
But the greatest testament to Payton’s ingenuity is Reggie Bush, whom Payton never asks to be anyone but himself. Who needs Reggie Bush to be Adrian Peterson when Adrian Peterson is already doing that?
When Payton writes the weekly script, he always finds a role for Bush. Sometimes it’s in the backfield, but more often than not, he’s somewhere on the periphery, or in football parlance, "in space." When Bush is split wide he can run a slant route, or slant and go, commonly called the "sluggo." When he’s lined up in the middle, or in the slot, he can run a "choice" route -- meaning he can go the opposite direction of the man defending him. From that position he can also run the "shallow crossing" route, whereby he releases from the line of scrimmage and streaks across the field, usually in front of the linebackers, until he’s found an open space to catch the ball.
For five seasons, Payton has created roles for Bush. And for five seasons, Bush has delivered memorable scenes. That included a Super Bowl championship. Bush has been effective, but in ways that can’t always be measured in a fantasy world. His presence creates opportunity for others. Every time Drew Brees throws something inside, it’s because the spy -- the defender who’s responsible for Bush -- has been lured out of the frame, leaving a void for someone else to shine.
Reggie Bush, starring on the New Orleans stage, makes for suspense of the highest order. Consider what we already know about classic theatre: At some point, an angst ridden Hamlet will contemplate suicide, Romeo will take the poison and Juliet will take the knife. And Julius Caesar gets stabbed. Every time.
But when Reggie Bush swings out of the backfield, or fields a punt, or gets the ball without a defender in sight, just about anything can happen. That’s drama, for real.
And it’s better than fantasy.
-- Alan Grant played cornerback for the Colts, 49ers, Bengals and Redskins. He is the author of "Return to Glory:" Inside Tyrone Willingham's Amazing First Season at Notre Dame.