Players in the Colts' defensive huddle repeatedly reminded one another to swarm Staley, wrap him up and keep going until they saw him on the ground. Staley still ran for 78 yards on 16 carries. "He just breaks tackle after tackle after tackle," says Indianapolis defensive end Chad Bratzke. "We clobbered him up the middle a few times, and he just bounced off and picked up a bunch of yards." Fangio likens Staley to a young Emmitt Smith. "What makes him special," says Fangio, "is that Duce runs harder and plays harder than most of the people on the field." Against the Cowboys on Sunday, Staley ran for 78 yards, pushing him past his total of last season.
"When Duce gets going, you can sense he wants the ball," says first-year Eagles coach Andy Reid. "We do everything we can to get it to him. We hand it to him. We throw it to him. We jam him in tight, we split him wide. I worry about using him too much, but he's like that bunny—he never stops. Then the game ends and I realize I should have used him more."
Guard David Diaz-Infante, who came to Philadelphia after three years with the Broncos, sees similarities between Staley and Terrell Davis, who earned league MVP honors last season after rushing for 2,008 yards. Both backs maintain their momentum when they cut in the open field and both get stronger as the game goes on.
Staley has a knack for breaking off a big gain just when everyone else on the field thinks the play is over. "You look down thinking it's third-and-whatever," says Reid, "and Duce is standing in the end zone." Teammates who have watched every one of Staley's games on tape maintain they have yet to see him tackled by a single defender. "Guys will come crashing up to tackle him," says Eagles fullback Kevin Turner, "and it's like Duce is not even paying attention. He's looking up the field at the next guy he has to run over."
That toughness was nurtured by his mother, Tena. She used to plant her skinny son, who weighed 75 pounds in the sixth grade and wore the same size pants for three years as a teenager, in front of the TV to study one of the NFL's most rugged backs. "I knew if he was going to survive in this game, he had to be intense" she says, "so I showed him Walter Payton."
Duce got the message, but now Tena cringes when she watches her son play. "I find myself yelling, 'Oh, go down, Duce, just go down!' " she says. "But he gets hit, he bounces back up and busts his butt on the next play. That's just Duce."
As her son signed autographs that day at Franklin Mills, Tena shopped for Christmas gifts on the other side of the mall. When the session was over, security guards were dispatched to help Duce make his way through the crowd so he could hook up with, his mother. Of course, if you've seen him run with a football, you can imagine the ease with which he can negotiate mall traffic, even during the holiday season.
"I don't just want to survive in this game," Staley said as he maneuvered through the crowd. "I want to pound, pound, pound the ball and send a message throughout the league every time I run with it."
Reunited near the food court, Tena and Duce shopped some more, picking up a large contingent of fans along the way. Before ducking out of the mall through a door near a music store, Duce turned and waved to his flock. The crowd responded by chanting a slight variation on what fans had yelled that day last April when the Eagles passed on the opportunity to draft Williams. This time, instead of the cheer that made Philadelphia famous, the fans were screaming, "Duuuuuuuce!"
As apologies go, it wasn't half bad.