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Reinventing the Reel
Peter King
September 03, 2007
Who will be the NFL's next highlight hero?
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September 03, 2007

Reinventing The Reel

Who will be the NFL's next highlight hero?

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NOW THAT Michael Vick has entered a guilty plea to a dogfighting charge and been suspended indefinitely, football junkies are coming to grips with the fact that the Sunday night highlight reel may never be the same again. But football goes on. So next week, when the first Vickless season since 2000 kicks off, the minting of a new Sunday-night action hero will begin.

Who's the heir to the title of Highlight King? Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, classic drop-back passers, don't make you ooh and aah. LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the top five backs of all time, but we've come to expect brilliance from him—so when he inevitably delivers, we feel satisfied, not exhilarated. Chicago's Devin Hester? Returners are rarely brilliant year in and year out. Vince Young is certainly the closest young passer to Vick—a running quarterback with subpar accuracy—but at 233 pounds, he's more of a physical runner than a jitterbug.

Reggie Bush made a strong case last year—not many players could duplicate his 88-yard catch and run in the NFC title game against the Bears. But there is one player who can eject more fans from their Barcaloungers than Bush: Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL's new Mr. Excitement. A squatty 5'7" and 208 pounds, Jones-Drew looks like a third-down blocking back. But he never stops moving; his legs churn like John Riggins's used to. He might be the best tackle-breaker in football. "When Maurice touches the ball," said Jacksonville radio play-by-play man Brian Sexton, "my heartbeat races, my tongue goes faster, and I tend to lose it."

For example, there was the time Jones-Drew bounced off granitelike teammate Kyle Brady at the line of scrimmage against New England, fell down, bounced up, broke two tackles and sprinted 74 yards for a touchdown. Then there was the time during his 235-total-yard, two-touchdown game against the Colts, when Sexton's partner, Jeff Lageman, kept saying, "The Colts can't tackle him! They can't tackle him!" You may have seen his biggest YouTube hit, a 32-yard touchdown run against Miami when the Jags were just trying to run out the clock. Jones-Drew ran into a wall of players and, just as it seemed the ref was going to blow the play dead, he emerged from the scrum, bulled out of two tackles and scored.

"I'm playing like I played when I was a kid," Jones-Drew said over the weekend. "I like running into people. You better move, or there's going to be a collision."

And fans can feel good about having their breath taken away by Jones-Drew. He's an unassuming kid from UCLA who added Jones to the back of his jersey to honor his grandfather, who helped raise him and died of a heart attack he suffered while watching a Bruins game at the Rose Bowl in 2005. As for assuming Vick's on-field mantel, Jones-Drew says, "That's not why I play. It's nice, and when people watch football, I want them to say, 'What did Maurice do?' But I couldn't care less about individual stats. I want to win."

Don't be so modest, kid. You're about to become must-see TV.

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