Want to feel a little better about the winter days ahead? Need a pick-me-up, a reason to feel at least momentarily optimistic about the human race? Read on.
Terry Kirby hobbles through the locker room at the Miami Dolphins' training facility, long after his teammates have departed, and he is singing. Let's repeat that: Kirby—a 6'1", 221-pound rookie running back from the University of Virginia, a banged-up young man with lots of schemes, reads, formations, routes and plays to learn, a 23-year-old who is not richer than the Sultan of Brunei, who is alone in a new city, who could be upset about a lot of things, not the least of which is the lingering notion that he is half-blind—is singing. Cheerfully singing. Not rap, not metal. Just sort of life's-O.K., aimless warbling.
Why? Because that's Kirby's way.
The kid from Tabb, Va., has plenty of reason to be mad about something. Aren't all pro athletes mad about something? Kirby is black and he is from a state that sided with Dixie. He developed asthma as a high school senior and now must use an inhaler before every practice and every game. He separated his shoulder as a senior at Virginia and missed three games, which dropped him well down the list of running backs eligible for the NFL draft, even though he had gained 1,130 yards and averaged 6.5 yards a carry. He has been suffering with "turf toe" in his right big toe, meaning the joint is "contused and compromised," as Dolphin trainer Ryan Vermillion puts it. He spends half of each day icing his toe, the other half riding a stationary bike.
Still he plays on. He is second on the team in rushing (283 yards) and first in the league in receptions by a rookie (49). He also leads AFC rookies in total yards from scrimmage (808). For all of which he is underpaid. He has a three-year contract with Miami that will earn him an average of $300,000 a year; had he been drafted in the first round—as he probably would have been if not for a bizarre, and false, scouting report on him—he would be making roughly $700,000 a year more.
But, hey, no problem. "It's not all about money," says Kirby. "I figure in life eventually you get paid what you're worth."
Feel better yet? "Terry Kirby is an unselfish player, a team guy," says veteran wide receiver Irving Fryar of the Dolphins. "He's easygoing, friendly, likable, somebody you'd invite over for dinner."
Fryar, who had his share of off-the-field troubles while with the New England Patriots earlier in his career, thinks further about Kirby and says, "He's a guy who makes sense when he talks. A lot of rookies don't. A lot of rookies have problems that prevent them from doing well. But Terry won't have to suffer like that."
Easygoing though he may be, make no mistake: Kirby is not dumb and happy, an oafish simpleton. He majored in psychology at Virginia and graduated in 3½ years. His academic achievements earned him a spot on the Atlantic Coast Conference honor roll. He is disarmingly mature, considerate and—can you say this about an aggressive athlete and not sound demented?—content.
Imagine this: On one of his touchdowns this season Kirby simply dropped the ball and jogged back to the bench. No spike, no roll of the dice, no backflip, no electra-glide, whoop-di-doo spasm. Remember, this is a hotshot rookie we're talking about. He has, as he says, been in the end zone before. Thirty-two times in college, 103 times in high school. Yes, 103 times. It's a Virginia state record, as is his career-rushing total of 7,428 yards. "I don't want to make a scene," he says. "I don't want to be a wise guy. That's not the way I want to be perceived."