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"I can't really explain it," Richardson says. "But it just means more to me to help someone else achieve glory. There's something about it that feels right to me."
Every one of those backs will tell you Richardson's role went far beyond his crushing blocks. He would talk to them constantly throughout games, advising them, pushing them, inspiring them. "He always knew exactly what to say to get you through," Holmes says. " 'We need you Priest, one more play, let's go. This is the touchdown play.' "
Richardson: "I would just say, 'O.K., this next play is going all the way. They're tired. They're about to break. Just one more run.' I think it helps that I [had been] a tailback too, so I understand the mind-set."
Larry Johnson: "Whenever I started to feel frustrated, I would go over to Tony's house. He was never too busy to talk to me. We would just shoot the breeze. But I always left feeling better about stuff."
This year at the ESPYs, Richardson ran into Peterson who, as usual, talked on and on about how much he missed Tony's blocking and guidance. It was the sort of thing Richardson hears from a lot of players. What made this unusual was that shortly afterward, Peterson's parents went up to Richardson to say how much they missed him and all that he did for their son.
"Adrian's parents love me," Richardson says, smiling. "I guess that probably says something about me. I'm not sure what."
The Jets, like the Vikings and Chiefs before, try not to bother Football's Best Man with every charity request they get. This is why: He will never say no. He might say he has a conflict (probably another charity event). But no? Never. It's hard to imagine that any NFL player has made more charity appearances than Richardson. The number is well over 1,000; the people he has worked with figure it's probably more than 1,500. In Kansas City, when he was younger, he would always make more than 100 a year. He has cut back, but only because people have tried to protect him by asking him less.
Richardson, through the Dictionary Project, has raised enough money to deliver more than 130,000 dictionaries to more than 1,500 schools. (He himself has donated more than $1 million to the cause.) He has been heavily involved in Punt, Pass & Kick for the Special Olympics. But those are his programs; what makes him different is that he is there for everyone else's. "If something is important to my teammate, then it has to be important to me," Richardson says, and that's that.
The Richardson stories are legendary: The day after he played in the 2005 Pro Bowl, he flew from Hawaii to Sri Lanka to distribute food to tsunami victims. One year, when Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez was holding his annual Christmas shopping program for kids, Richardson flew across the country (from another charity event) to be there before it ended. "I'm sorry I'm late," he told the kids when he arrived.
"You have to go after every opportunity," Richardson says. "If I have a chance to help someone, how can I say no after all I've been given?"