Who needs Reggie Bush, anyway

With Gado, Packers don't necessarily need star USC running back

When some Nigerian-born running back that only started two games at tiny Division I-AA Liberty College entered Green Bay's revolving door at tailback in early November, the Packers' hopes were all but sealed.

You can credit former practice squad member, fifth-string prayer Samkon Gado for eliminating Green Bay from the Reggie Bush sweepstakes. All it took was a simple counter tray up the right sideline behind castoff fullback Vonta Leach against Detroit on Sunday Night Football. Gado patiently let his blocks develop and burst up the seam for a 64-yard touchdown. The aspiring doctor went on to rush for 171 yards, guiding Green Bay to its third win. Consequently, the Packers, who had lost five games by a field goal or less, fell below Houston and San Francisco in the intensely heated race for the first pick in the draft.

But wait. Isn't USC freak-of-nature Bush a junior in college? Who's to say Bush doesn't follow his quarterback, Matt Leinart's lead and stick around for another title run? Hype.

Never before has a college player created such a buzz in the NFL. Never before has an individual made fans across the nation cheer against their team this much (with respect to fantasy football junkies). When a player makes his opponents literally appear in slow motion, rushes for over eight yards a carry, and wins the Heisman Trophy by the largest margin ever, NFL scouts are bound to twitch with excitement. In fact, Chris Mortenson reported that Mel Kiper Jr. was doing the Macarina on Times Square after Bush's 513-yard effort against Fresno State. Maybe it wasn't that extreme, but you can almost hear Will Ferrell mutter, "Simply stunning" while imitating James Lipton on SNL.

Forget Wild Card races and Indianapolis' run at the '72 Dolphins. The date that all fans are circling on their calendar is January 1. Capping off the 28 meaningless college bowl games is The Reggie Bush Bowl. Yes, the game involves a team from California and a team from Texas. No, Vince Young, Leinart, and Bush will not be competing on the gridiron. The San Francisco 49ers will host the Houston Texans in that last regular season game, which probably will decide who wins the rights to Bush.

The whole season Houston and San Francisco have avoided being bushwhacked, collapsing in close games. If they continue their futility to this point, Bush will have to fly his family in for a January draft party. Hopefully this draft party won't include a Drew Rosenhaus headlock, phone in hand. You can ask Willis McGahee how that felt. After three straight fourth quarter collapses, it's apparent that Houston is bound and determined to snare the first pick. Last Sunday against Tennessee with kicker Kris Brown possessed by Ace Ventura's nemesis, Ray Finkle, a game-tying 30-yard field goal miserably fired far left. JV kickers in high school don't miss that badly. Grimacing heartbreaking defeats against St. Louis, Baltimore, and the Titans have begged the disturbing question: Is Houston tanking their season for the number one pick? You can imagine the response of Dom Capers, whose head is barely above water in the flood of firings sure to come after the season.

"Losing on purpose? That would be nice," said coach Dom Capers. "Yea, that would be great. Actually, we're busting our asses out there and we just can't win. It's pretty embarrassing when you're so bad you have to defend yourself against accusations that you're losing on purpose." Nonetheless, whoever gains the first overall pick will have plenty of ammo. Last season's draft contained zero surefire No. 1 draftees. Had Alex Smith, who has yet to throw an NFL touchdown pass, stayed in school another season and entered this season's draft, he would've struggled to crack the first round. Waiting one year would have cost Smith millions of dollars.

This season if Young foregoes his senior season, possibly three franchise players will be available. If Houston gained the first pick and felt content with Dominick Davis, you can bet they'd welcome a hefty amount of picks to address several needs on their team.

Packer fans shouldn't fret because Green Bay will be in great shape for next season with or without the first pick. Unlike last season, Mike Sherman's team is much better than its record indicates. Jim Bates has produced prime rib out of a bunch of Happy Meals on defense. Despite the unit's glaring ball-hawking shortcomings (only 18 takeaways), the defense has played well with constant short fields to work with. Ranked fifth in the NFL through 13 games, the unit appears to be set for continued success with plenty of emerging youth. Also unlike last season, the off-season jockeying will occur on the offensive side of the ball.

With a high pick, the Packers can either draft the best overall skill position player to give the offense another dimension, or select a bonafide lineman. It would be wise for Ted Thompson to search for a proven offensive guard through free agency. Recent history has showed that highly touted offensive linemen out of college aren't automatic home runs. Since The Tony Mandarich Experience, many other NFL teams have caught this disease. Mike Williams, Buffalo's fourth overall pick in 2002, has been a monumental bust. On arguably the worst line in the league, Williams struggles for playing time.

Thompson should also stand by his first selection as G.M., Aaron Rodgers. Having Brett Favre, Rodgers, and a top three quarterback is a self-inflicted quarterback controversy that'd leave an insurmountable financial burden. Right now it's far too early to speculate who to pick anyways. At running back, Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport aren't totally out of the mix as free agents, while Samkon Gado has become a legitimate rookie of the year candidate. Javon Walker sent Rosenhaus packing and will reunite with Driver at receiver also. Free agency will largely dictate what the Packers do with their potentially high pick.

Watching Green Bay battle to an ugly victory last Sunday definitely put things in perspective. The Packers could not care less about Bush and draft positioning. They easily could have tanked their season mentally and rode in cruise control after each frustrating defeat. Green Bay's pride has been tested to the utmost degree this season. But each week, the players seem to play harder under Mike Sherman. It's this attitude and perseverance that will benefit the Packers most, not winning the Reggie Bush Sweepstakes. Letting the ‘Niners and Texans beat each other up for the top pick would be much better.


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