Saturday night, just about a hour before Michael Sam did the "money fingers" gesture after sacking Johnny Manziel -- singlehandedly keeping the lights on in the sports internet economy for at least 24 more hours -- Rams quarterback Sam Bradford took a far more costly sack of his own. On St. Louis' first drive, Cleveland defensive end Armonty Bryant fell onto Bradford's left leg, tearing the same ACL in the same left knee that ended Bradford's 2013 season. Bradford will miss the rest of this season.
It is likely you will never see Sam Bradford in a St. Louis Rams jersey again. This was already the pivotal year of Bradford's career, the season the Rams -- an up-and-coming team with a scary defensive and a whip-smart coaching staff -- would decide just what they had in Bradford. Because Bradford was the final person to be taken with the No. 1 overall pick before the NFL work stoppage reshuffled the way draft picks were paid, Bradford was shockingly expensive for the Rams: He is the 20th best-paid player in the NFL this season. (He also costs his team the sixth-most against the cap.) He'll cost the Rams another $16.58 million against the cap if they keep him for 2015, making it basically inconceivable that the Rams won't cut him at the earliest opportunity.
This ensures Bradford's status as one of the worst No. 1 picks in NFL history. Part of that is an accident of timing -- had he been a year younger, he'd have cost the Rams much less money; then again, if he'd been a year younger, the Rams might have just drafted Cam Newton that year -- but when you consider production, Bradford pales in comparison to just about any No. 1 pick of the last 25 years. (With the obvious exception of JaMarcus Russell, who transcends all comparisons.)
For all the time and investment the Rams put in Bradford, he has started just 49 games for the Rams, and will likely never start another one. (He also started just three games his senior year at Oklahoma, in case they weren't warned.) That 49 games is fewer than fellow noted No. 1 pick bust Tim Couch started for Cleveland (59) or David Carr for Houston (75). The Rams only won 18 of the 49 games Bradford started. The coach who drafted him was fired after Bradford's second season. Bradford has failed almost entirely because of injury, but that doesn't make any difference to the Rams in the long run. By every possible measure, Bradford has been a disaster. His name enters the annals of nightmare No. 1 draft picks everywhere.
If this has Bradford down this morning, I might recommend he go hang out by his statue.
Here is the statue of Sam Bradford being unveiled in Norman, Oklahoma, with a speech by Sam Bradford.
On the day that statue was unveiled -- a statue, an eternal monument, the sort of humanity once reserved for actual gods -- Sam Bradford was 23 years old. He was about to go 1-9 as Rams starter in his second season and get his coach fired. He was just more than three years away from a preseason injury that would essentially end his Rams career. But that day, he was an Oklahoma god. Frozen in bronze, he'll remain that way.
It's not just Bradford. If Robert Griffin III is bummed out today because Joe Theismann thinks Kirk Cousins should be the Washington starting quarterback rather than him, he can go get a sneak peak at the statue of himself being unveiled at Baylor's home opener on Saturday. Cam Newton, dealing with a cracked rib and Peter King yelling at him all the time, can go do the same at Auburn. Johnny Manziel's statue is coming.
Because the NFL is so all-encompassing in today's sports landscape, there is a temptation to think that the league's judgment on the legacy and legend of its players is final, and absolute. But if there's one thing the NFL doesn't do well anymore, it's history. A league that was founded on names like Halas and Landry and Unitas and Tittle and Brown has made its players and coaches disposable to a fault: The league is so eager to churn out the unworthy that it's hard for anyone to stick around long enough to become a civil hero at all. Think of the lasting icons in today's NFL. Tom Brady. Bill Belichick. Peyton Manning. Drew Brees. Maybe Aaron Rodgers? Possibly Adrian Peterson (until the Vikings cut him when he loses another half step). Richard Sherman, Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson could maybe make that list, but not for a few years and only if they're lucky. They wash out quick, even if they're great.
In college, though, everyone needs a legend. It doesn't matter that Jason White never took at snap in the NFL: He gets a statue. Herschel Walker is known in the NFL for providing the draft pick bounty that set up the Cowboys dynasty -- which is a very NFL way to be known, "the guy who provided a draft pick bounty" -- but here in Athens, Georgia, he is a platonic ideal of humanity, with his picture on every street corner and a rather tasty chicken restaurant. Eddie George tried to build a restaurant in Nashville where he made four Pro Bowls; it closed down, but his Grille 27 in Columbus takes up half a city block. Even poor Vince Young has a big fancy restaurant in Austin; suffice it to say, there isn't one of those in Tennessee either.
College football kicks off this week, and as someone who lives in a college town, let me tell you, you can feel it. Everyone in town walks around with a little more purpose; the grocery stores are more crowded, with more urgency; there's a crackling electricity in the air. (I've also had a child bark at me, so there's that.) College football envelops a community, and can turn its gaze upon his heroes and make them into bronze.
The NFL is where the boys become men, where everything and everyone is churned into anonymous domestic-beer-selling meat. College football is where you can go when all that is over, and be remembered. The NFL season's launch next week will be a bigger deal than college football's launch this week. But only barely, and only temporarily. Falcons fans will lose track of all their draft picks eventually. But Georgia fans will never let go of their Dawgs. The NFL is where money is made; college football is where local heroes are made, and never forgotten.
(And money. Money is also made there.)
So worry not, Sam Bradford, and whatever other former college stars who will crap out in the NFL. There is always a home for you back home. This is where you'll be remembered.