Last Modified: Friday, March 01, 2013 10:28 AM
The Honey Badger, the celebrated knucklehead former college player, entered the NFL combine this week and out the other side emerged Tyrann Mathieu, legitimate pro prospect.
That’s a shame in a way.
And not because Mathieu, for all his well-documented sins at LSU, doesn’t deserve a shot in the NFL.
He surely does.
The NFL has harbored far more dangerous miscreants over the years, and his past issues are not of a nature that would suggest he’d be a threat to the peace and tranquility of whatever city welcomes him to the NFL.
But won’t we all miss the “Honey Badger?”
It wasn’t unexpected, but distressing nonetheless to hear Mathieu officially retire the “Honey Badger” nickname during his talks with teams and media in Indianapolis.
“I don’t (want to be known as the Honey Badger),” he told the media gathering. “Back when I was the Honey Badger, I didn’t have everything intact. Going forward I’m going to focus on being Tyrann Mathieu, and that is the person I want to control.”
He’s probably right. If he’s going to put the past in the past and change his wayward habits, perhaps it’s best to distance himself from the thing that most defined those days.
But it’s still sad.
Honey Badger might have been the greatest nickname in the history of sports, perhaps because, rather than dreamed up by a public relations expert, it just sort of happened by popular consensus.
To be honest, even though I’ve read National Geographic all my life, I’d never heard of the creature until the viral YouTube video started popping up.
But once you saw that pesky, little ferocious varmint wreaking untold havoc on nature, it was perfect. It was exactly the way LSU’s Honey Badger played the game of football.
Mathieu didn’t particularly like the name at first.
Yeah, it was pretty cool when it was attacking and slinging cobras around and eating them for breakfast, along with many others that ought to be further up the food chain.
But the thing also wasn’t above eating termites with the same persistence and energy.
Anyway, Mathieu eventually warmed up to it, even embraced the idea of an outwardly cute little animal that no animal in the safari wanted to mess with, no matter how much bigger it might be.
That perfectly described Mathieu, and the persona helped make him the most famous and celebrated defensive player in college football during LSU’s 2011 run.
As we know now, after multiple reports of failed drug tests and banishment from the LSU kingdom, there was a darker side to the cute Honey Badger. Perhaps he got caught up in the hoopla and got to thinking Honey Badgers were also bulletproof and as immune to team rules as they were to cobra venom.
Hopefully, he can still play like the Honey Badger.
The combine, for what it’s worth, suggested he can. Most of the blogging and whatnot that came out of Indianapolis listed him as one the “big winners” who improved his stock by dropping by.
Understand, even without the off-the-field issues, he wasn’t a slam-dunk first-rounder.
I think he might have been the single-most disruptive defensive player I ever saw at LSU, maybe in college.
He just made play after big play to the point it was uncanny.
I’m not sure what position he played. Just call it “playmaker.” Sometimes it looked like LSU just lined him up out there and told him to go and do whatever he wanted, wherever his instincts took him, to get in offenses hair.
He was everywhere, and certainly it was all the more fun to watch when what was often the smallest player on the field was also the biggest pest. He surely had the best instincts for the game and the big play that I’ve ever seen.
Don’t let them kid you. Even a team with LSU’s stockpile of talent missed him last year.
But to call him a natural lock-down corner would be stretching it.
It almost seems like you just stick him out there and wait for the fireworks to begin. But the NFL likes things a little more structured.
You might say he’s a defensive version of the gritty, do-everything college quarterback star who doesn’t exactly have the measurables the cookie-cutter NFL is looking for.
Some of those fears apparently were dismissed by his workouts in Indianapolis, particularly a better-than-expected 4.5-second timing in the 40-yard dash.
Where he really dazzled, according to some quoted scouts, was in the ball-hawking drills (gee, imagine that, he does seem to have a nose for it).
Along the way he picked up Deion Sanders as his unofficial cheerleader and biggest proponent that he can be a big-time player in the league.
But it was still more important how he dealt with the questions about how it came about that he was missing from the LSU secondary this season.
It sounded like he said — probably after some careful coaching — all the right things, taking personal responsibility for his indiscretions and vowing to have finally learned his lesson.
His gets the “knucklehead” tag just because of the multiple chances LSU gave him before declaring strike three. But it’s not like he murdered somebody or even harmed anybody but himself.
There was some immaturity there, but it never appeared there was an inherently criminal mind at work.
So let us wish the new Tyrann Mathieu well in the NFL draft. I just wish the Honey Badger could go with him.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org