Star dilemma: To play or not to play?
Back in the dark ages, before he started raising quarterbacks, Archie Manning was quite the quarterback himself.
His senior year at Ole Miss in 1970, his Heisman campaign was derailed by a broken arm. The Rebels’ promising season was pretty well shot, too, but Ole Miss did get a berth in the Gator Bowl.
Archie was the biggest name in college football that year and projected as a top three NFL draft pick, a valuable commodity. But he played — and played his tail off — in a meaningless bowl game despite having to lug around a cast the size of a VW bus on his left arm.
You might say times have changed a little since then.
Welcome to the new world. It isn’t one of those sis-boom-bah, black-and-white movies in which the college star escapes from his hospital bed and rejoins the team just in time to lead the comeback victory over ol’ State U., just for little Jimmy back in the children’s ward.
As far as anybody knows, LSU cornerback Greedy Williams is as healthy as can be, a rarity right now in the Tigers’ secondary.
But he won’t play in the Tigers’ Fiesta Bowl game against Central Florida on Jan. 1.
It’s not a playoff game, but it is LSU’s first appearance in a “New Year’s Day Six” bowl since that term came into vogue with the playoffs in 2014.
Head coach Ed Orgeron called it an important “next step” toward getting the program back to a true championship level.
He said the Tigers are excited about the opportunity.
But not Williams, who is projected as a top-10 pick in the NFL draft, maybe even top five, and made what is called a “business decision” in sending his regrets on the trip to Arizona.
A lot of LSU fans are angry about it, accusing him of living up to his Greedy nickname. Going against Central Florida’s high-powered offense you need all the secondary you can muster.
And whatever happened to putting the team first? — “One team, one heartbeat,” as Orgeron puts it.
Meanwhile, All-American linebacker Devin White, who is also projected as a top-10 NFL pick, announced that of course he will play in the Fiesta Bowl. It was almost like, why wouldn’t he?
Fans, of course, approved White’s decision overwhelmingly — a true team player.
Meanwhile, the list is growing daily of other schools’ stars deciding to skip bowl games and start preparing for the upcoming draft.
It’s become quite a trend and figures to gather more and more disciples as the years go by.
You’ll know it’s hit critical mass when a healthy player skips one of the playoff games.
There’s no wrong answer to this tricky question. Just personal preferences.
Williams will start preparing for the NFL draft. Not sure how you prepare for the draft except to go clothes shopping for some snazzy, draft-worthy duds for the big night.
But that’s his choice.
Fans who want to criticize him have never been in his shoes, where the only thing standing between you and a lifetime of big paydays is the possibility of a freak injury.
White made his own, different choice. And I’m certainly not going to criticize a football player for deciding to play football.
Some coaches, including Nick Saban, have questioned whether it’s character revealing when a player — generally a star at that — abandons his teammates.
These same coaches routinely blow off bowl games when moving on to their next step up coaching ladder. Sometimes it’s their choice, sometimes — as when Saban left Michigan State for LSU — the school steps in and makes the decision for them.
But, eager to get things in place for their next stop, at best they’re not giving their full attention to the team they’re leaving behind.
Why should it be different for the players?
Whatever character it may reveal, the NFL apparently could care less.
There’s a case study right there at LSU.
Two years ago Leonard Fournette, who’d had an injury-plagued final season at LSU, skipped the Citrus Bowl.
I will always suspect that it wasn’t totally Fournette’s decision. I think Orgeron had grown to view Fournette’s future as a distraction to the team. It wasn’t of Fournette’s doing, but it wasn’t something Orgeron wanted to deal with in the first game after having the interim tag taken off his job description.
If Orgeron didn’t exactly encourage Fournette to make the trip to Orlando, it also helped that LSU had a Derrius Guice to step in for him. The Fournette-less Tigers ransacked Louisville.
However it happened, the NFL didn’t hold it against Fournette. The Jaguars took him with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft.
Last year, same bowl. But this time it was Guice who’d had injury-plagued season.
To my mind he was just as can’t-miss NFL prospect as Fournette was. But he played in the bowl game and, though running with usual reckless abandon, came through it little worse for the wear.
Then, on draft day, for reasons never fully explained, Guice tumbled down the pecking order until the Redskins finally took him at the bottom of the second round.
But the draft-day rumors were that it was character questions, which Guice has pretty well dispelled by becoming about the most popular guy in Washington.
He hasn’t played a down yet after a season-ending injury in the preseason.
But at least he had the good fortune to get the paychecks rolling in before the injury.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
LSU defender Greedy Williams against Arkansas during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)