This time of year often brings out the best in most of us who were raised in the South. The start of the Holiday season brings about a sense of gratitude, hope, and of course – thanks. It’s a time spent with family and friends. It’s a time for traditions and reflections, and most importantly it’s a time for appreciation.
Appreciation is something that is often overlooked by us SEC fans throughout the course of the football season. The emptiness and discontent that we endure for nine agonizing months every offseason during the absence of football quickly gives way to an anxious impatience as soon as the season begins. We move from week to week with the same eagerness as a child opening up his Christmas presents in early December after he found their secret hiding spot. It’s a natural symptom for SEC fans wondering if this year will be THE year for whomever they’ve pledged a lifetime of allegiance and loyalty to.
This football-induced fervor can often cause us to lose sight of what we as fans should appreciate. You always miss something, or someone, more when it’s gone. This will inevitably be the case in the coming weeks as the regular season comes to an end. This sentiment will ring true even more in a few months when the season is over and most of us are forced into an empty investment of recruiting rankings and college basketball. So in honor of this time of year I want to share my appreciation and thanks for something/ someone who will truly be missed once he’s gone: Todd Gurley.
When I was first tasked with writing this piece I wasn’t overly enthusiastic. After all I much rather prefer cynicism than sincerity, and it’s not exactly a secret where my allegiance and biases lie. However, Gurley represents something that is rare in the SEC: transcendence. Every so often an athlete will come along that transcends not only the sport but also the fans of this great conference. Every once in awhile a player comes along that is so great that he breaks down the barriers of our fan hood to the point where no matter what emblem is on his helmet or what school is across his chest we have no choice but to cheer for them. Gurley did that. His physical gifts and talents left us so in awe that our innate loyalties were stripped down to nothing more than a vulnerable joy each and every time he amazed us.
Gurley’s entire career has been nothing short of awesome especially considering the somewhat low expectations that accompanied him when he signed with UGA in 2012. Gurley wasn’t the #1 RB in the country, his home-state, or even in Georgia’s recruiting class that year. Every one of those distinctions went to his current teammate – Keith Marshall. However, Gurley wowed us from day one rushing for 100 yards and returning a kickoff for a TD in his first collegiate game. His debut performance was as impressive as much as it was a necessity, as it came on the heels of the dismissal of then star RB Isaiah Crowell. Gurley more than capitalized on the opportunity, and he hasn’t looked back since.
If you ask UGA fans what their favorite Gurley memory is you’ll probably receive a variety of answers. The record breaking performances against Clemson, him willing his team to victory against Georgia Tech last year after falling behind 20-0, or maybe it’s the hurdle or even the 50 yard pass he threw earlier this season. There are an endless amount of moments he turned into memories during his tenure at UGA. But what can’t be captured from a single moment or image is how much his mere presence meant to a game, his team, or the entire UGA fan base.
What’s lost in today’s college football world of endless comparison, instant gratification, and social media scrutiny is the appreciation of what these kids bring to their universities and fans – pride. Gurley’s career will forever be remembered for his on-field highlights as well as his off-field mistakes. His career was one that was cut short by injury, greed (not his own), and a misguided injustice from the facade of a governing body that is the NCAA.
Gurley’s abilities and talents have bordered on invincible at times. It’s something that all the greats of this conference have had. He has the ability to take over a game and win even when everyone in the stadium knows he’s about to get the ball. It’s a characteristic that’s as admirable as it is un-teachable. Cam Newton had it. Tim Tebow had it. Bo and Herschel had it. What’s not important is whose career was the most impressive or who had a bigger impact on their team or school. What is important is to understand that this type of player doesn’t come around very often and all of us should appreciate it when it does.