I said at the very beginning that if I could do it, I’d start five running backs on my team, but it’s just not feasible. What I didn’t tell you is the why: I’m starting six.
This series is not a ranking of the greatest backs of all time. I’m choosing the best fit for my team to save the planet from a little-known opponent that appears to know a lot more about us. It may not seem like there’s a difference, but there is.
My decisions are based on limited knowledge of these players personally. I’m sure if I knew more about these men, my decisions could have been dramatically different. There are dozens of great runners that I could have mentioned during this series that didn’t earn my attention.
If you complain to me about leaving a player out, thank you for taking my opinion seriously enough to be upset about it. Just remember, nothing I’ll say will enhance or lessen the excellence of these athletes. Running back is the most talent-dense position in the history of the league. It’s why narrowing the choice to a single player is insanity.
I’m sharing my process of finding my runner to defend the planet. The criticisms I have for these players are so minor that normally, I’d echo Jim Brown’s sentiments about rating players across eras:
I don’t deal with who’s the greatest. That’s very limited, I’m sorry to say, and I think this is an example of it. Why would anyone want to say that what Adrian has done this year isn’t what someone else did years before? It’s what you do when you do it, and it should not be compared. We don’t have to compare it. It’s unnecessary. And it’s taking something away from someone to give someone else something. You don’t have to do that. Because what Adrian is doing now doesn’t hurt anyone else who’s ever run the football.
I’m not going to look at Walter Payton and take anything away from Walter. I’m not going to look at John Riggins and take anything away from him. I’m only going to look at the positive things of each individual.
I get Brown’s point. My exercise comes from a place of love for the abilities of all of these backs. It’s not a “who is the best” ranking, it’s a “who is the best for this situation based on my needs.”
“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us”
– Charles Bukowski
Walter Payton is not my starting running back. He’s the last cut on my cut-down list of 12 backs in consideration for the starting gig to lead some of the greatest football players this planet has ever seen. Don’t be alarmed, there’s no way Payton is leaving the building without a starting gig.
Want to see the greatest tackle of all-time by an amateur football player? Watch me chase down Walter Payton if he tries to leave the facility upon learning that he’s not the starting RB on my team to defend the planet. Dick Butkus would admire what I’d leave in my wake to get to Payton before he stepped out that front door.
Not that Payton would ever walk out. Even if I was stupid enough to have him truly cut from the team and escorted from the building, I trust the rest of my team to sneak him right back in. Hell, they better be ready to stage a mutiny at the mere thought of that happening.
After all, I didn’t pick idiots.
Make no mistake, Payton will be an integral part of the offense. He’ll pass protect. He’ll catch the ball from the backfield and work from the slot or split wide if the match-up dictates.
And you better believe Payton will carry the ball. Barry Sanders is more elusive. Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch may run with similar urgency and intensity as Payton. And Lynch and Brown may match Payton’s stamina.
None of them did the caliber of work behind offensive lines that were as bad as Payton’s front-five when Payton was the most dangerous back in the game. Sweetness managed over 2,000 yards from scrimmage four times in a 13-year career where the only game he missed happened during his rookie year.
He’s the standard-bearer for toughness, versatility, and heart. It’s only fitting that, on a team of the greatest of the greats, with everything on the line, Payton will hold the most meaningful position on the team to defend the planet.
Payton will be my punter.
I’m dead serious. With one career attempt for 39 yards, Payton will be my punter and it is the easiest decision I’ve made about running backs in this series. There’s no question he can do the job if called upon–and he’ll be called upon.
It goes deeper than finding a punter. Like most fans, I love to scoff at the value of kickers all the while knowing that punting isn’t an act of surrender. It’s a valuable, strategic act.
But this isn’t any football game, it’s a form of war deciding the fate of humanity. The value of strategy goes beyond developing a plan of superior intellectual merit. As a species, we often over-think our plans.
An effective strategy also instills confidence. At its best, leadership is strategic motivation that integrates the physical, intellectual, and the emotional. We’re sending the message that will become more apparent to our team as we practice: We going to enter this game loose, confident, and defiant. We’re taking the fight to the aliens. They will not have a second to let their guard down.
We’re also showing our opponent that our team is filled with football players–in the highest and truest sense of the term. Every member of this squad is a unique superstar, a versatile grunt, and an unselfish teammate who is willing to lay it all on the line for his brothers.
With apologies to Sammy Baugh, Ernie Nevers, and the greats prior to the 1960s, few punters in the modern era of the game are versatile, productive football players at other positions. Payton as our punter sends the message that no task is beneath any player–even one of the most revered football players in the history of our game.
The aliens will hear this message loud and clear. It won’t be lost in cultural translation. They know the game and have obviously studied the history of our on earth or they wouldn’t have come up with the idea.
When they see Marcus Allen doing a fullback’s dirty work, Marshall Faulk holding down the slot, Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders as return specialists, and Walter Payton doing the thang, it will be like Ali standing in the corner between rounds as the opponent sits on a stool.
It’s about cultivating bravado and psyching-out the aliens at the same time. They admire our creativity and emotion. It doesn’t mean they are emotionless, they may cope with feelings worse than us.
It’s why I want to give them that wink at the oddest moment. I want to get in their heads. I want to scramble their insides.
I want to do things that make death tremble to take us.
I said it all along as I was paring down my running back position in this series: If I could do it, I’d start five backs for my team. It’s just not feasible.
I have to start six.
Who is my starting RB to defend the planet? Stay tuned for the unveiling of my team.
What is the RSP Writers Project (RSPWP)?
The RSP Writers Project is a goodwill community effort among writers that is designed to spur conversation about the game. Here’s the back story for this year’s project, the directory of participating writer-built teams, and the other backs Waldman considered for his team.