The Sad Tale Of Todd Gurley

Ligaments don't just tear. It wasn't a bad step that ended Todd Gurley's Georgia Bulldogs season and most likely his college career. There was no luck involved in him exiting on a cart instead of his teammates' shoulders with a Heisman Trophy in hand. His left ACL was shot before he stepped on the field.

The inevitability of the injury, though, gets lost in the shouting and the finger pointing. Timing played a significant role. Just last week, we saw a 23-year-old Marcus Lattimore, a once great back at South Carolina, retire less than two seasons into his NFL career, because he couldn't fully recover from a devastating knee injury he sustained in college. Lattimore missed a chance to cash in when he was at his best, and a growing mob of citizens will never forgive the NCAA for letting it happen.

Gurley, on the other hand, recently served a suspension for reportedly signing autographs for money. On Saturday, he made his return, and we all know what happened. Late in a 34-7 win over Auburn, the 6-foot-1, 231 pound running back, already well over 100 yards rushing on the day, planted his left foot and collapsed. Silence engulfed a packed Sanford Stadium, while a cacophony rose from a football-mad nation.

Keyboard doctors immediately diagnosed Gurley. Prognosticators and soothsayers predicted where the once coveted prospect would go in the 2015 NFL Draft (unless, God forbid, he returned to school). More grabbed their pitchforks and marched to NCAA headquarters. Gurley became the latest symbol — see: martyr — in the fight to pay college athletes.

The irony is that if Gurley remained suspended, his knee, not to mention his NFL dreams, would have stayed firmly intact for the time being. That only fanned the flames. The NCAA is rarely blameless, but too often it plays the scapegoat. Gurley will have multimillion-dollar facilities to rehabilitate his knee at Georgia, along with a training staff devoted to his cause. He couldn't find a better place to recover. To some extent, he can thank the NCAA for that.

On the other side lies the argument that Gurley shouldn't have played at all. He should have welcomed his suspension, collected the money and declared for the draft instead of risking a career-threatening injury. And now, well...

But such a thought is asinine. Had he sat out, Gurley might have torn his ACL at his pro day. He might have torn it at the combine or in OTAs. In all likelihood, his left knee would have sidelined him for the start of next season whether or not he played another snap in 2014.

It's all very sad. That the conversation surrounding Gurley focuses on the dollar sign, makes his situation worse. This is a young man who loves football. We can't forget that when we discuss how far his stock has fallen or the different ways to thwart the NCAA. He's a master in the art of running the football, evoking greats of the past with his rare gifts of power and grace. When Gurley eviscerated Clemson with 293 all-purpose yards, we thought about his future in the NFL, not as a potential draft pick or a massive contract, but as a transcendent performer.

I'm sad that we'll miss that for the next year or so. I'm sad that he'll remain a what-if case for Georgia fans. I'm sad that there's an empty spot on his trophy mantle where a Heisman would fit nicely. But most of all, I'm sad that a young man who loves football has twice this season been denied the chance to play. I couldn't care less where he goes in next year's draft. I just want to watch him tote that rock again. Forget the dollar signs — that's what he wants too.

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