Michael Bush faces failure at Veteran Combine

NFL Veteran Combine: Looking for a Second Chance

College Contributor Network

It was a reality check that sent Michael Bush directly into a deep and dark place.

After being told he ran an unofficial 4.91 40-yard dash (it was later changed to a 4.88) the free-agent running back didn't mince words when responding to a reporter "You gotta be (expletive) me," he said. "... 4.91? ... There you go, there goes my career."

For a man who has fought so hard to remain in the league, it was as pure a reaction as you could ever witness. His entire life's work, all the preparation and training that had ruled his world since he first arrived on Louisville's campus in 2003, meant nothing anymore. Back then he was a hotshot, the local hero who had spurned offers from other prominent programs to play quarterback for Bobby Petrino and the Cardinals. Despite the promise of snaps under center from Petrino, the chance to play quarterback never materialized for Bush.

Bush moved to running back his sophomore season, scoring seven touchdowns in a reserve role. The next season he exploded onto the national scene, breaking the 1,000-yard mark, while scoring 23 rushing touchdowns. That season solidified Bush's future, making him a preseason Heisman candidate and a projected first-round draft pick as he entered his senior year. That's when Bush suffered the first bad break of his career.

A broken tibia, that's what sent Michael Bush down this treacherous path to NFL has-been. The very first game of his senior season ended in a catastrophic injury that ruled Bush out for the rest of the season before the final whistle even blew. He rehabbed and prepared for the biggest job interview of his life as best he could, yet the leg scared so many teams off that the once potential top-ten pick dropped all the way to the fourth round.

Despite the major setback, Bush was able to still churn out a serviceable NFL career. In four years with Oakland he provided a nice change of pace from the oft-injured Darren McFadden, and signed a sizable deal with the Bears while Matt Forte was holding out. Yet the constant pounding of inside runs took its toll on Bush's body, his yards per carry declined significantly each season in Chicago.

From 3.8 to 3.6 to 3.1 to cut, that's the reality of his career. Slowed by rib injuries and a lack of production in an increasingly pass-happy league, it was clear to the Bears that Bush was no longer an NFL running back. Now, after the inaugural Veteran Combine, it has become abundantly clear to Bush that he doesn't belong in the NFL either.

Bush's story is not uncommon in today's NFL, after all he is at that magical age (30) where production for even the best of NFL running backs falls off precipitously. What was truly unique was the unadulterated humanity within his response. Anyone who watched the film of Bush catching passes out of the backfield, and laboring through drills common to everyday NFL practice could see that his body was not up to the task. Yet to a warrior like Bush the fight was not over, in fact he was even optimistic about his performance. That was until he heard his 40-time and the switch finally flicked.

The Veteran Combine was supposed to be a last bastion of hope for aging players who weren't ready to give up on their careers. By showing the cruel twist of Bush's failure, it instead lent credibility to Chris Borland's decision for early retirement.

As for Bush, the metal rod in his leg and his busted ribs, he'll now be left to wonder whether all that work was really worth it, and what to do next.

Liam Bevans is a graduate student at Boston College. He has spent the last six years working for the BC football team both as a student and as an intern. Follow him on Twitter @L_Bevans.
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