Joe Starkey: Le'Veon Bell should be more like Franco Harris, not Steph Curry
January 12, 2017 12:00 AM
Steelers Le'Veon Bell carries against the Dolphins in the second quarter Sunday at Heinz Field.
By Joe Starkey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One quote from Tyler Dunne’s fabulous Bleacher Report piece on Le’Veon Bell is generating all the buzz, and for good reason. It’s not every day an athlete compares himself to Stephen Curry and claims to be revolutionizing his sport.
Curry’s name came up as Bell spoke of kids copying his deliberate running style.
“I think I’m changing the game,” Bell said. “In that sense, I’m what Steph Curry is to basketball. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily think Steph Curry is the best basketball player, but he changed the game … Now, everyone wants to shoot the 3 and shoot it from deep.”
I would imagine the key quotes — “I’m changing the game” and “I’m what Steph Curry is to basketball” — will make their way to the Kansas City Chiefs locker room. Ben Roethlisberger wanted no part of the conversation Wednesday.
He joked at first, saying, “I’ve seen Le’Veon’s jump shot.”
When I attempted to pursue the comparison Roethlisberger said, “Two totally different sports” and moved on.
For my money, though, it wasn’t the Curry quote that stood out. It was Bell talking about his place among the so-called faces of the game — Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, even Ezekiel Elliott, who was named first-team All-Pro over Bell.
Bell’s lament: “Why don’t I get to be the face?”
Obvious answer: Because you haven’t been around much for the beginnings or endings of seasons.
Obviously, everything could change if things go well between now and Feb. 5, when a pretty big football game takes place in Houston.
If Bell leads the Steelers past the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots (who have another bye this weekend) and then to a Super Bowl title? He would be one of the faces of the league, all right. Sports Illustrated might even feature him in a piece titled, “Most Polarizing Figure in the NFL.”
It’s all about the playoffs. We know this. Bell is already the most-talented running back in Steelers history, but he’s not the most accomplished. That honor belongs to Franco Harris, whose legacy sometimes feels lost amid all the greatness that surrounded him.
I did not remember, for example, that Franco entered the 1984 season poised to break the NFL’s all-time rushing record. He trailed Jim Brown by 362 yards before he abruptly retired in Seattle (Walter Payton moved past Harris before Harris could reach Brown).
But where Franco truly shone was the money games. The MVP of Super Bowl IX, he’s still second on the all-time postseason rushing list (Emmitt Smith).
Wanna be the face of the league? Follow Franco. Bell got off to a great start Sunday when he broke Franco’s franchise playoff record of 158 yards rushing by putting up 167 against the Miami Dolphins.
It’s interesting that when people look for Bell parallels, they tend to run right past Franco’s name.
Tony Dungy made the connection, saying Harris is the back who comes to mind first, and it makes sense. Bell and Harris are separated by 1 inch and 5 pounds (Franco 6-2, 230; Bell 6-1, 225). Big men doing little-man things on the field.
Franco, like Bell, had the ability and smarts to wait patiently for an opening then strike with an uncommon burst.
Did you see Bell’s 8-yard touchdown run the other day, the one where he broke Franco’s single-game rushing record? It didn’t look terribly different from Franco’s 9-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl IX.
In Franco’s day, people spoke of his style the way they do Bell’s.
From The New York Times in 1983: “(Harris) operates at deceptively quicker speeds, which accounts for a style of running that few players of this or any other generation can match. Because of his size, Harris runs with the power of a fullback. Because of his quickness, he moves with the dexterity of a halfback.”
Still, Bell is just different. He can line up as a wide receiver. He takes on tacklers at the sidelines. He breaks ankles on cuts. He will come to a complete standstill at the line, like a man peering out from the edge of the Grand Canyon, enjoying the view.
Basically, he’s incredible. But face of the league?
That only happens under the playoff lights, and they’ll be shining plenty bright Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Brighter still in Foxborough a week after that and brightest of all Feb. 5, at a pretty big football game in Houston.
Joe Starkey: email@example.com and Twitter @joestarkey1. Joe Starkey can be heard on the “Starkey and Mueller” show weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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