When I try to describe what watching Jamaal Charles is like to people who don't follow football, words generally fail me.
He's that special. His speed, his balance, his vision ... it combines to a package that's almost incomprehensible. But that alone isn't it. Charles simply looks DIFFERENT from other players when he runs. It literally looks like he's gliding. And not "literally" in the non-literal, stupid way people use it. But it LITERALLY looks like Charles is gliding while everyone else is running.
It's obvious from the moment you turn your TV on that he's different from other players.
I already want him back out there. I'm so sad. pic.twitter.com/c0Un2a18ms— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 12, 2015
You could flip on any Chiefs game from the last few years and you'd see a play similar to that one. Week in and week out, even when the team wasn't doing well as a whole, you could count on watching Charles stand out as "different' among some of the best athletes in the world.
Even in games where he was contained statistically you could see it. He'd turn a five-yard loss into a three-yard gain. It wouldn't make SportsCenter, but it would be breathtaking to watch. When you hear the term "dancing" regarding a running back it's always in a negative connotation, but Charles danced like no other 'back I've seen besides Barry. He'd plant and cut and dance and glide and twist his body while running full speed to stay INCHES away from the grasping hands of defenders.
In a sport full of violent hits and massive muscles, Charles brings beauty and grace nearly every time he touches the ball.
One of the most fun things about being a Chiefs fan the last few years was any time Charles got even a little space. We'd lean forward in our seats and let a cheer form in our throats as we saw him flash toward the open field. Any time he was tackled in that situation it seemed almost impossible, like the other team must have cheated to put a stop to something so clearly meant to run forever.
I can't help but think of those plays right now, when Charles would cut and glide and twist his way around defenders and get to the second level. We'd gasp and hold our breath as he danced to open areas and started to pick up speed ... then sigh as some defender managed (by a miracle, it always seemed) to trip him up.
I think of those plays right now because I wonder if that's how we're going to feel looking back at Charles's career. Are we going to always have that feeling of awe combined with a twinge of disappointment that it wasn't QUITE what it could have been?
Charles turns 29 this December. He's no longer a young player, especially by running back standards. This is the second ACL tear he's suffered. As much as I want to hope that it's not over ... I don't know, I feel like something ended on the field at Arrowhead yesterday.
I have no doubt Charles will rehab just as hard as last time. I have no doubt he intends to return "better than ever, " as athletes always say. Crap, I hope he does. But right now, in the midst of another disappointing season after another "how did they do that?" loss, it's tough to feel like anyone related to the Chiefs could get a good break.
A couple of months ago two young men from my youth group (I work with teens. I know, I'm an idiot) graduated and went off to college out of town. We had a big sendoff for them and I took them both out to supper separately, having a conversation with each about the "next step" in life and all that stuff you try to talk about when you're a little bit older and a little bit wiser than someone.
Before I went out with both of them I sat and talked to my wife, trying to figure out what to say to them. I knew they were expecting some sage advice, and I wanted to deliver. I went through countless verses and messages and stories and wise sayings, trying to figure out how to possibly pick between the thousands of things I still felt like I had to teach them before they went off on their own. I kept telling my wife how I'd failed them, because there was so much more they needed to know. How was I supposed to teach them all that they'd need?
"There's never enough time," I told my wife. "Never enough time to do things right."
That phrase is ringing in my ears tonight. I was always so BUSY when I watched the Chiefs play. Busy watching the offensive line's performance. Busy worrying about Matt Cassel. Busy fretting over Todd Haley's methods. Busy wondering if Scott Pioli's drafts would pan out. Busy being miserable over a terrible team. Busy hoping Andy Reid would get it done. Busy trying to think of article ideas. Busy tweeting.
I very, very rarely took the time to sit and marvel at Jamaal Charles. Much like on those runs where he burst into the secondary, it felt like he would run forever. Charles being magnificent was just ... normal. I thought I had more time to enjoy watching him play.
But there's never enough time, is there?
Football is just a game. A game. And Jamaal Charles is going to be a wealthy man regardless of what the next year holds. This isn't life and death, and to pretend it is would be silly.
But watching Charles be carried off the field by Justin Houston killed something for me. I watch football because I love football. I think there's beauty in the unbelievably complicated mess each play brings. And no one made the game more beautiful than Charles.
So I guess I finally found the words to describe watching Charles play the game. It's beautiful.
I'm just afraid that it wasn't in time. I desperate, desperately hope I'm wrong.