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I thought I would watch Jamaal Charles run forever

I’m writing today not as an analyst (the term isn’t one I deserve regardless), or a contributor, or a columnist, or anything resembling something objective. I’m writing today as a fan.

(Note: Yes, I know he might be back next year. Who knows)

Jamaal Charles is the greatest football player I’ve ever seen in person.

I do not have numbers to back that statement up. I have no in-depth analysis as to what defines greatness. I cannot present you with a rational argument as to why watching Charles play the game of football was just BETTER than watching anyone else (frankly this is true on television as well as live). I find myself helpless to explain the... feeling which leads me to this conclusion.

All I know is that it’s truth. Absolute truth.

We all knew Charles wasn’t likely to come back this season. As I said a few weeks ago (or was it just last week?), those types of fairy-tail endings (injured player comes back against all odds to lead his team to the championship run for the ages) are incredibly rare outside of Hollywood.

But we had hope that we’d see it one more time. Just once more. The gliding running style. The slight twists and leans at full speed away from would-be tacklers. The SQUEEZING through holes so small you felt like a child wouldn’t be able to get through, and only the blur of red and white made you realize he had already moved past the line to the secondary. The panicked body language of defenders realizing the angle they thought would work was just... inadequate in the face of blinding speed. The surprise from secondary players when a scatback lowered his head and slammed into them, falling forward for extra yardage like guys who weigh 210 pounds aren’t supposed to do.

I guess I had started to really believe it might happen. But, as usual, this world isn’t kind to childlike hope.

And that’s really the problem, isn’t it? When we really care about something, when we open ourselves up to it like children, we’re also left ourselves open to feeling a great deal of pain. Objectively, I shouldn’t care at all about Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs have shown they can win without him, this is just the circle of life for an NFL running back, and my “main” loyalty has always been with the Chiefs, not the players. Charles is not worth, as things stand, the 7 million bucks he’s owed next year, and the smart money is on cutting him loose. After all, what are the chances he ever plays again?

The Chiefs are 10-4 and in the midst of a season that has some people thinking they could make a run. That should be the focus. And yet, all I can keep thinking about is the refrain “meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless.”

For now, for tonight, it all feels meaningless. The idea of the Chiefs making a run without Charles is somehow empty to me (I won’t even speak of DJ, because if I do at this point I might just chuck my computer and curl up into a ball and give up entirely). For the longest time, Charles was one of the only things worth watching on Chiefs teams that ranged from mediocre to downright awful. I feel like I owe him something for that, and (for whatever stupid reason) I felt like him getting a chance to shine in the playoffs would somehow, some way, make up for the years of dragging a bad offense to respectability by himself.

I’m quite certain I’ll care a great deal about the Chiefs’ success in the playoffs tomorrow. But right now I can’t see past this fog. I haven’t felt one like it since Michael Jordan retired and left a 13-year-old me totally adrift, with no one to cheer for. No one else seemed good enough, you see. How do you follow that act?

I’ve said before that the only way to properly sum up Charles’ play on the field was that he made a violent sport beautiful. There really was nothing like seeing him play live, standing out as unique among all those spectacular athletes as something genuinely special.

Perhaps we see Jamaal Charles again, even as a Chief. But the chance for something wonderful was taken from us (and just as importantly, from him) today. And we’re all the poorer for it.

I’m sure I’ll move on within a day or two (I’ll perhaps even be embarrassed for being so down about a game), but for now, I’m going to sit and think of better days, when I thought I’d watch Charles run forever.

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