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A Very Scientific Breakdown of Alvin Kamara’s Rookie Season

The New Orleans Saints running back has captured fans’ hearts, and he’s powering toward playoff glory

Alvin Kamara Getty Images/Associated Press/Ringer illustration

This is what we on the internet call a “blessed image.”

Other NFL players have done this, right? Vontaze Burfict, yes, but I mean players whom we know for good reasons. Marshawn Lynch took Vice Sports to a fitting for a special Seahawks one in 2014, and said that he was not the first to wear a grill in a game, though he may have been the most marketable player to have done it after Edgerrin James. He also said that it’s not nearly as big of a deal as you might think: “It’s just teeth, man.”

Attempting to reorganize my thinking about Saints rookie — and savior — Alvin Kamara around that information, I read the first comment beneath the video of Marshawn’s trip to the jewelry store: Wearing a grill is “no weirder than wearing a tie, which is just some decorative piece of cloth.” I want to say the grill is more than just decorative, though. Given the winning disposition (and record) of all three backs, like each is playing the star role in his own movie, I think the grill may even be spiritual.

Kamara’s grill, however, is less “Johnny Dang” than it is ’99 Master P. So let’s go there. To 1999. When “Hoody Hooo” happened. I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but now I’m explaining it.

The clouds parted over Central City, New Orleans — a little more than a mile south of where I went with my dad to watch Aaron Brooks implement the Saints’ patented throw-it-anywhere offense on the occasional weekend when I was just knees and elbows. Sunlight shone on Percy Miller. He was standing on the roof of a murdered-out Hummer in a Ricky Williams jersey, presiding over his “thugs and thuggettes.” He instructed them that the phrase was not just a warning, but also an ethos for true (TRU) tank soldiers. Over the course of five outfit changes, he explains that you can only scream “Hoody Hooo” if you: (a) are about your paper, (b) don’t fuck with haters, © are about big thangs, or (d) are about having thangs. Gold fronts? Not necessarily required, but they also can’t hurt.

I mention the song because it is a classic, but also because these are handy guideposts for taking stock of Kamara’s first, almost certainly award-winning NFL season. If you’re impatient, which you are, I can share with you now that he’s ticked all the Rookie of the Year boxes, including, obviously, the optional one.

Alvin Kamara Is About His Paper

I say “almost certainly award-winning” because — and you can ask anyone about this, except for maybe Steelers fans — NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is Kamara’s to lose. Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt seemed most likely at first, when he rushed for a bajillion yards in his first seven games; watching Leonard Fournette go up against eight-man boxes and win, repeatedly, has been somewhat emblematic of the Jaguars this season; then there’s Rams wideout Cooper Kupp, who does brain-contorting stuff like this, but none are touching Kamara in all-purpose yards or yards per rushing attempt. There’s a lot to be said about Kamara’s rookie season — so, so much — but let’s keep it simple. He’s found a coach in Sean Payton, a running mate in Mark Ingram, a team in the Saints, a city in New Orleans, as willing to get as weird as he is.

I always got mine on the back end...never complained. That love come back around

A post shared by alvinkamara (@alvinkamara) on

One of the most amazing things in Sports Illustrated reporter Ben Baskin’s recent profile of Kamara is when the rookie talks about what he purchased with his first, big, many-zeroed NFL check.

I got my signing bonus and I put that s--- in the bank and I went and got some motherf -- -ing wings.

I went and got some motherfucking wings.

The rest of the profile traces how readily New Orleans has adopted the Norcross, Georgia, native, and how he himself has embraced the city. There hasn’t been a lot for Saints fans to be truly excited about since the long winter of 7–9 seasons began sometime after the organization, as a whole, gave up on putting stops and scoring drives together, but Alvin Kamara is real, and here, and truly exciting. (This, calling the Saints “garbage” in 2012, is forgivable because it was true.) Kamara is a little like the Martian Manhunter: shape-shifting; superhumanly durable; extrasensorily attuned; he seems at times like all of us, and yet he’s also like absolutely none of us. He lives in a ground-floor apartment downtown and walks home from games at the Superdome — one of those small acts that signify something bigger, because it brings him closer to the people who cheer him on every Sunday. Then you remember the things he does in those games, feats that regular people could never dream of accomplishing, like this play in early December, when Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson — who is 4 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier — was little more than a speed bump in Kamara’s path to six points.

Again: Alvin Kamara is like absolutely none of us. If we consider “being about your paper” as a state of mind, as an aggressively singular focus on a goal, perhaps one that’s physically, immediately ahead, like an end zone, then Kamara is that, too. Ask Drew Brees. Ask Nick Wright. Ask Luke Kuechly. Ask Shaq Thompson, for that matter.

Just as an aside, “Hoody Hooo” was released on the No Limit imprint, long understood to have been at odds with the Cash Money imprint, but New Orleans rapper Turk said in 2015 that the aforementioned beef was mostly between Percy and Birdman, the respective label heads. Which means that including this picture of Kamara in a Cash Money shirt, now, here, is fine.

Of course, it’s not just about the shirt. But roll in the shirt, and the wings, and the 1,000-all-purpose-yards mark he passed two weeks after the above photo was taken, and I think we can safely conclude that Kamara is about his paper, in both the literal and immaterial senses.

Alvin Kamara Don’t Fuck With Haters

If I wanted to say the league were some haters, which they generally can be, I’d talk only about the $6,000 fine Kamara ate for wearing red, stockingesque cleats on Christmas Eve. He started a GoFundMe and used the funds to buy cleats for a local youth recreational program. My guy.

But so far, aside from the revelation about wings, I think the other essential Kamara quote came when he was on First Things First in mid-December, addressing why New Orleans was still considered a plucky underdog at 10–4.

A lot of people don’t really believe it. But we don’t need anybody to believe in us but us.

The Saints were good — are good. And with the Saints being good comes a few added benefits: Food tastes better now, and colors appear in warmer, more life-affirming hues. What would’ve happened if Adrian Peterson hadn’t been offloaded before the trade deadline? Or worse yet, what if Sean Payton had gone after Tarik Cohen instead?

When people gape at a slaloming run through half of the opposing team’s defense, I want to say I told you so, but then my prediction about a smallish back from Atlanta by way of Tennessee was in mostly lowercased letters, in brackets, like a whisper. You will all be sorry about Alvin Kamara, I said, loud enough for only myself to hear, mostly based on my own feelings and a few YouTube clips. WELL. The Saints are headed to Minnesota to face the Vikings in the second round of the playoffs, and Alvin Kamara being Alvin Kamara is the only thing left for a neutral fan to feel uncomplicatedly good about. Can I interest you in some Airheads?

Alvin Kamara Is About Big Thangs

Here’s Alvin Kamara driving the final nail in what was a 15-point Redskins lead with a catch that asdkjfaljs;fl;alksdjfaldskjflksdjf. Sorry: That should not have been possible*. He does a lot of those. Things that shouldn’t be possible. It’s not as if he plays as though he’s ever-discovering cool, new things that he’s capable of, like a rookie normally might. It’s as if he’s always been capable of everything and seems to remember this at the precise moment when he decides to accomplish whatever the feat in question is. Like he’s constantly reasoning, “That worked, so why not this,” to himself. He’s a human heat check. It’s enthralling. Examples? Of course there are examples.

Here’s Alvin Kamara standing up Luke Kuechly one-on-one in the hole.

Here’s more of Alvin Kamara being impervious to open-field tackling.

Most importantly, here’s Alvin Kamara briefly considering not running out a kick against the Bucs in Week 16, before making history with a 106-yard touchdown.

He should be wearing the number 47.

Alvin Kamara Is About Having Thangs

This last one’s a little slippery.

“Having Thangs” is cognitively similar to being about thangs, if you ask Young Dolph, Peewee Longway, Slim Thug, or Killa Kyleon. You can even be about having thangs, and those are usually the same thangs: money, power, respect. Therefore, by ticking all of the first three boxes, Alvin Kamara actually ticks the fourth, too.

So let’s bask in this moment, when New Orleans — perennial Super Bowl hopeful, perennially underwhelming team — is headed to Minnesota to play and perhaps even beat the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs, and then rattle off one more win, and return there for the Super Bowl.

Hopefully Alvin Kamara is about having a Lombardi Trophy. I think we can safely assume he is.