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The Magnificence of Kyler Murray, Real and Imagined

What do Bigfoot and space travel have in common?

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Kyler Murray stands on the field with a member of the Cardinals staff. It’s December 2020, during warmups for a home game against the Eagles, five days before Christmas. He’ll win NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance that afternoon, but he doesn’t know that yet. He knows he has questions about the grass. He’s mic’d up for the Cards’ YouTube channel and about to go full yard doctor.

“This ain’t rye grass, is it?” Murray asks.

“In the middle it’s actually more Bermuda,” the staffer says.

“It’s Bermuda?” Murray asks.

“The rye is gonna be on the outside,” the staffer says. “So this on the inside is gonna have a little bit more stability.”

“So we got Bermuda and rye, which means I should be real fast on this, right?” Murray asks.

“Pretty fast,” the staffer says.

“Like, I should get ghost on this, right?” Murray asks.

“You should be going,” the staffer says.

“All right, bet,” Murray says.

Check out Lawn and Order over here. Casper the friendly quarterback. Dusting defenses since 1997. I don’t even know what kind of grass is in our yard. Bermuda’s always seemed the best to me, probably because it sounds the best. If I’m choosing grass and you tell me my options are something called Bermuda and something called tall fescue, I’m going Bermuda every time and feeling great about it. But Murray can scoot no matter the vegetation: Kentucky bluegrass, Mexican feather grass, buffalo grass. The speed translates. He could play in hiking boots in a cornfield and still torch defenses.

The Kyler Murray experience is part NOS and part John Wick in a hall of mirrors. He’s what you’d get if you put Dr. Seuss and Dr. Z in the same room. There are generally two prevailing comparisons for Murray’s running style: Sonic the Hedgehog and the Road Runner. What people mean is when he runs his legs blur. Those things churn. He buckles legs. Guys dive for him and whiff completely. He dances up to defenders to the point they could reach out and touch him. And they try. Sometimes they can, but man, sometimes they really can’t. Ask Jamal Adams.

Ask the 2020 Washington defense.

He goes in amongst the trees. Comes out with bodies falling. I am just barely above making a bad timber joke here. I’m skipping it only because I’m worried I’d get too deep into those Pitbull-Kesha promos for the 2014 NBA playoffs. I do that, I’m saying “playoffs” in my head for the rest of the day. All due respect to Mr. Worldwide, I’m not trying to live like that. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Dale.

Murray is play-ping-pong-against-himself quick. He runs like quails fly. People talk about his 40 time like it’s Bigfoot. No one really knows what it is, or at least no one’s said publicly if they do. He supposedly clocked a hand-timed 4.38 in the spring of 2017. There’s grainy video of him running sprints at a Cardinals practice next to burner receiver Andy Isabella. Isabella ran a 4.31 at the 2019 combine. Murray held his own.

But that’s it. Otherwise it’s been crickets. He didn’t run at his pro day or the combine. Didn’t need to. Andre the Giant doesn’t need to tell you he’s tall. You see him and know. The evidence is before you, plain as day.

He’s a Portrait of a Madman as a Young Quarterback. It’s not that he’s out of control. He’s just open-minded, willing to try anything once. This isn’t a foolproof way of operating. Murray’s thrown a pick in the Cardinals’ opening possession of the second half in each of their first three games this season. He also has a tendency to bail out of the pocket early, either because he’s too small to see his receivers or he’s said “to hell with my progressions, let’s move to the acrobatic portion of the routine.” He can look bad, but he can look like magic too. ESPN’s Ryan Clark called him “a true master of deception.” Defenders come in without a plan, find nothing but sod.

It’s a wonder he’s not cackling every time he drops a guy. If I were him, I’d be laughing the whole way down the field, pointing at defenders as they fell. So long, it’s been good to know you. You start to feel for the defense at a certain point. He cooks guys so bad they wind up on all fours like they’re looking for a contact. Safeties have angles on him, but it doesn’t matter. His game has a great sense of humor. It reminds me of a Jack Handey joke.

The first thing was, I learned to forgive myself. Then I told myself, “Go ahead and do whatever you want, it’s OK by me.”

This one, too.

Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he is carrying a beautiful rose in his beak, and also he is carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet. And also, you’re drunk.

The pyrotechnics have grown in both wattage and splendor through the early part of his third NFL season. Sometimes Murray skips into the end zone. Sometimes he scrambles nearly 30 yards before uncorking 77-yard bombs for touchdowns.

Being an elite quarterback requires a self-belief that borders on delusion. Being a quarterback Murray’s size requires a complete erasure of history, a certain loss of consciousness. There’s not a ton of precedent for a guy his size doing what he’s doing at the quarterback position. I like when analysts on television say “the ______ position.” It would be much easier to just say quarterback, but “the quarterback position” sounds smarter. Maybe it’s that by saying “the quarterback position,” they’re letting you know they also know about all these other positions you’ve never even heard of before, so if you have any questions just holler. It reminds me of how Michael Jordan talks about basketball. He doesn’t always call basketball “basketball.” Sometimes he likes saying “the game of basketball.” The phrasing, somehow, evokes wisdom?

It’s fun to talk about Murray because his talent’s so great it lets people start making claims about history, about football players and athletes and the whole of time. You get picked in the top 10 of the NFL and MLB drafts, and people throw roses. Before the 2019 NFL draft, Lincoln Riley, Murray’s head coach at Oklahoma, told Rich Eisen, “You’re talking about one of the elite athletes that sports has ever seen.” Some go further and call him the best athlete in the world.

One of Murray’s backups tried to describe his speed. “That first step and burst—it was pretty crazy to see. It was on a different scale, honestly.” The athleticism makes people almost reverent. In 2018, Murray and Oklahoma beat TCU 52-27. He went 19-of-24 passing for 213 yards and four TDs. Ran for another 51. Light work. Brock Huard was ABC’s analyst during the telecast. Late in the first quarter, after a nice Murray run, Huard asked play-by-play man Bob Wischusen, “Have you ever seen quicker feet?” About a month later, having had time to absorb the loss, TCU head coach Gary Patterson said, “I would not want to play them twice with Kyler. Telling you right now. It’s recess. And it’s full blast.”

Murray’s lack of height is part of the joy of watching him. He’s the first guy built like that playing like this. Surrounded by lineman, he can look like a bungalow nestled amongst skyscrapers. His speed’s always praised. Nobody questions his arm talent. The decision-making could improve. He’s a thrill-seeking desperado on a mission to amaze and embarrass. He takes risks. All exciting people do. I don’t know if he’s fearless, but he’s certainly brave. How do we know? He puts his faith in Kliff Kingsbury.

One of Murray’s best virtues is that sometimes in the open field, it looks like he’s running on a moving walkway. Another virtue: He looks cool in dark helmet visors. Though wouldn’t we all? I could put my Nana in a visored helmet and she’d look cool. Not that she doesn’t usually. She wears loud, leopard print shirts. Not sure about your own personal print rankings, but for me leopard’s way up there. Somewhere above baroque and below punchy florals. I think Murray would approve. He’s always been a friend to big cats.

Murray does burnouts in front of police headquarters and bare-hands water moccasins out of creeks. He shakes his head when Kingsbury starts dressing like him. Kingsbury stays in places you only see in magazines with vague names: VERANDA, DOOR AND HANDLE, BACKYARD GAZEBO, GARDENS WITH FLOWERS, FIREPLACE AFICIONADO, THE NO-SHOW DRESS SOCK GAZETTE, THE HOW TO LEVERAGE YOUR HOTNESS INTO A PROFESSIONAL COACHING JOB JOURNAL, HAIR MOUSSE QUARTERLY. Murray stays in the spaceship he parks just outside of Scottsdale. He reads The Art of War and a novelization of Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper. He likes the descriptions of Maureen’s sweaters.

Murray holds the severed heads of his enemies while calmly telling Erin Andrews, “We just wanted to come out, set the tone, be aggressive.” He wears a black suit and brown shoes and it just works. He begins every day with an ice cold glass of Kevin Sumlin’s tears. Has them flown in special. He’s got a tears guy. These pampered millionaire athletes.

Murray throws footballs in the air, unholsters his peacemaker, and blows them out of the sky. He puts on a blindfold and works on hip drive dissociation at the top of active volcanoes. His cleats are on fire.

There’s a time for order and a time for chaos. A time for the playbook and a time to party. Murray will deliver a bonkers run-100-yards-to-pick-up-20 highlight every now and again. Hair-on-fire specials that melt announcers’ brains and make them children again. There was one against the Titans in Week 1 that was outrageous even for him.

He ran 43 yards to throw it 18. Above and beyond. A consummate star. You paid money, he’ll give you a show.

His yards per attempt his rookie season was 6.9. Last year, 7.1. Through three games this season, he’s at 9.9. His accuracy and touch are on point. He’s got 1,005 passing yards with seven touchdowns, plus he’s run for a score in every game this year. This isn’t a stat, but I bet if you got a bear tired he could outrun it.

As backyard footballers go, Murray may be the greatest. A prankster with a howitzer. He shakes people without touching them, makes men fall at his feet. They cannot stand the glory. It blinds. Kyler Baudelaire. He bleeds sun.

The term gunslinger is overused to describe quarterbacks. Murray’s not a gunslinger so much as an angel of death and terror bent on inflicting as much pain as possible, in the most ludicrous way possible, through any means possible. He runs around people and man is it funny. Last season against the Lions he had this keeper that left Jeff Okudah grabbing at rye.

A play so fun it made Larry Fitzgerald do this.

I’m with you, Lare. Hilarious.

Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.