The existential horror of Clyde Edwards-Helaire

| Senior Sports Editor

When I was a young man, I dreamed of being a football player. On Sunday nights in December and January, bunkered down in my dad’s bedroom watching every pixel of his TV intently, I saw my favorite athletes compete and imagined it was me under the lights. I’d close my eyes and envision quarterback Dorian DeBose throwing a back-shoulder fade to wide receiver Dorian DeBose. When the defense excelled, in my head it was elite defensive lineman Dorian DeBose earning the sack.

I never held any illusion of it being possible. Both my parents are short and stout. My dad is 5’8” and he towers over my mother. I defied the odds to not be a manlet, but it would have taken a miracle to give me the bare minimum size to even dream of the NFL. Aaron Donald, a Smurf by the herculean standards of the NFL, is still two inches taller than me. Biology was not on my side.

Come to think of it, psychology wasn’t either. I was a lazy child. I am often a lazy adult. And that laziness manifested every time I attempted a sport. The only physical activities that I was good at were the ones that rewarded sheer girth. I was a dominant pee-wee football player because I was the size of three pee-wee football players. I was a dominant wrestler because 2nd grade heavyweight wrestling is a game of chance where either side of a coin flip ends with a Vienna Sausage on top. The old adage goes, “hard work beats talent when talent don’t work hard.” I had neither the talent nor the hard work. My career was doomed before it was even conceived of.

I hadn’t thought about my athletic career in years. But this weekend, I realized something that left me shocked. The starting running back of my hometown Kansas City Chiefs—Clyde Edwards-Helaireis younger than me by two months.

We are in the same grade. We started high school at the same time. We went to college at the same time. But earlier this year, he won a National Championship while I was writing existential dribble about growing older.

Creative Commons / Tammy Anthony Baker

Clyde Edwards-Helaire in a game for Louisiana State University. Edwards-Helaire has rushed for 176 yards in his first two games in the NFL.

And the divergence of our paths isn’t what alarmed me. Other professional athletes are even younger than Edwards-Helaire. But those athletes are usually literal giants who you would question if you saw them doing anything besides playing a sport. If you saw the hulking, ripped frame of Zion Williamson saunter into a cubical, you’d think you were going mad. Even Luka Doncic, a player not considered an elite athlete by NBA standards, has truly preposterous proportions (only in the NBA can someone argue that a 6’7” freak athlete is actually too fat).

What alarms me about Edwards-Helaire is that he’s a tiny guy. He’s 5’7” (and a quarter). He was clearly not the best athlete among the running backs drafted this year (an honor that likely goes to Colts’ running back Jonathan Taylor). Hell, he wasn’t even the best athlete drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs this year (linebacker Willie Gay, Jr.). By no means is he a subpar athlete. But while many of the people who have succeeded in professional sports have seemed superhuman, Edwards-Helaire seems…human?

I can think of people I know who have Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s build and athleticism. I see them dominate rec leagues and pick-up basketball games. Then I see them shower and head to their real jobs. And that doesn’t feel abnormal in the slightest. In fact, it would be weirder to see those guys in an NFL uniform than in a suit.

When Clyde Edwards-Helaire performs well, I’m forced to reckon with the consequences of my actions. He is where he is because he outworked countless people who fit the mold of a football player more than him. He demonstrates that preternatural ability is the fastest way to success, but dedication is the next best thing.

And he lays bare that I still have neither.

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