NEW YORK – It was the shopping spree of Darren McFadden's dreams, the 21st century athletic equivalent of Charlie Bucket's visit to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
On a glorious afternoon in midtown Manhattan, McFadden and a bustling entourage of family members and business associates were whisked through a side entrance to Niketown on Thursday and exhorted to shop 'til they dropped. Two days before the start of the 2008 NFL draft, when the former Arkansas running back finally would learn where he'll play and approximately how rich he'll be, he paid an ebullient visit to Swoosh Heaven just a few hours after signing with the shoe giant.
Wearing a dark suit and an ever-present smile, "Run DMC" looked like a star at his coming-out party. He spoke softly, but there was nothing shy about McFadden's demeanor. Regardless of when he's picked on Saturday – the smart money has him going somewhere between No. 3 and 6 overall – the electrifying runner does not plan to make a timid entrance into the NFL.
"I think, for me, the sky's the limit," McFadden said while studying a pair of retro Air Jordans. "The more work you put in, the better you get, and I feel like I'm getting better every day. All of this stuff they've got us doing before the draft is a lot of fun, and I'm enjoying it. But right now I'm ready to get back to playing football.
"I have a great work ethic, and I'm not just going to settle for being happy to be there. I'm going to keep driving and driving until I make my mark."
For the slightest of moments, McFadden lost the grin and his soft eyes turned cold and steely. He seemed to mean what he said, and those who have watched him run have no reason to doubt his sincerity. I can't tell you whether McFadden will be able to rip up the NFL the way he did the SEC – some runners (LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis) figure out what an NFL hole is almost instantly, while others (Lawrence Phillips, Cedric Benson) look lost and tentative – but I can tell you who he sounds like.
"I'm coming in to be mentioned with the best that ever played," he said. "I'm setting my bar high, reaching past the moon to the stars. I want to win Super Bowls, lead the league in rushing. I want to be the rookie of the year. What's it take for me to get there? I've got it laid out. I know."
Uh, yeah. It turns out he kind of did, assuming that conference rushing title, single-game rushing record and runaway offensive rookie of the year vote were conclusive enough proof.
Because of Peterson, who went No. 7 overall to the Vikings last year, I'm guessing McFadden is snapped up even earlier. As the speedster's decidedly unbiased agent, Ian Greengross – or, as McFadden and his posse call him, "Greenbacks" – put it, "All six of the guys who are here (in New York) for the draft are fine players, but I don't think any one of them can change a team right away like Darren. I think that has to come into play on draft day."
"Sure," he said, whipping out his cell phone. "Dial 9-1-1."
Greengross was joking, but there's a seriousness behind Team McFadden's pre-draft nervousness. Unlike Peterson, McFadden has been hounded by the dreaded "character issues," which in today's NFL is an industry term for "a guy who could get suspended by Roger Goodell."
McFadden was involved in a pair of nightclub incidents, one in 2006 and another a few months ago, that sparked police activity. In each case he has claimed he was coming to the aid of a family member – the first time confronting a man who was attempting to steal his brother's car, the second retaliating against a bouncer who had jumped on another brother – but some NFL people view McFadden as a high-risk investment.
"Teams have checked up on everything there is to check up on, and not one person has had a negative report about Darren McFadden," claims Mike Conley Sr., McFadden's marketing agent. "Because you know if there was, you'd have read about it."
McFadden says that once NFL people have gotten to know him a little, their impressions have changed. "That's how it is," he says. "(Jets general manager) Mike Tannenbaum called Ian after my visit there and said that before he'd met me he had a different perception of me than he did afterward. I get that a lot."
Because we live in an age of unprecedented scrutiny and instant Internet-fueled accessibility, it's now common knowledge among NFL fans that McFadden grew up in a dysfunctional family environment in Little Rock, Ark. According to various published reports, McFadden's mother was an admitted crack addict who finally kicked the habit in prison (she'd been jailed for numerous traffic violations).
It has to be tough for any young man to have his family's scars revealed for the world to see. But if that makes McFadden angry, his only salient option is to take it out on everyone he encounters on the football field, another trait he seems to share with the physical Peterson.
"I love contact," he says. "That's one of the things I love about football. Before every game you have jitters. After the first hit that kind of goes away. So yeah, I enjoy getting hit. If I had to play defense, I wouldn't mind it at all. Growing up I played free safety, and I loved to hit people coming across the middle."
McFadden was very much aware of Peterson's transcendent rookie performance last fall. "I watched him a whole lot," McFadden said. "I loved watching him play. What he did, I feel like that's something I can do in the NFL as a rookie."
With so much to look forward to, McFadden could have been forgiven for being distracted during his Niketown visit, one interrupted intermittently by autograph requests from fellow shoppers. But the kid very much was in and of the moment, seemingly taking more joy from the large shopping bags his mother and other family members gleefully filled than from his own bounty.
Toward the end of his trip around the store, McFadden had one self-indulgent moment, sitting with a consultant at a computer screen and designing a customized pair of Air Max 90 sneakers at a "Nike ID" station. He named the razorback red and white models "dmacs" and used his nickname, "d-dawg," as the designer tag.
It was a moment he undoubtedly never could have imagined a decade ago, and his life is about to get a whole lot more surreal. "I'm ready," d-dawg said, grinning more widely than ever.
A few minutes later McFadden got into the backseat of a black Hummer on 56th Street and disappeared into the city.
Don't expect him to slow down anytime soon.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
If Roger Goodell moves the draft out of New York City, hundreds of Jets fans will show up at the new location and boo the team's first-round pick … By Sunday night, after one draft under new general manager Tom Dimitroff, the Falcons will suck much less … If new Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen, who cost the team three draft picks and $31 million in guaranteed cash, is arrested again for driving while intoxicated, thousands of Vikings fans will hit the bottle.
LIES, LIES, LIES
2. Had the Dolphins been unable to come to terms with Michigan tackle Jake Long or Virginia defensive end Chris Long, executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells would have set his sights on nimble Oakland rapper Too Short.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
How come virtually every time I fly on a major U.S. airline, my self-esteem seems to take a serious hit?
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Cal track and field assistant coach Magdalena Lewy, who made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team by placing second in the women's marathon trials in Boston last Sunday with a career-best time of 2:30:19. The Golden Bears' track program has produced 42 previous Olympians, and Lewy, who emigrated from Poland as a child and became an American citizen on Sept. 11, 2001, will be a distinguished addition to the list.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
Baracky The Movie
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
With three games left in the English Premier League season, the Reading Football Club remains locked in a fierce fight to avoid relegation. Following last Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Arsenal last Saturday, the Royals are 17th in the 20-team league and are just a point ahead of Birmingham, one of the three teams currently below the drop line. Beginning with Saturday's road game at 13th-place Wigan Athletic, Reading must prove it belongs with the big boys – preferably by coming home with three precious points. If not, it might be time to start thinking about revisiting the adoption agency.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
Ever since suffering that season-ending broken leg last December, Jeremy Shockey has been disquietingly detached from the Giants. This is his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, imploring the Saints to swing a deal this weekend for the emotional tight end, to the tune of Peter Gabriel's "Shock The Monkey."
"Trade for Shockey today
Trade for Shockey today
Cover him when he runs?
Cover him deep middle?
I think not – all you DBs
Get down on your knees
Cover 3? Not hardly
Shockey, Shockey, Shockey
Don't you know Mickey gotta trade for Shockey
Please Drew Brees
Spring Deuce loose
You can push The Bush
Give Payton more juice
There is one dude who'll make it happen
He can't take Coughlin any more
Benson, you must throw money at J. Shockey
Shockey, Shockey, Shockey
Don't you know you've gotta trade for Shockey
At the Super Bowl he was chugging
Shock! Giants won with him hurt – Blimey!
Cover him? In their dreams
Cover ears when he screams
You throw downfield or run the ball
Shockey does it all
Covet him? Sure you do
Shockey, Shockey, Shockey
Don't you know you're gonna trade for Shockey
Too much at stake
Superdome will shake
And the news is breaking
Shock! Watch the DBs get burned, Shockey
Trade for Shockey
Trade for Shockey
Trade for Shockey today"
- Darren McFadden