Unlike past years when the cover of the popular John Madden football video game was selected by EA Sports, this year they chose to have the cover determined by a vote. Sports Nation has hosted a 32-player March Madness-style tournament (one athlete per team) to determine who will end up on the cover of the game. They’re down to the semifinals and the four remaining players are Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson, and Peyton Hillis. Ask yourself one question: which athlete does not belong?
In that group, we have a Super Bowl MVP, the MVP runner up, a four-time Pro Bowler, and a guy who has 1,574 career yards and 17 touchdowns. The guy with the fewest accolades out of that group is by far Peyton Hillis.
Don’t get me wrong, Peyton Hillis was pretty outstanding last year until getting hurt, but he really doesn’t belong with those three just yet. Those other three guys are stars in the game while Hillis has had one good year. And his one good year wasn’t even as good as say, Arian Foster’s one good year. So how did he end up in the semifinals of this tournament?
There are probably three factors at work: one, you could argue his draw was weak. Two, the Cleveland Browns have an excellent and passionate fan base that helped drive the vote, or three, Hillis has gained national popularity because of his status as the rare white running back.
I think all three factors were involved. Hillis has matched up against Ray Rice, Matt Ryan, and Jamaal Charles, all outstanding Pro Bowl type players, but no real superstar in the bunch. Then again, Charles beat Tim Tebow in the first round, so clearly he had plenty of support meaning it was not easy for Hillis to beat him in a vote. Next up, the Browns are extremely popular. Cleveland fans love their team and probably came hard to support Hillis. But are they more passionate and devoted than say Steelers fans whose player (Hines Ward) didn’t make it past the second round? I doubt it.
What we’re talking about now is the undeniable truth that Peyton Hillis is extremely popular because he is a rarity: a white superstar running back. Being a white back has hurt Hillis in the past because he was discriminated against, but now that he’s received an opportunity to be a featured back, he’s proven he can succeed, and he’s become a national fan favorite as a result.
10 running backs outrushed Hillis last season. Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, and Adrian Peterson all run as hard and with as much of a punishing style as he does. Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, and Ray Rice have shown more spectacular moves and shiftiness in their rushing.
All three were eliminated in the first two rounds, all three are black.
America was waiting for a white running back, they just didn’t know it.
UPDATE: Hillis beat Rodgers in the vote and will face Michael Vick in the finals.Google+