All of a sudden, the New England Patriots are lovable again. At least in the eyes of the media, which has appointed running back Danny Woodhead as the team's new cuddly little mascot.
"The 5-foot-9 running back is proving doubters wrong on a daily basis," Danny Ventura wrote in The Boston Herald. Clifton Brown of The Sporting News called Woodhead "diminutive." The Taunton Daily Gazette's Glen Farley described him a "teenaged-looking kid" who "truly does look young enough to be your daughter's date the night of the junior prom, nervously knocking on the front door of your house, clad in a tuxedo, fidgeting with a bouquet of flowers in his hands."
Not to be outdone, The Boston Globe's Michael Vega wrote that "New England's fascination with undersized, overachieving athletes is well-documented. Doug Flutie, Dustin Pedroia, and Wes Welker have been embraced in these parts for their fierce competitiveness. ... So Danny Woodhead could not have asked for a better place than Foxborough to make his mark in the NFL."
Flutie, Pedroia and Welker: Boston's undersized, white triumvirate! Maybe Woodhead makes them the L'il Four.
Anyway, as others have pointed out, Woodhead's size -- he's listed at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds -- isn't all that abnormal. Deadspin's Tommy Craggs recently crunched the numbers: "I went through the 146 backs listed here. Twelve are lighter than Woodhead; 14 are shorter, including Kevin Faulk, the guy Woodhead replaced on the depth chart." (As is Darren Sproles, the 5-foot-6, 190-pound back the Patriots will face this week.)
More Craggs: "Woodhead is a ‘small,' super-fast running back in a league with no great shortage of them. The difference is that little Danny is blessed with sufficient amounts of Vitamin D to get called scrappy over and over in the national media and inspire grown men to talk like cooing nitwits in front of a bunny cage."
A quick search on SI Vault yielded Mark Beech's profile of Woodhead from 2007. At the time, the running back was a senior at Division II Chadron State. He wasn't tiny back then, either:
"Nearly as impressive as Woodhead's speed is his physical style of play. "He's not an easy kid to bring down," says Eagles coach Bill O'Boyle. "Everybody knocks him because he's so short, but he has bigger legs than our linemen. There's no doubt in my mind that he's a Division I talent."
There is nothing slight about Woodhead's frame. Indeed, he looks as if he was constructed out of concrete blocks. The next level is within reach. "Honestly, I think he's faster now than ever," says O'Boyle. "If he gets invited to the [NFL scouting] combine, I think he's going to open some eyes." Not that he hasn't already.
All we need to do now is graft Woodhead's face onto the Flying Elvis logo.
Hey, I like Woodhead -- he is averaging 6.4 yards per carry -- but the theory that he's emblematic of the Patriots returning to their golden era, when scrappiness ruled, is well, bullshit. When the Patriots were winning Super Bowls, they were loaded. In 2003, they had four Pro Bowlers. In 2004, they had six.
Just because Big, Bad Belichick got rid of Randy Moss this month and brought in Deion Branch, another smallish dynamo, doesn't mean the coach is getting sentimental on us. He saw something in Woodhead and Branch, and it's paid off so far.
Thankfully for Patriots fans, Belichick is as calculating as ever. But it doesn't mean that he's targeting righteous underdogs.