- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 27, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We’re going to miss Alfred Morris.

It’s not the 1,613 yards he gained in his 2012 rookie season we’re going to miss. That’s long in the past, as the running back’s production has dropped every year since, down to 751 yards last season.

It’s not his effusive personality we’re going to miss. He was a likeable guy from most accounts, but we never really heard much from Morris, who was reluctant to talk to the media and, like his run production fell, grew more reluctant as his years in Washington went on.

What is it we are going to miss about Morris? His car. His 1991 Mazda 626.
We rooted for Morris because he was the sixth-round draft pick who came out of nowhere in 2012 and set the Redskins’ single-season rushing record. We fell in love with him because he drove a clunker.

We felt we knew Morris because he drove a car that many of us would have driven in high school. He was an everyman. It became his identity, and, in an era of bankrupt athletes holding signs begging for money on Rockville Pike, he came to become a symbol of the football star as every man.

“It has some sentimental value to it now,” Morris told reporters in 2012. “It just keeps me grounded, where I came from and all the hard work for me to get to this point. So, that’s what helps me.

“I love my car, and that’s what I’m going to drive,” he said. “I’m a lot better off than I was but at the same time … I feel like it’s a waste of money to go buy a new car if my car is running perfectly fine, you know? I just don’t get that concept.

“I’m not a flashy guy,” Morris said. “I don’t like showing off. I’m real reserved. I like flying under the radar; I don’t like drawing extra attention to myself. At the end of the day, I’m just a normal guy. My car still gets me from Point A to Point B, and that’s more than enough for me.”

It became a media event when Mazda offered to refurbish the car — he called it his “Bentley” — but still spoke of what the car symbolized to him.

“She hasn’t changed,” he told reporters. “I mean, she looks different, but it’s still the same car. It a feel thing. Sometimes when something changes, you’re like, ‘Oh man, I want it the old way.’ But when I sat in her, I still got that feeling. She’s still The Bentley.”

You can’t buy the attention that Morris got because of his car.

Hours after the news surfaced on Tuesday that Morris signed a two-year deal with up to $5.5 million with the Dallas Cowboys, the headline on a Dallas website read, “Why new Cowboy Alfred Morris makes millions, but drives a 1991 Mazda.”

He may have stumbled on to something — the clunker as a public relations symbol. The rich professional athlete driving a Rent-A-Wreck makes news.

Sports Illustrated did a lengthy profile of San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, yet the one item that made headlines was the fact that he drives a 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe — the car he drove as a teenager. “It runs, and it’s paid off,” Leonard said.

“I wish more guys were like Kawhi Leonard,” said certified public accountant Robert Raiola, known as the “Sports Tax Man” on Twitter. “It would be funny if clunkers became cool. Those are the guys that get it. One day the music is going to stop. What is a car? If you can get by with a 1997 Tahoe, why not?”

The rich athlete driving the expensive car is old and tired — and we’re sick of it. We’re sick of reading about broke millionaires who had a garage full of real Bentleys and Ferraris. They get no sympathy from the working stiffs that have no choice but to drive clunkers.

Yoenis Cespedes and his $75 million got some attention this spring when he showed up at New York Mets camp in Port St. Lucie with a new hot car nearly every day, including a Lamborghini. The image of those cars won’t play well for Mets fans when Cespedes goes into a 1-for-20 slump, or maybe strikes out a few times with the go-ahead run on base. He’ll get no sympathy.

But Morris, who couldn’t even perform as well as Pierre Thomas coming in for Washington late last season, remained a beloved Redskins player, and will be missed. That 1991 Mazda had a lot more than Blue Book value.

⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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