It doesn’t seem possible, but Reggie Bush’s schedule is even more jam-packed than it was a year ago when he was the No. 2 pick of the New Orleans Saints.
The former USC star is the focus of at least nine national advertising campaigns -- among them Adidas, Xbox 360, Subway, EA Sports, Hummer and Visa -- and he’s gearing up for his second NFL season. When he isn’t pushing products, he’s playing video games. One of his proudest accomplishments? He’s the first player in the history of the Madden game to receive a perfect 100 rating in acceleration.
But not everything is going his way. He remains the focus of an NCAA investigation into whether he and his family received improper benefits while he was playing at USC.
Bush, who recently bought a house in the Hollywood Hills so he can spend his off-seasons in Los Angeles, sat down last week for a wide-ranging interview before a paid appearance at Microsoft’s E3 Summit in Santa Monica.
Question: You had a slow start as a rookie and didn’t really come alive until the second half of the season. Was that the Saints figuring out how to best use you, or you learning how to best use your abilities?
Answer: I would say the biggest difference was me just finding myself, finding what my role was on the team. The first half of the season I was really tense and trying to force all the runs. As the season went on I started scoring touchdowns, I started relaxing a little more. I started to see stuff, and the game started to slow down for me. It sounds simple, but that’s really what it was.
Q: Your coach, Sean Payton, said you had a tendency to look for the home run on every carry. Was that a problem?
A: Sometimes no gain is a big gain. The one thing we’re trying to stress is not to have any negative runs, no matter what. Just try to get back to the line of scrimmage as much as possible. If I have the mind frame of just running for four yards, the big runs will come. At the same time, you’re always trying to score touchdowns.
Q: So now that New Orleans made it to the NFC championship game, that gutty-little-Saints stuff doesn’t work anymore, does it?
A: No, that’s not going to work. The whole Cinderella story is played out. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody anymore. We’re going to see everybody’s best game because they know we’re for real.
Q: The Saints play at Indianapolis in the Sept. 6 league opener. What’s your realistic dream sequence for your opening possession?
A: Just to score on the first drive would be huge for us, just to go out there and set the tone early that this ain’t going to be an easy game. We’re going to be fighting, kicking, scratching, anything we can to win this game.
Q: With all your sponsorship deals, you’ll be on TV as much as Peyton Manning this season. Are people going to get Reggie Bush-ed out?
A: I hope not. Because I’m definitely enjoying this opportunity right now of just being able to do commercials, all the different ad campaigns. I’m trying to catch up with Peyton Manning, but it’s tough. He’s ahead of the pack by a long shot.
Q: Which of your former USC teammates is most likely to have a breakout NFL season? Matt Leinart, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett or Steve Smith?
A: I think Matt will. That team’s ready to have a breakout season. They have all the right players. They have the pieces in place to make a run, a push to the playoffs and maybe even the Super Bowl. That team is more than ready. It’s all about him. He’s the quarterback and the leader of that team.
Q: What would it mean for you to get your number retired at USC, and have you gotten any indication the school might do that?
A: I haven’t. But it would mean a lot. I feel like me and Matt, we helped put that team back on the map. We feel like we’ve done a lot for that university. We made a lot of special moments for that university. So it would mean a lot.
Q: USC has 10 running backs on scholarship. Can you make any sense of that?
A: It’s crazy. I was talking to T-Mac [running backs coach Todd McNair] -- we talk all the time -- and I was like, ‘What are you going to do with all those running backs down there?’ It’s crazy, man. Because at the end of the day, somebody’s not going to play. You’ve got 10 running backs and there’s only one football. With me and LenDale it was hard enough to spread the ball around. So I don’t know what they’re going to do with 10. There’s going to be some guys playing both ways.
Q: Mike Garrett said the NCAA advised the school to distance itself from you during the investigation, and that’s why you didn’t get a sideline pass for the Rose Bowl game. Do you feel like the school has turned its back on you?
A: No, I understand that. They’re just doing what they’re told. Mike Garrett and I have a great relationship. Coach Carroll and I will always have a great relationship. I love them, they love me. I love USC. There’s no hard feelings. They’re just doing what they’re told, and you’ve got to abide by the rules sometimes. There’s no love lost.
Q: You’ve said before that you wouldn’t pick up the phone if NCAA investigators called. But can you envision any scenario in which you’d talk to them?
A: Honestly, the media, they love to take stuff out of context. That’s what you guys do, you write stories and that’s what you get paid for. So that was just me talking. There’s nothing behind it and nothing to it. That’s just it.
(Asked later to clarify his answer, Bush, through marketing agent Mike Ornstein, said he is not ruling out speaking to NCAA investigators, but only when his attorney advises him it’s the right time to do so.)
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