By Alan Grant
Special to Page 2

Reggie Bush will save football.

Of course he'll save the New Orleans Saints, too.

Reggie Bush
He's not only a Saint. He's the answer to the league's prayers.

Actually, he already has. Tired cliches be damned. Was there ever any team that needed a ray of hope any more than the 2005 Saints? Their plight was so genuinely sad last year that their fans didn't even have the heart to don paper bags. But empathy wears thin for able-bodied people -- especially those on a football team.

The Saints' homecoming on October 30 in Tiger Stadium said it all. As time elapsed on the 21-6 loss to the Dolphins in Baton Rouge, fans ran out of love for the gold-plated vagabonds. The drunken rogues in the cheap seats made their feelings known with a cascade of boos. "You can go back to San Antonio!" they screamed.

The Texans did the league a favor by passing on Bush.

New Orleans needs him more than they do. And besides, the Texans owe us. What have they done since entering the fold in 2002? Absolutely nothing. The least they could do is offer life to a franchise that sorely needs it.

But it's more than the Saints who need Reggie Bush. The league needs him, too.

Tom Brady and the Patriots are done, for a while at least. In the meantime, the league is ripe for a new All-American face to wear its brand. In just a few days, the rescue effort will begin. After his physical, the 12 minicamps cleverly disguised as "quarterback school," and the perfunctory training camp, Reggie Bush will show us the best aspects of pro football.

Sound over the top? It most certainly is. That's what you've grown accustomed to, is it not?

For the past three years, Terrell Owens has shown us, in most extreme terms, the worst aspect, or more accurately, the reality of professional football. It's a shirts tucked in, socks pulled up, gambler- friendly extravaganza where character is a virtue, but only for those who aren't the absolute best players at their positions.

In the process Terrell Owens also has revealed himself as selfish, reckless, volatile, misguided, weird, senseless, moody, and disrespectful. Oh, and one more thing:

Employed. Gainfully.

"Terrell's excellent adventure" has proven that alienating teammates, coaches, entire organizations, and fans is not only forgivable, it's highly profitable.

The NFL needs Jesus!

But Reggie Bush will do.

He of the sensational peripheral vision, panther-like C.O.D. (that's "change of direction" in football speak) soft hands, and penchant for the acrobatic, combined with the dazzling smile and flawless soundbite, is the perfect elixir for the Sunday league. And when it's time to get emotional, he can do that, too. Come on, even all you bitter, die-hard cynics gotta admit Bush's tearful Heisman Trophy acceptance speech last winter gave the award and the show some much-needed life.

The Fresno State game when he did that thing with the ball? That was special because it was all about him.

That was about superb spatial awareness and exquisite body control. But the Notre Dame game, after he coaxed his quarterback into the sneak, and then pushed him into the end zone? That was about him, too. It was the act of a team player. Don't know about you, but I'm quite sick of all the bitching about a dearth of real team players in team sports. That was all the evidence I needed.

And this whole business about his family's curiously-leased home? First, let me say I'm shocked. You mean there's a chance some NCAA rules might have been broken on the way to USC building that NFL ready, fire-breathing dragon of a dynasty? No freakin' way!

And David Caravantes, this agent who reportedly threatened to blackmail the Bush family unless he signed with him? Well, I gotta say, that I'm not that surprised by this, either. Even yours truly, once upon a time a small potatoes prospect, found himself being strong-armed by a prospective agent.

One evening, after being treated to Fisherman's Wharf's finest seafood fare, I found myself in a scene from "The Sopranos." On my way back to campus, in the back of a limo, all the joking stopped and this guy applied the stare down. "So I gave you a great meal and showed you a great time," he growled. "Are you gonna sign or what?"

I politely told him "no," said a prayer, and hoped I'd live to tell about it. The point? When there are dollars involved, there's always some shady posturing, no matter who you are. And right now, there's no bigger fish than Reggie Bush.

Seems to me the problem here is Bush's stepfather, La Mar Griffin. He tried to start a marketing company assuming his very famous stepson would be its cornerstone client. Parents do this sort of thing. You know -- make plans and just assume the kid will fall in line with those plans. Well, the kid made up his own mind. As far as I know, this happens, too. The only difference is that the kid in question happens to be the most visible player in football and Griffin's business partner is a cat who did some jail time.

But all of this is mass distraction, used to divert your attention from what Bush can do for the league. His unforgivable transgression of allowing his family to accept extravagant gifts notwithstanding, Bush is still the most complete package of clean-cut transcendent talent to enter the league since I don't know when.

Whether it's at tailback, on the wing, in the slot, split wide, Bush can do damage. We saw his freaky acceleration in that touchdown in the Rose Bowl. But when he masters the intermediate routes like the hook, curl, and crossing route, teams will have to use up a cornerback rather than a safety or linebacker to defend him.

He's like the Giants' Tiki Barber, only with a fifth gear. Saints coach Sean Payton coached Barber in New York, and on draft day, Payton already was rewriting his playbook with Bush as the central character. Like Detroit Lions personnel director Sheldon White said before the draft, "you can do anything you want with Reggie Bush." He's right.

The league can make him its savior.

Alan Grant is a regular contributor to and ESPN The Magazine. He is a former NFL defensive back who played college football at Stanford.