Photo Courtesy of Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles
The last half-decade has produced timeless performances from Bison football players. The national championships, winning streaks and record-breaking moments have been scattered along the timeline of the greatest five-year run of success in Bison football history. But one record still stands. We talked to the NDSU career-rushing leader about his NFL career, Carson Wentz and if anyone will ever break his record.
(This interview has been extended from the print version found in the July magazine. The interview has been edited for clarity.)
Bison Illustrated – The NFL Draft dominated much of our coverage this spring, so I wanted to ask about your experience. You went through the similar process as Carson Wentz and Joe Haeg, right?
Lamar Gordon – Yeah, I went to the Senior Bowl. I went to the combine. I went through all that, but you still didn’t really know. You just tried to stay even-keeled because you don’t want to get too excited about it. I was at home, I worked out and I knew I was going anywhere from the second-to-fifth round, and I was really hoping it was on the first day because, back then, the first day was the first three rounds, and I couldn’t imagine sleeping on it again. Seriously. I was just at my grandmother’s house, and it wasn’t supposed to be a party. Just a couple family members that were going to come over, but it turned into a big party. The first round, back then, was like eight hours, so I went to sleep and then I resumed into through the second round, and I was like, “Uh-oh, am I going to the next day?” All of a sudden, I was called and it was one of those things where I was like, “Here we go.”
What are your emotions like after receiving the most important call of your life?
It was one of those things I’ll never forget. I got a call, I really wasn’t expecting it because I was sitting there getting tired and it was actually Mike Martz on the phone, and I was like, “Uh- oh,” And he was like, “We’re just calling to let you know we drafted you.” I looked at everybody and they’re looking at me and I was like “Ah, it’s the Rams!” And everybody started hollering. The first thing they asked me was what number I wanted. I was like, I can’t pick 28 because that’s Marshall Faulk’s and he was pretty much my idol growing up. That’s 28. It was one of those things that the experience was, now I’m going to his team. I was in awe of the situation. I just told them to give me 34. I can’t take 28 so just give me a number (laughs).
St. Louis was coming off a loss in the Super Bowl. What was it like to land on a team with all those expectations?
I’d never been there before, so there was nothing for me to compare it to. I’m thinking that’s just how it is in the League, period. I didn’t realize the difference until I went to other team. When you get drafted by them, I wasn’t even in the mind – I actually went to the Super Bowl that they lost – I wasn’t even in the mindset that oh, this is a Super Bowl team, it was just: this is who I’m working for, playing behind this dude I’ve been watching my whole life. Pretty much who I’m trying to be like. It was one of those experiences that, I don’t know, I wasn’t excited about the team, I was just excited that it was the next chapter and to see how it worked out.
What did you learn behind the running back you idolized?
Pretty much everything. That dude was the smartest football player I’d ever been around. He just really took me under his wing, and it surprised him how much I knew about football. It was one of those things that, a lot of my coaches used to pull me to the side and they thought that me playing with him hampered me a little bit. They thought I was too nice of a guy. They wanted me to go in there and take his spot. To me, I was just playing. I didn’t think I was nice, but I don’t know, but that was the thing they always said. When I got mad, they saw the best was coming out of me. I can’t make myself play mad. Something had to bother me to play mad. It was one of those things that, outside looking in, a lot of people said. They didn’t really want me to play with somebody I looked up to because it changed how I interacted a little. To me, it wasn’t a big deal. You can’t help it because you’ve seen these people on Sundays. Kurt (Warner), Torry Holt, to Isaac Bruce, all these dudes, they were normal dudes. I’m preparing myself and getting bigger than all them, and it’s like, man, this is not that big of a deal like I thought until we got on the field then you see the big difference.
How do you adjust going from Division II to the NFL?
It was the speed. It’s not necessarily how fast people ran. It was the speed of everything. How quick linebackers read steps, how quick the holes opened and closed, that was the thing. They actually had to slow me down because I was so used to our playbook with powers and all that stuff, hitting the hole right away. When you get to the NFL, it’s a lot of zone reads. A lot of stuff you had to be slow to the hole and explode through. To me, that was the troubling thing. I was just so fast, I wasn’t giving any time for things to set up. They had to actually slow me down, deepen my stance. They tried to tweak all different stuff to get me under control. My thing was, I didn’t take it as a business. I just took it as, it was still football. After a couple years, like, the last time I really had fun playing football was in college. Once it becomes your job, you’re pretty much your own company. I’m going to play hurt if I feel like it, but sometimes you shouldn’t, you should take the day off or take a game off. I didn’t have that mindset. I was just a football player and had fun playing football.
You were the first player since Phil Hansen to be drafted out of NDSU. Do you feel you started a trend with the seven guys that have been drafted since 2002?
I mean, my measurables measured up to make people want to come get you and give me a shot. When they actually see you at the Senior Bowl and see you around the guys and see you on Saturdays on ESPN, they realize you can pretty much play with anybody if you can play football (at NDSU). As far as NDSU as a winning program, especially now, I mean, they’re going crazy with the championships. It just puts a smile on my face every time I see it because it’s funny to me thinking that we were D-II back then. It makes me feel old, but now I’m looking at us kicking everybody’s tail and it’s funny. I just think it’s about the League looking for who they need. Looking for players, they’re so cocky in their own right, they feel like they can get a steal somewhere. They don’t care where you’re from. They just want to make sure that you can play football and you can fit their system and they give you a shot. They’ve given all these other players shots, so why not go to a winning program up north to find some talent? It’s good that it got opened up, but now, I just sit back and I want anyone who plays football to feel that feeling I felt on draft night.
You spent a season in Philadelphia in 2005. Carson Wentz just got drafted to player there so I wanted your thoughts on playing in Philly. Are the fans there as passionate as the media portrays them?
I wasn’t one of the main guys. I felt like people didn’t really know me when I went out. Sometimes, I would try to pay for something and somebody would say that’s taken care of and I’d look back and someone who was kind of drunk would be waving, like, “Hey Lamar!” Personally, I think it’s some of the best fans in the nation if you’re doing good; if you’re on the up and up. But, there are so many fans, they act like they’re a part of the team, so if something is going wrong, you just have to have thick skin. These people are crazy because some of the stuff I used to hear them say to Donovan McNabb. I don’t know how you can just take that. That’s coming from somebody who took them to five NFC championships. When you see stuff like that, it’s like, these people don’t care, just make sure you keep playing well because they’ll turn on you so fast. I think it’s going to be a big love fest forever because I think he’s (Wentz) going to be really solid. He’s so smart. He can figure out the NFL puzzle. That’s pretty much what it is. It’s a puzzle every snap of the ball. You have all the stuff you’ve been taught, all the stuff you’ve been trained to do, now you have to figure out all the stuff they’re trying to do to you, and once you put that together and the speed of it, he’s probably going to have one of the best careers for an Eagles quarterback. That’s what I think, personally. When people ask and I’ll sit back and say, you’ll see. This guy has everything and he’s smart. That’s what I look at. When I got to the League, I realized how much intelligence really runs this game. You can be fast, you can throw hard, you can do everything, but if you’re a smart guy and can put together the different plays and schemes, there’s just so much ahead of you that you can do. I just think he’s gonna be alright. He’s not going to have the experience, the crazy Philly fans, they’re going to be in love with him pretty much his whole career.
When John Crockett was running all over the place in 2014, people were bringing you up more and more so there was a little Lamar Gordon renaissance. Your career-rushing record still stands, though.
Hey, your records are meant to be broken. But you always keep an eye out. That was the main reason I was looking at him from afar. It’s like, “Hey, any running back have a shot at my record yet?” Then I started seeing this dude (Crockett), and I was like, “Uh-oh, here we go.” Now I gotta sit back and hope somebody breaks it for their sake, but at the same time, I don’t want him to break it because you always want records. But if it’s gotta go, it’s gotta go.
So are you feeling pretty comfortable no one will break it?
As of now, I am, but you never know. With that machine going on up there (laughs). All it takes is one year and then you on the map.
Still watching the Bison on Saturday’s?
Oh yeah. I’ll always follow it. I’m in a group chat with Shep (Mike Shepperd) and Marques (Johnson), so we talk every day. I’m down here in Atlanta. I work for Delta. I’ve been here about six years, so we talk every day. It’s always the “I might come this year to homecoming,” but then it comes up on me and I have to work or something. I haven’t really been back up there. I still talk to my college dudes like every day.
We need to get you back up, man.
I know, man. I’ve been talking about it forever and now it’s what, 14, 15 years since? So now it’s been such a long time, I just sit back and enjoy it from afar. Maybe I do need to get back up there to see it. It’s not a pressing need for me, but it would be nice to go. I feel like I am a part of everything.
How has Bison Pride stuck with you in real life, away from football and NDSU?
That’s a tough one. You don’t necessarily apply it, but it’s just something that, after you’re done and after you’re out of it – because you don’t realize how unique it is when you’re in it. It’s just when you start being around other situations. I was blessed enough to play beyond NDSU, so different locker rooms and different situations you just know, that’s not just normal.
You have to understand, when I’m doing something for the first time, I’m just thinking that it’s the norm of everything. The level of how teams are, how people click, how prideful a program is, I’m thinking that’s just how every program is. When I went to St. Louis, it was pretty much a business and I was like, “Okay, it’s not about (brotherhood)” – because it was about your brothers (at NDSU). The people you see every day at work, you build a relationship, but it’s still not the same as how being a Bison was. Every day, even outside of work, I still talk to people that I met in college. That’s pretty much who I talk to every day. Those were my buddies. We try to plan and do stuff. It’s people from college that goes right to Bison Pride. Those are the reasons why you’re close with those guys out of all the years and all the people I’ve been around, it always comes back to my guys I went to college with. Those are the people that you feel like you grew up with, you turn into a man with. That’s never going to leave you. You can call it Bison Pride, you can call it whatever you want. But, at that time I was 18-22, I was in Fargo, North Dakota, and I was around the dudes I’m always going to be around my whole life. That’s pretty much what it was for me. Everyday life, I just go about the lessons of it. I go about the lessons of what it meant. The highs and lows and where it took me, the things I get to see from it. I just live. I live with those experiences, those life lessons and keep living.
Back to your record, what’s it going to take for someone to break it?
I don’t know. They need to jump off with a 1,000 yards their freshman year. If they can pull that off, they’re on pace (laughs).