Years before running back Leonard Fournette sat out LSU’s bowl game vs. Louisville and do-everything Christian McCaffrey passed on Stanford’s postseason date with North Carolina, a junior offensive tackle from Arkansas traveled a similar path with less national controversy.
Fournette and McCaffrey probably never heard of Shawn Andrews, the young man from Camden who chose not to participate in Arkansas’ Dec. 31, 2003, bowl game vs. Missouri in Shreveport. Maybe Andrews’ decision didn’t get as much as attention as the abstentions by Fournette and McCaffrey because he was a blocker and they were touchdown makers or maybe it was because he offered a medical excuse of sorts.
There were some raised eyebrows when he said two weeks prior to the bowl that he was following his doctor’s advice and didn’t plan to play because of a serious sinus condition. Best I can remember, there was not a lot of pushback from Arkansas fans, but there was a lingering suspicion that an agent convinced Andrews not to play.
A specialist in Little Rock told him polyps were blocking his nasal passages, hindering his ability to breathe, Andrews told the media, adding that medications being used to try and reduce inflammation in the nasal passages contain steroids and might make him ineligible, anyway.
“When I wake up, I’m nearly choking to death because I can’t get any air,” he said, conceding that many people might see the condition as an excuse to miss the game.
“I’m just at the point of my career right now where the decisions I make could prove real costly now that I’ve established myself here and possibly could get drafted this year high from what I’m told,” he said. “I guess to play one more game and go against what the doctor said, I could perhaps injure myself very bad from an infection or I could even die from it.”
Ignoring the diagnosis, Philadelphia used the 16th pick to select Andrews on April 24, 2004. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, he retired in 2011.
Fast forward to last December when critics questioned the character of Fournette and McCaffrey for sitting out bowl games.
Unconcerned, Jacksonville selected Fournette with the fourth pick and Carolina spent the No. 8 selection on McCaffrey.
Days before Christmas, Fournette, who missed five games during the regular season with an ankle injury, confirmed he would not play in the Citrus Bowl. He described the decision as extremely difficult, adding, “it’s best for me and my future.”
In early February, Fournette told NFL Now Live that he didn’t have a say in the decision.
“My coach (Ed Orgeron) brought me into the office,” Fournette said. “He told me ‘You have a lot on the line.’ He didn’t want me to play. I cried like a baby.”
McCaffrey was blunt: “Very tough decision, but I have decided not to play in the Sun Bowl so I can begin my draft prep immediately.”
Considering the short-lived NFL careers of running backs, the money at stake, and the relatively meaningless bowl games involved, defending the decisions of Fournette and McCaffrey was easy.
According to Forbes:
—Fournette’s contract is more than $27 million, including a signing bonus of almost $18 million.
—McCaffrey’s contract is more than $17 million, including a signing bonus of almost $10.7 million.
On the other side, Clemon coach Dabo Swinney’s point is indisputable: “You can get hurt in any game …”
When McCaffrey announced his decision, he thanked teammates for their support. Would they have been so understanding if Stanford had qualified for the College Football Playoff and McCaffrey had made the same decision?
Following the lead of Fournette and McCaffrey, this could be the year an underclassman projected as a Top 10 draft pick will have to choose between self and his playoff-bound team. Among the eligible are USC quarterback Sam Darnold, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Florida State safety Derwin James and athletes from Alabama and LSU.