The UnSeung Hero: Gone with the wind

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One moment he was here, the next moment he was gone.

That’s probably the best way to describe Jahvid Best. He was fast. Lightning fast. In speed, he was the best. One moment he was lined up at his own 10-yard line; the next, he would be 90 yards away, celebrating a touchdown.

The Detroit Lions noticed his talents and drafted him as the 31st pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Jahvid Best was supposed to be most explosive running back in Detroit since the great Barry Sanders. But concussions got the best of him.

After three injury-ridden seasons in the NFL, Best is facing forced retirement because no doctor will clear him to play football again. He’s holding out for now, but let’s face it — it’s almost suicidal for Best to put his head on the line on the gridiron one more time.

One moment he was there in the biggest stage. The next moment he was gone.

The downfall of the star running back happened in Memorial Stadium, the place where he made his name. Nov. 7, 2009, Cal vs. Oregon State, second quarter. In the midst of hurdling a defender for an acrobatic touchdown, he was pushed by a Beavers defender in midair. He landed on the back of his head and lay almost lifeless for minutes.

One moment his mind was at the football game; the next, it was at an indescribable haze of nothingness. His helmet was knocked out, and his arm was in a fencing position — a common trait of an athletic concussion. That was the last time Best donned a Cal jersey on the football field.

Before the injury that season, Best was a legitimate candidate for the Heisman trophy. A Heisman winner? At Berkeley? The Heisman buzz in itself was a once-in-a-generation thing for Cal fans.

One moment the buzz was alive; the next, it was gone. And it took the junior straight to the NFL.

In hindsight, three years after his early departure, Best was one of the last few things memorable to Cal football since. After 2009, the program started taking a downhill turn.

In 2007, when Best was just a freshman, the Bears were at one point No. 2 in the nation. A National Championship game? With Cal? The fantasy left as fast as it arrived, as freshman quarterback Kevin Riley unknowingly ticked down the final seconds of the game against Oregon State, giving Cal its first loss of the season.

Since, the Bears have gone 21-38. Head coach Jeff Tedford and running backs coach Ron Gould, the two men most influential in burgeoning Best’s career, are gone too. One moment — a decade-long moment — they rejuvenated Cal football. The next, they are no longer here, leaving a program starving for new life.

The tale of Jahvid Best is in a haze of its own, much like the cloud of dust he stirred up as he zoomed down the football field. It felt like he left as fast as he arrived. It almost seemed like he wasn’t here at all in the first place.

Statistically, his name is missing from the top spots in the Cal record books. He really one had one and a half explosive seasons at Cal.

His legacy at Cal is fleeting and elusive, similar to how he eluded the tacklers. In 20, 30 years, will he be remembered? Will history be cruel to Jahvid Best? History has a tendency to bury and forget the explosive, short-lived sparks like Best in favor of the long, consistent grinds.

One moment, Jahvid Best was remembered; the next, he — no, he will always be remembered by us Cal fans. Why? Because there was no one like him. Because he was the Best.

Contact Seung Y. Lee at [email protected].