Last week, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon rushed for 408 yards to break LaDainian Tomlinson’s 15-year-old FBS single-game rushing record. Gordon did this despite not playing in the fourth quarter of a blowout – the record was in hand, so why risk injury or upsetting internet commentators who would surely attack coach Gary Anderson for mercilessly featuring his star runner in a contest that had long been decided?
Many fans, though, were disappointed that Gordon didn’t get a chance to build on the record. Opportunities like the one Anderson and Gordon had last week don’t come along very often, and it’s not like Wisconsin is going to do anything more exciting this year. Wisconsin is a good team, but they won’t make the playoff.
But it’s all in the past, and Gordon didn’t play in the fourth quarter, and the record stood at 408 yards. For a week.
This week, Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine broke Gordon’s freshly-inked record, despite playing only a few minutes in the fourth quarter. Records like this matter more to fans than to players and coaches, but why wouldn’t Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops want to give Perine a chance to stay in the record book a little longer than Gordon? Perine reportedly didn’t care if he reentered the game during the fourth quarter for a chance to break Gordon’s record. Why wouldn’t Perine want to see what he and the offensive line were capable of? Wouldn’t it have been exciting to take a shot at 500 rushing yards? Does Anderson regret pulling Gordon out so early now that the record belongs to someone else? Why is it not okay to get excited about breaking a really big record?
Oklahoma, like Wisconsin, is not going to make the four-team playoff for the national title. Breaking this record might be the high point of their season, and you’ve got to wonder what might have been. Perine finished with 427 (427!) rushing yards and five long touchdowns, which is still probably the greatest rushing performance ever by a college running back. But it feels very unsatisfying.
Generally, I don’t like the idea of running up the score – the “if you don’t like it, stop us” argument sounds too much like the philosophical musing of a teenage bully who’s slightly further into puberty than his victims. But in the cases of Gordon and Perine (and in many other personal-record situations), there’s nothing malicious about a couple of college kids figuring out how good they really are. What have Wisconsin and Oklahoma gained by sitting Gordon and Perine after the record was broken? The respect of opposing coaches and ESPN talking heads? In Wisconsin’s case, it certainly hasn’t gained them a lasting record.
It’s ridiculous that breaking a rushing record by more than ten yards is somehow uncool or unsportsmanlike. In 20 years, nobody is going to care that Gordon rushed for 408 yards in a single game. In all likelihood, nobody will care that Perine went for 427, because another running back will come along and rush for 430 before sitting out most of the fourth quarter. But if either of those two backs had played the whole game and pushed the record out of reach, one of their names might still pop up on occasional infographics 20 years from now. Yes, the internet would have been mad for a week that starters played in the fourth quarter of a lopsided game, but is that ridiculous consequence really worth not setting a record properly? Maybe records like this should receive asterisks that let future humans know that the record was set halfheartedly and that nobody seemed particularly happy about setting it.