Reggie Bush was alone in his New York City hotel room when he heard the news like almost everyone else — on "SportsCenter."
A Heisman Trophy-winning running back out of USC, Bush was the odds-on favorite to go No. 1 in the 2006 NFL draft.
He was one of the most electric players in college football history, part of two of the previous three national championship teams, and all indications were that the Houston Texans were smitten with taking him.
Bush already started house hunting in the Houston area. He seemed like such a lock, no other NFL team even called to check in with him in the weeks leading up to the draft.
"Literally, no other team contacted me because they all knew I was going to go No. 1," Bush recalled this week. "That's what they said. They said, 'We're not even going to try.'"
The night before the draft, rumors began to circulate that the Texans, with Peyton Manning on their schedule twice a year, preferred pass rusher Mario Williams with the first pick.
It seemed like a good negotiating ploy in an era before slotted draft salaries, until a few hours later when Bush watched in stunned disbelief as the bombshell news scrolled across the ticker on his TV.
"It was a shock," Bush said. "But it was my first introduction to the business side of football. On one side I was a little disappointed, but at the same time I got an early introduction to how this business works. And I think that kind of helped me along the way."
As unpredictable as the top of the 2006 draft was, 8½ years later there aren't many complaints from the parties involved.
Williams was the right choice, in retrospect. He's made three Pro Bowls and has 79 career sacks, and after six seasons in Houston he signed one of the richest contracts ever for a defensive player and revitalized his career with the Buffalo Bills.
Bush, who got separate phone calls from the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees telling him he'd be the No. 2 pick the night the Williams news broke, won a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2010 and has had 1,000-yard rushing seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions.
Bush said he doesn't know Williams well and has no personal rivalry with him, but forever linked the two will be on the field together for the fifth time in their careers today when the 3-1 Lions host the 2-2 Bills at Ford Field.
Williams' teams are 3-1 in those games, though Bush scored three touchdowns the last time the two met, two years ago in a 24-10 Dolphins victory.
"He's become a great player," Bush said. "We've crossed paths a few times. He's definitely made a lot of money; last deal was huge. He's been a solid player on both his teams that he's played. We'll see him on Sunday."
Bush, 29, should have a bigger role than usual today for a Lions offense that's been depleted by injury.
Joique Bell, the Lions' co-starter at running back, is out after suffering a brain injury in last week's win over the New York Jets. Backup running back Theo Riddick won't play because of a pulled hamstring. And Calvin Johnson is a game-time decision for the second straight week because of a sprained ankle.
George Winn, who'll make his NFL debut after signing Tuesday off the practice squad, and fullback Jed Collins are the Lions' only other healthy running backs.
Bush hasn't had more than 12 carries or 18 offensive touches in a game this year, and the Lions' offense is designed to utilize multiple backs. But offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who was with Bush for four seasons as an assistant in New Orleans, said Bush is capable of being a workhorse every-down runner if needed.
"I think he can," Lombardi said. "Whether you would want to do it for 16 weeks in a row would be the question. I think if we're thin at running back this week, I don't think it's going to be a season-long thing if it is at all even this week. I think for certainly a short period of time Reggie can handle that."
Bush, who's played only about half the Lions offensive snaps this year, said he'd welcome a heavier workload than the one he's gotten in the season's first four games.
Early in his career, Bush fought the perception that he was a scat back unable to take the pounding of the NFL. He had just two games with at least 20 carries in his first five seasons, but has topped 215 carries each of the last three seasons.
"I think I went up to Miami, I kind of showed everybody I could," Bush said. "Last year, same thing. We'd run the ball, so I'm always ready. I welcome the opportunity all the time."
Last week, with Bell sidelined most of the fourth quarter, the Lions turned to Bush to close out the win against the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense. He had just 46 yards on 12 carries for the game, but had three big rushes for 27 yards as the Lions ran the final 3:41 off the clock.
The Bills, with Williams manning right end, have the NFL's third-ranked rushing defense and are one of two teams not to allow a rushing touchdown this year. Bush said he's looking forward to the challenge.
"Obviously, we're much better when we have everybody healthy," Bush said. "But also at the same time, when we have guys down, it's part of football. The next guy has to step up and take on more of a load and that happens to be me and I'm ready for that."
By Dave Birkett | Detroit Free Press Sports Writer | October 4, 2014