Bush era underway for Saints

Published 5:09 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Reggie Bush trotted onto the field, his feet sparkling from gold-trimmed shoes and gold-tipped cleats — a fitting entrance for the super-hyped rookie in his first practice of training camp.

“I’m ready for him to start shock-and-awing people. They had to have him in the nicest cleats, because he can move like that,” veteran receiver Joe Horn said. “He’s kind of a fly dude. He’s got some pizzaz to his step.”

Bush and his agent, Joel Segal, agreed to a six-year contract that could pay Bush up to $62 million, but the Heisman Trophy winner out of Southern California didn’t arrive at the New Orleans Saints’ training camp here until Monday evening, delaying his first on-field appearance until Tuesday.

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The bleachers swelled with spectators — many wearing No. 25 jerseys or T-shirts — despite temperatures of 95 degrees. The small screens on fans’ digital cameras focused on him, as did the eyes of seemingly everyone. His quick cut and stutter-step move that shot him free of a crowd of pursuing defenders drew a collective, “ooh,” from the crowd.

Devout fans in New Orleans have compared his arrival to that of a savior. Bush is fine with such high expectations.

“I embrace it,” Bush said. “I’m here to win games. I’m not going to be satisfied until I win the Super Bowl. … There’s no guarantee it’s going to happen, but I’m definitely going to work my butt off to try to get to that point.”

Even fellow players couldn’t help but notice the buzz surrounding Bush’s first practices.

“I’m definitely focused on what I’m doing, but everybody knows that Reggie’s here,” said veteran Fred McAfee, who gave number to Bush after the NFL declined to allow Bush to wear No. 5. “The crowds get a little bit bigger. You hear a few chants. We’re not deaf. We hear, ’Reggie!’ Reggie Bush is definitely one of my favorite players. I saw the same highlights everybody else did.”

Bush didn’t get any special treatment from his coach, however. The day began at 7:30 a.m. with Bush and second-round pick Roman Harper having to undergo the same conditioning test of 300-yard shuttle sprints (back and fourth from the goal line to the 50-yard line three times) that all other practicing players did on the opening day of camp last week.

Harper joined in because his contract wasn’t finished in time for the first test.

Coach Sean Payton said both ran exceptionally well, but he didn’t get specific in terms of how they ranked on the team.

Bush’s “numbers were outstanding, I’ll just say that, as were Roman’s. They were in great shape,” Payton said.

Payton said he was pleased to finally have Bush on the field so the Saints could begun practicing various running and passing plays designed for Bush, but the coach otherwise downplayed the rookie’s arrival.

Bush didn’t always get special treatment from Saints defenders, either. At one point, linebacker Tommy Polley put Bush on his back with a horse collar-type hit off the ball.

Bush, who could be a return man as well, also dropped a couple punts, but didn’t fret over it.

“That’s what practice is for, so it doesn’t happen in the game,” he said.

And Bush also seemed to suffer at times from the hot, humid Mississippi weather, which he wasn’t accustomed to on the California coast. He often removed his helmet between repetitions and at one point crouched down on his haunches.

“You can’t prepare for this type of heat, especially living in L.A.,” Bush said. “You just deal with it, keep pushing forward, practice hard. And that was really it.”