It was unbelievable. Almost too good to be true. And so shocking, in fact, that it stopped Sam Bradford dead in his tracks.
With a rock solid pocket presence, the accuracy of a sniper, and a Heisman trophy to prove it, it might be surprising to think anything could have this kind of effect on Oklahoma’s star quarterback.
But that’s exactly what happened when Bradford found out he would have the opportunity to meet his childhood hero and former NHL star Pavel Bure before a practice during the Sooners’ BCS National Championship game preparation in Miami.
“It was a complete surprise to me, but a moment I’ll never forget,” Bradford says.
“I mean, I almost lost my breath there for a second. I couldn’t believe it.”
Contrary to what his football stats might suggest, Bradford was a multi-sport athlete as a kid, one of his favorites being hockey. He quickly developed a love for the game and, on multiple occasions, tried to convince his parents it should be his top priority.
“There was a time when he was young where he tried to get his mother and I to move to Vancouver so he could play hockey,” recalls Sam’s dad, Kent Bradford.
“I told him ‘we can’t move to Canada. Our lives are in Oklahoma.’ But he was pretty set on it.”
Though a busy schedule packed with almost every sport under the sun limited the amount of practices Sam could make, he excelled on the ice, playing for the Oklahoma City Junior Blazers travel team for two years under coach Mike McEwen, who won three Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders.
“He had great vision. Really smart,” McEwen says. “He had good hands and was a good skater, but he had slow feet back then.”
Sam’s hockey sense and leadership skills landed him the role as team captain, but once he got to high school, the reality set in that he would have to narrow down his many athletic activities –– a tough choice to make for someone now known for great decision making.
McEwen, seeing professional-caliber talent in Bradford, tried to convince Kent that hockey was the path for his son, a conversation he considers to be one of the strangest he’s ever had.
“I told Kent that if he stuck with hockey, he was good enough to make the NHL,” McEwen recalls. “He basically let me make my case for about five minutes and his smile just kept getting bigger and bigger. I knew I was on a sinking ship.”
Bradford hung up his skates before getting to high school, but it wasn’t until his junior year that he really committed to football.
McEwen was able to catch a football game at Putnam City North High School, where Bradford was the 17th-ranked quarterback in the nation and noticed something he hadn’t seen in his star center a few years earlier: quick feet.
“He was tall and lanky and looked kind of awkward out there, but he was good,” McEwen remembers.
And he only got better, eventually leading an offense that broke the NCAA’s single-season scoring record while shattering every passing record in Oklahoma history in the process. Even in a game very different from hockey, Bradford is using skills he learned on the ice.
“Hockey is so fast and unpredictable that it teaches you to think quickly and make snap decisions,” Bradford says. “I think that quality translates really well to playing quarterback.”
These skills have led him to some pretty big football games, and although he didn’t win the national championship, Bradford is returning to Oklahoma next season for another shot at it.
Expected to be a top NFL draft pick once he leaves school, Bradford obviously has a very bright future in football. But hockey isn’t completely out of his life quite yet. He catches up with his favorite team, the Canucks, when he gets a chance and hopes to someday take the ice again.
“I’m not sure there are many football coaches who would give me the green light to get back out on skates even in a recreational game,” he laughs. “But I doubt if I’ve played hockey for the last time.”