"What the word is?''
It is Tashard Choice's trademark greeting, delivered in union with a wide grin and guileless warmth. I watch him at an event as he shakes a lot of fans' hands, and all the folks get the same sincere, questioning hello:
"What the word is?''
Now, when I ask the Cowboys running back about the greeting, he - probably sizing me up as the old, white journalist that I am -- sandpapers off the rough edges.
"Yeah, ‘What's the word'? I guess I do say that a lot,'' says Choice, who while playing football at Georgia Tech also earned his college degree in history/technology/society and was twice named to the ACC All-Academic Honor Roll. "It's just my way of getting to know people, I guess.''
So, after Choice - technically Dallas' third-string back -- grabbed a headline or two with his 66-yard sprint in the Thanksgiving win over Oakland, this is a good time to ping-pong the question back at the kid.
That's why I decide to say it to him to start this exclusive Blogging The Boys Q-and-A:
"Hey, Tashard Choice ... What the word is?''
FISH: The depth chart lists you as Dallas' No. 3 back, of course. But I know you guys don't look at it exactly that way.
CHOICE: "The situation we have is as cool as it gets. Sure, I want to score all the TDs. I'm a running back! But we don't have problems. We're friends. We root for each other. Every guy is down-to-earth. It's cool.''
CHOICE: "We're all three totally different kinds of runners.
*"Marion Barber is pure power. He likes to run over you. He's good at it. He gets a kick out of doing it.
*"Felix (Jones) has that ‘Woooooo' factor. He runs by you. I think there are a lot of things he can do, but the one word that comes to mind when I think of Felix is ‘Woooooo'!''
*Me? I'll do anything I can to help the team. I think I'm a pretty complete running back. I can play special teams. I think a team needs more than one good running back, so I'm happy to be one of them.''
FISH: A lot of people don't know that even though you gained some acclaim by playing so well at Georgia Tech (he led the ACC in both of his final two seasons), you actually started out your career at Oklahoma playing behind a guy named Adrian Peterson. So you are pretty accustomed to sharing time behind a great one ...
CHOICE: "(Peterson) is one of the best, and I love to watch him run. But nobody is quite like Bo Jackson. A.D. is flat-out great, but Bo ... Bo is my man.''
FISH: You've got that ‘T.C' in your pocket, where you use your arms to spell out your initials when you score a touchdown. Are you waiting to really bust that thing out?
CHOICE: "It's got to be appropriate. I'd like to have everybody see it when I really bust out, when I really cut out, in a really important time in a really important game. But yeah, it's coming.''
FISH: It seems most likely that your chance to ‘bust out' is going to come in the form of producing in the ‘Wildcat,' or ‘Razorback' formation (as was the case on the 66-yard run). Do you view the Wildcat as a gimmick feature of the offense (Choice has been the featured guy on all 12 Razorback carries this year, for one TD, 116 yards and an average of 9.7 per carry) or as a potential foundation piece?
CHOICE: "I don't see why it can't be that, a foundation piece. I think it makes it a challenge for the other team. I think we should blend it in every game. But maybe I'm just thinking that because I'll get to play more!''
FISH: Barber has a massive contract that pays him through 2014. Felix Jones was a first-round draft pick in the same draft in which you were more of a personnel-department afterthought, a fourth-rounder. How much of that drives you in your day-to-day approach to football?
CHOICE: "It's not that anybody was wrong, or that I am this or that. But I know that what I have, you can't measure. I have desire. I have heart. Heart can't no one judge.''
And that what the word is.