Blake Griffin & Sam Bradford: How Northwest Expressway in Oklahoma City became the route to Rookie of the Year
The reigning NBA Rookie of the Year and NFL Rookie of the Year were raised six miles apart in northwest Oklahoma City. And geography isn't all they have in common
“I can't really imagine having that much success so young,” said George Overbey, who played alongside Griffin for three years at Oklahoma Christian School. “You'd think it would go to your head or you'd begin to act differently because of it. But Blake, he had a great background.
“His parents taught him the fundamentals of life, not just basketball.”
It started at the house on Ann Arbor Terrace.
* * *
The house on Harvest Hills Road is brick. Double garage. Sprawling front yard just like lots of other houses in the neighborhood.
But this is where Sam Bradford learned to play.
The St. Louis Rams quarterback is a football legend in his home state and a franchise's hope in his new home. He is a poster boy who gives credit to everyone but himself. He is a fierce competitor who keeps that fire burning behind a steely facade.
You can trace that back to the sports he played as a kid.
It wasn't always a football, after all, that neighbors saw him tossing around that front yard. Bradford played baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey and golf, and if he'd been able to keep playing all of them, he would have.
“He was a kid that enjoyed sports,” his mom, Martha, said. “That's what he did. He didn't stay inside and watch TV or play Nintendo. He was always outside.”
And she and husband, Kent, were fine with that.
Martha is a longtime physical education teacher, and Kent is a former football player at OU. So when Sam would bring home a flier about a baseball Optimist League, they would sign him up. Or when a new basketball season would start at Satellite Gym, where Kent has long coached and volunteered, they would give it a go.
But their willingness to let their only son experiment went beyond sports.
He played cello in school orchestra for several years.
“I don't know how it all happened,” Kent said, chuckling. “It just happened.”
All those experiences taught Bradford about teamwork and practice and competition. He learned the right way to do things. He learned that winning was a lot better than losing, too.
Then again, some of those things were hard-wired into him.
Martha remembers that when Sam was in first grade, his teacher put three bears on each student's desk. Do something wrong, and one of the bears would be taken away.
“I think he went all year and never lost a bear,” Martha said. “He was just that type of kid. He just always wanted to do the right thing and be the best at everything.”
Which made this past year extremely difficult.
After that rookie-of-the-year season — the Rams made a six-game improvement and missed the playoffs by only one game — St. Louis changed offensive coordinators. Josh McDaniels brought in a more downfield passing game, and with a receiving corps built more for the dink-and-dump game and an offensive line decimated by injury and incompetence, the Rams won only two games.
Worse, Bradford seemed to regress. He forced passes. He took sacks. He developed bad habits.
An ankle injury also limited him to 10 games.
Now, the Rams have a new head coach in Jeff Fisher and Bradford has his third offensive coordinator in three years, Brian Schottenheimer. This has been a tough year for Bradford — a competitor who wants to win, not see his coach get fired — but through it all, he has remained positive.
“I feel very blessed that he's remained who he is,” his mom said.
It started at the house on Harvest Hills Road.
* * *
Who knows where the road leads next for The Northwest Expressway Boys?
There could be All-Star Games and Pro Bowl appearances. There could be division titles and league championships. There could even be rings.
There will undoubtedly be success.
Blake Griffin and Sam Bradford are winners. Whether facing good times or bad, they have the maturity to handle it and the fire to embrace it. They are driven to be great.
No matter where that drive takes them, it will always go back to a pair of brick houses connected by more than a six-lane highway.
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