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Brent Gordon raised an eyebrow when his daughter Sam came in and asked him to take the training wheels off her bike before they even got started with a riding lesson.
"No," he remembered saying.
"But I know I don't need them," she replied.
There was something in her confidence that prompted Brent to reconsider. A neighborhood friend had a bike without training wheels. If Sam could demonstrate she could ride it, Brent said he'd take the trainers off her bike. They tracked down the friend and Sam climbed onto the bike.
"She takes off," Brent said. "Boom, she's gone."
Sam Gordon, now 9, has never been average. It's a claim that may be easy to dismiss as parental pride if not for the video Brent released last fall. In it, the pint-sized running back, her hair pulled back into a pony tail, darts through defenders and springs up after being tackled in a youth football league in her home state of Utah.
|Sam Gordon met NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at a New York Giants game earlier this season and will be his guest when the 49ers take on the Ravens at Super Bowl XLVII.|
Her 1,911 yards, 35 touchdowns and 65 tackles -- stats which aren't as formal as those you might find at higher levels -- are nonetheless impressive. Her video went viral like "Gangnam Style," and soon Gordon had more invitations to sporting events than she could accept.
Every so often a person comes along, charismatic enough to lift a little extra hope and expectation as their star rises. Gordon is one of those people. Her television appearances, including one with Hannah Storm on "SportsCenter" during her media blitz, revealed Gordon to be precocious and charming -- another tough combination to get right.
Gordon will attend this weekend's Super Bowl with her father. She will be a guest of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after meeting him and league spokesperson Brian McCarthy at a New York Giants game in December. Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta is also making her a dress for Saturday night's NFL gala in New Orleans, since she doesn't have anything that really fits the occasion.
"Dad, you know how I am with dresses," Brent recalled Sam saying when they received the formal invitation.
On Twitter, Goodell suggested Gordon might one day play in the Super Bowl. Although she appreciated the sentiment, the truth is, she is a soccer player at heart.
"I want to play in the World Cup, no offense," Gordon told espnW. "Soccer is my sport."
If she did play in the Super Bowl, what a story that would be ... but it likely won't end that way. Brent, an attorney with two offices in Idaho, has done the math with his daughter, who is a shade small for her age and will likely carry those proportions into adulthood.
"There aren't a lot of college players under 160 pounds," Brent said.
But they aren't just being pragmatic; Gordon adores soccer. Of all the trips Sam has taken since becoming a YouTube phenomenon, her favorite was traveling to Phoenix to watch the U.S women's national soccer team play. Abby Wambach, who financed Sam's trip, showed Gordon how to head the ball down the field. Gordon was star-struck, and Wambach came away from the interaction just as impressed.
"Sam is the bi-product of a powerful movement in women's sports," Wambach told espnW via email. "Her family provided her the opportunity to play whatever sport she loved and her story [is] one that I hope will influence many girls to follow their dreams in all sports. I was honored to treat her to a game as she inspires me to do more and be better. All I can say is, thank you Sam Gordon for your impact on all of us."
Wambach, Alex Morgan, Amy LePeilbet and Sydney Leroux -- these are Gordon's heroes, the women whose footsteps she is more likely to follow than Marshawn Lynch or Ray Rice.
It has been a great ride for Gordon, but it will soon come to an end. She went to New York for an interview with Katie Couric in January, and the Super Bowl trip will likely be the last for now. Sam has grown tired of long plane rides, and the indoor soccer season is starting soon.
"I'm excited to get back to normal life," Sam said.
Gordon, the girl who her football teammates call "Sweet Feet," is about to morph back into a regular girl. Homework and school will take priority over weekend trips to rub shoulders with superstars.
But this is not the end of a story. Gordon has many seasons to work on heading a soccer ball and dribble off the inside of her foot like Leroux taught her in Phoenix. She has years of rec league basketball and indoor soccer, years of growing into those athletic limbs that already hold so much potential.
"I have to keep in mind myself that she's only 9," Brent said.