South Jordan • With her arms wrapped around her father’s neck as they watch football highlights, Samantha Gordon looks like any other 10-year-old girl.
Except she’s the player who’s running for touchdowns, making tackles and captivating millions of viewers — including the NFL commissioner, a U.S. women’s national soccer team star and network television producers.
All of those rushing yards for Herriman’s team in the Gremlins division of the Ute Conference are impressive. Yet the real story is not necessarily what Sam Gordon has done, but what has happened to her.
Seven months after he posted the video of his daughter’s performance and launched a worldwide phenomenon, most recently taking her to a Q&A session with Nike employees at company headquarters in Oregon, Brent Gordon can say only, “Who knows where it will end?”
The fascination is understandable. Mix in America’s obsession with football, the novelty of a girl thriving in a traditional boys’ sport, and her engaging personality, and the result is a trending topic with staying power.
“It’s fitting these unique niches in people’s interest,” said Rich Gordin, a Utah State University sports sociologist. “People want to identify with cool, successful people … people who have potential.”
That explains the Wheaties box, the practices with the U.S. soccer team and the San Francisco 49ers, the TV appearances and the forthcoming book — “Sweet Feet: Samantha Gordon’s Winning Season” — to be released in October. Sam may have retired from the game by then, in the interest of focusing on soccer.
There’s realistically not much future for a 4-foot-4, 64-pound running back, even if she was only 9 when she ran for 1,900 yards and 35 touchdowns and merited a “SportsCenter” scouting report. Almost straight-faced, Mel Kiper said, “Sam Gordon’s on the radar of every college football coach looking for a running back.”
Eventually, college soccer coaches will notice her. That’s the goal, anyway. Chatting during his daughter’s soccer game, Brent Gordon smiled and said, “At a minimum, she’s got a nice topic for her college application letters.”
But where to begin? With the story of watching the Super Bowl in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s suite? Of crisply delivering her scripted lines with Alec Baldwin during an NFL awards show? Of enjoying Sam Gordon Day in South Jordan, two months before her 10th birthday?
Maybe the theme will be how all the scheduling demands and attention somehow failed to spoil her. “It’s surprising how she’s not getting caught up in everything,” said Cory Blackburn, a neighbor who has observed her as a friend of his daughter, Emma. “I can’t honestly see one thing that’s changed.”
It helps that Sam’s 13-year-old brother, Max, makes it his mission to keep her grounded. Her blended family also includes Annie, 8, and Ben, 7. Sam’s appearance on the Cartoon Network’s Hall of Game awards show caused mild jealousy. Otherwise, her siblings seem to view her fame the same, healthy way she does.
She’s just the one with all those personalized No. 6 jerseys hanging in her bedroom, next to the framed dress that Oscar de la Renta provided for the NFL show, with stuffed animals stacked in their own corner. On a recent afternoon in Bluffdale, she was noticeably shorter than the other players on the field during her United Soccer Alliance team’s game.
She compensated with hustle, speed, skill and toughness — with her proudest moment coming when she absorbed a ball kicked into her chest from close range. “I earned their respect,” she said, walking toward the car, eating a package of Sugar Babies.
Her favorite story about being honored involves her football coach, Chris Staib, who began practices by telling the players, “This is your day.” After experiencing Sam Gordon Day, she wanted to tell him, “This is my day. No, really, it’s my day.”
When the invitations and interview requests piled up, Brent Gordon once thought, “Maybe we just need to shut this down.” Yet Sam never became overwhelmed, other than tiring of the cross-country travel at one point. The biggest crush came in November, during an extended break from her all-year calendar at Daybreak Elementary.
So her father has accommodated most inquiries, from Katie Couric to college students writing sociology papers. Gordon promotes his own personal-injury law practice with a “Beat Goliath” theme, but he’s not aggressively marketing his little girl’s exploits — other than initially posting those highlights on a BYU fan site.
The rap songs with explicit lyrics that accompanied one version of the video came from a copycat posting. That’s apparently among the few negative side effects of this entire saga.
For now, anyway, the story is how Sam Gordon remains unaffected. Those sweet feet are still on the ground.
Highlights of Sam’s media opportunities
“Good Morning America”
ESPN “SportsCenter” and “Monday Night Countdown”
NFL Network’s “NFL GameDay Morning”
Fox’s “NFL Sunday”
CBS’ NFL Honors show
Cartoon Network Hall of Game awards show
Selected sports-related invitations
BYU vs. Idaho football
U.S. women’s national soccer team vs. Ireland
Monday Night Football, San Francisco vs. Chicago
New York Giants vs. New Orleans
Super Bowl XLVIII