Kamara for the culture He grew up with the Migos, wears nose rings and a grill in games and is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year — but who really is Alvin Kamara?

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.


NEW ORLEANS — At the kitchen table of his split-level downtown condo, a hop and skip from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Alvin Kamara scrolls through the video call log in one of his two iPhones. “I can FaceTime him right now,” he says. “He’ll probably pick up.”

It’s Christmas Eve, and four hours have passed since the New Orleans Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons, 23-13, to clinch the franchise’s first playoff appearance in four seasons. For Kamara, the Saints’ 22-year-old running back and the NFL’s runaway favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, the moment calls for some reminiscing about the journey.

Back to when he was juggling Division I offers and chasing league dreams. Back to when he was dominating on high school football fields in and around his hometown of Norcross, Georgia. After games, three of his childhood friends who aspired to be big-time rappers would show up at local clubs. “They’d come in with 100 people, perform and walk out,” Kamara remembers. “Just tryna make it.”

A music executive everyone calls “Coach K” is the man who gave the trio a chance, and to Kamara, Kevin “Coach K” Lee is his uncle. Coach K — who has managed the careers of Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, and who is credited by The New York Times as taking Southern U.S. black culture global — is about keeping family close, and keeping it winning.

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Kamara is the first and only athlete to be represented by Solid Foundation, a sports management division of Coach K’s Quality Control record label. And with a strong and close-knit support system, Kamara, a Pro Bowler and seven-time league Player of the Week, has revitalized the culture of the Saints, the city of New Orleans — and perhaps, in a tough year, of the NFL itself.

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, aka the No. 1 hit-making, Grammy Award-nominated Migos. “It’s dope to see the growth,” Kamara says. “Seeing them come up from nothing.” In 2017, the Migos emerged as the world’s most influential rap group, perhaps the best since OutKast.

“I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

“I was talking to Qua yesterday,” Kamara says before tapping on Quavo’s contact to initiate another FaceTime. “He was like, ‘Man, I’m proud of you. You just been ballin’. I remember when shit was bad and you stayed true to it.’ ”

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True indeed. In his first season in the NFL, Kamara has averaged 7.7 yards per offensive touch, more than any player in league history (minimum of 200 touches). Not since Gale Sayers in 1965 has a rookie scored five rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns in a single season — until Kamara. And Kamara’s ballsy, fake-kneel, 106-yard kick return for a touchdown in the regular-season finale is the longest play in Saints franchise history.

No other NFL player in the league is doing quite what he’s doing, and no other player looks quite like him either. In addition to wearing his hair in twists, he rocks two nose rings and a shiny gold grill in his mouth — on the field. And off of it, Kamara has plenty of gold around his neck, Louis Vuitton on his wrists and Alexander Wang on his feet. In a season polarized by protests, and missing star New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Kamara brought swag to the NFL. He might even mean as much to the culture as the Migos right now.

Nine long rings on the call to Quavo, and no answer.

“I don’t know what he doing,” Kamara says. “He might call back.”


The recruitment of Alvin Kamara resulted in offers from just about every powerhouse college football program. On national signing day in 2013, with his mother, Adama, and Coach K beside him, Kamara decided to roll with the Alabama Crimson Tide, the school that once sent him 105 letters in a single day. He made the announcement during a crowded news conference at Norcross High School.

“Of all the kids I’ve ever recruited, I probably got closer to him and his family than any kid,” says Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, the former Crimson Tide defensive coordinator who secured Kamara’s commitment. “I don’t know why. He took a liking to me, I took a liking to him. We respected each other.” The two keep in touch via text and FaceTime. Kamara ends those calls with, “Love you.”

Kamara was poised for playing time despite a loaded depth chart — future NFL backs Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake — at his position. But a knee injury requiring surgery forced him to redshirt. “Alvin got put down with the scout team,” Smart says. “I can remember Nick Saban having to kick him out of practice: Hey, if you’re not gonna run the ball with the scout team, get out of here. Alvin didn’t like the idea of that, and I think he’d be the first to admit he didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. He ended up saying, at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara called Coach K to help him pack up his dorm room, and his uncle dropped everything he was doing — the Migos were just months from releasing their breakthrough hit, “Versace” — to be there. “Don’t even look back,” said Coach K. “We good. Whatever the next move is, we’re gonna execute it. We just gonna be A1.”

But on Feb. 13, 2014, at 19 years old, Kamara was arrested in Norcross for driving with a suspended license. “I’m sitting in the back of a cop car, like, What the f— am I doing?” He had enough pocket money to bail himself out, but police made him wait hours in a cell for his mother to come get him. “That was my sign,” he says. “Things had caught up to me.”

Kamara decided to stop dodging calls from Hutchinson Community College and boarded a plane to Kansas. He says he essentially “disappeared” for a year into his version of Last Chance U. It took one super productive, conference-offensive-player-of-the-year season — 1,469 total yards of offense and 21 touchdowns in only nine games — to make him a five-star junior college prospect. Kamara returned to the SEC, this time to Tennessee. “AK is a good dude,” says Hutchinson recruiting coordinator Thaddeus Brown. “He just had to figure it all out.”

And those high school homies? They’re now known around the world by their rap names — Quavo, Offset and Takeoff.

It may have helped that somewhere along the road from Tuscaloosa to Knoxville, Kamara embraced who he is, especially with regard to his personal style. His middle school classmates had called him, as Kamara puts it, “weird as f—.” But ever since, he’d run from himself. It was time to return.

It started with a stud in his left nostril that he’d always wanted. When Kamara noticed too many others with their noses pierced, he one-upped them with a septum piercing. At Tennessee, he began wearing both, and, instead of the usual plastic mouthguard, he wore a grill during games. Kamara: “I was just like, ‘Bruh, I’m about to be me.’ It’s gonna be real hard for y’all to make me not be me.”


“He’s so unassuming,” says David Raymond, Kamara’s day-to-day manager. “If you just see him on the street, you wouldn’t be like, ‘That’s a running back.’ ”

At the 2016 NFL scouting combine, Kamara, who had declared early, topped higher-profile running backs — Dalvin Cook now of the Minnesota Vikings, Leonard Fournette of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers — in both the vertical leap (39.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 11 inches). He ran a 4.56-second 40-yard dash. Yet his history at ’Bama, coupled with his arrest, and even his choice to leave Tennessee early, made some skeptical. “You see the gold teeth,” says Raymond, “and the nose rings, but you don’t see the young man.”

Alvin Kamara runs the 40-yard dash during the 2017 NFL combine.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kamara notched a 24 on the Wonderlic. It was the highest score posted by any Division I running back prospect. And Kamara says that while he was training in Miami with former Hurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey, he “never took one m—–f—— practice Wonderlic. I don’t know if people look at me and think, ‘He just plays football.’ I can chop it up on anything you want to talk about — from football … fashion … current news … history. We can do all that. I don’t just play football. I’m Alvin. Alvin Kamara. I happen to play football.”

Kamara’s stylish singularity, he feels, caused him in many cases to be condescended to, and in other cases to be racially pigeonholed. Kamara chooses not to reveal the name of an NFL owner who talked to him through a sneer. “You like fashion,” the man said. “Your friends are rappers. You got the look. You got the nose rings. You look like you could probably do something else … like you don’t need football.”

Kamara pondered: Just because I know some people? I’ve not made one song. If I wanted to be a rapper, I would’ve been doing that a long time ago. After the interview, the team’s running backs coach approached Kamara and confirmed what the prospect already suspected: The owner didn’t believe Kamara “loved football.” And that it was unlikely Kamara would be listed on the team’s big board come draft night. The interaction begged questions: Does a person have to “need” football in order to love it and play at the highest level? And can one love football and possess a full identity outside of it?

“He didn’t handle it well. We didn’t handle it well. One thing led to another and he ended up saying at the end of the semester, ‘I’m gonna transfer.’ ”

Kamara says at least three other teams tossed up similar red flags. “If somebody feels a certain way about the way I carry myself, or the way I dress, the way I talk, I don’t know what to tell you … because I don’t hate nobody. But if you don’t like me? I’mma keep it moving.”


Kamara’s flair may have been lost on some owners and front-office executives, but not on JR Duperrier, a sports marketing manager for Adidas. He had gone to the combine to sign former Michigan star Jabrill Peppers. When he got to Indianapolis, he found Kamara.

“My first impression of Alvin,” says Duperrier, “was he’s kinda swaggy.He looked like he could dress a lil’ bit, and I could dig it.” Duperrier is quite fashion-forward himself, having been named by BET as one of the 25 most influential people in sneakers last October. “Given a platform, Alvin can excel. He’s his own person. He doesn’t follow what other people do.”

Adidas announced the signing of Kamara on Twitter, 17 minutes after the New Orleans Saints selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft with the 67th overall pick (63 spots behind Fournette, 59 behind McCaffrey, 26 behind Cook and 19 behind Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon). For Kamara, his pre-draft gathering was a blur. Just a simple chat with head coach Sean Payton and running backs coach Joel Thomas. “They weren’t pressing me,” Kamara says matter-of-factly. Something about the Saints just felt right. When he reported to the team’s training facility for the first time, he noticed it again.

Saints running back Alvin Kamara jumps over Darius Slay of the Detroit Lions.

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Maybe it was how defensive end Cam Jordan, a three-time Pro Bowler, greeted him for the first time. “This man got a nose ring! You f—ing millennials!” And the first time he met Drew Brees, the future Hall of Famer knew about Kamara’s skills, and recognized the potential. “ ‘I wanna work with you,’ ” Kamara recalls Brees saying. “ ‘Let’s grow together.’ ” Brees and Kamara have found common ground and channeled it into a rejuvenated winning culture in New Orleans.

“He always seems like he’s having fun,” says Brees, “and he definitely has a swagger to him. He fits in great with our locker room.” Throughout his first months in that locker room, Kamara won the rookie Halloween costume contest. He treated his offensive line to surprise rib meals in their lockers for helping him win FedEx Ground Player of the Week. And he sat on a throne of Airheads, a candy partnership Kamara had in his sights on since the draft. He always carries a pack of the taffy with him, offering some to anyone who crosses his path.

Most notably, Kamara has established a playing and personal relationship with the veteran of the backfield, Mark Ingram. The rookie has become what New Orleans calls the “zoom” to Ingram’s “boom” in games, after which the pair conduct hilariously informative postgame interviews together in front of their adjacent lockers. This season, they became the first running back duo in NFL history to each record 1,500 yards from scrimmage.

“This guy has so much on his plate,” says Ingram, “where he has to line up, how many different ways we wanna get him the ball. It says a lot about him as a professional. He deserves all of the success that’s coming his way.” Ingram calls Kamara not just a special player but also a special human being. “Offensive Rookie of the Year … we got it.”

Alvin Kamara (right) and Mark Ingram talk during a game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

And contrary to popular belief, which Kamara dispels any chance he gets, there’s no animosity between him and Adrian Peterson, whom the Saints traded to the Arizona Cardinals before Week 6, just as Kamara’s stock began rising exponentially. The rookie soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. “Keep playing,” Peterson told Kamara once in practice. “Keep being you.”

He took the advice to heart: 1,554 total yards from scrimmage through 16 regular-season games. He also owns the highest yards-per-carry average (6.1) for any first-year rusher in the Super Bowl era (minimum of 100 carries) and broke a 36-year-old franchise record for most touchdowns by a rookie, with 14. Simply put, Kamara got all he could ever ask for in his first NFL team. Because the Saints let Alvin be Alvin.


It’s a party in Suite 354 at the Superdome — jam-packed with Kamara’s people. “I just got here,” says Coach K, fresh off a private jet to see his nephew play. “All he had to do is play ball when he got here. Be young. Bring the swag. Do his thing.” Quality Control co-founder Pierre “Pee” Thomas is there, along with David Raymond and Duperrier. New Orleans rapper Young Greatness is rocking a custom Alvin Kamara hoodie, created by the designer/stylist Tvenchy, who’s responsible for many of the rookie’s day-to-day outfits and is in the suite vibing as well.

It’s hard to miss the boisterous Tonee, who played high school football with Kamara before becoming Atlanta singer 6lack’s official DJ. Or JAT, a friend from Tennessee who runs her own hair business. Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson even pops in. Along with his mother (who watched from home, although she hates to see her son take hits on-screen, or in person), this is Kamara’s foundation. “I kind of try to block it out when I’m playing because it’s distracting, but at the same time … my friends are here, so you wanna do good,” Kamara says later. “Not only for me, but for them.”

Alvin Kamara celebrates with fans after scoring a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

After the playoff-clinching win that Kamara finishes with a solid 21 touches for 162 yards, he and the crew partake in his season-long tradition. They make the 1.1-mile journey from the stadium exit back to his apartment — on foot. Along the way, he’s stopped every five steps by curious Saints fans, wondering, Is that really Alvin Kamara? Yes, it’s him. And he’ll take a picture with anyone who asks. “If I sign an autograph, somebody will be like, ‘Put Rookie of the Year,’ ” he says. “Do I want to be Rookie of the Year? Of course. … You can only do it once. But I can’t put it until I win it.”

“All he had to do is play ball. Be young. Bring the swag. And do his thing.”

Hours after the walk home, New Orleans is abnormally quiet, save for the few packed restaurants. A Kamara and Quavo FaceTime happens, as the Migos’ genius sits in a glowing Atlanta studio and chops it up about jewelry and such — “Show me the ice!” he says — with the NFL’s most explosive offensive weapon. After the call, not even the star rookie running back of the Saints can secure a last-minute reservation downtown on the night before Christmas.

So it’s into his black Audi S7 V8T and on to a chicken wing joint on the outskirts of the city, where he’s perhaps even more heralded as he places a food order fit for an army. It’s apparent that the stone-faced cashier sort of recognizes him, though she can’t fully put her finger on the exact identity of the nose-ringed, beanie-wearing figure before her.

“We need that Super Bowl!!!” a middle-aged man shouts.

“Off rip. I got you,” Kamara responds with a dap. “A hunnid.”

A moment of clarity overcomes the cashier, who looks at her customer with a warm smile. “Alvin Kamara?” she says. “I thought that was you.”

Dhani Jones’ linebacker skills have taken him around the world The serial entrepreneur on what he’s learned, and the great advice he got from Michael Strahan

Life is a big adventure for former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones. Even during his 11 seasons in the league, Jones, now 39, was in the process of grooming himself for the next stage in his life. As a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, Jones spent two offseasons exploring the world and participating in international sports for the filming of his Travel Channel show Dhani Tackles the Globe. At the same time, Jones went to work on BowTie Cause, an organization that creates custom-made bow ties to raise money for charitable groups. From that came Bow Tie Cafe, in Cincinnati.

“I played football. We’re entrepreneurs by nature,” said Jones. “Anybody that plays sports is an entrepreneur. Anybody who competes is entrepreneurial by nature. I came into that world by following a lot of other people. Also, by trying specific things and understanding what I like. The entrepreneurial world is not a comfortable world. I’ll tell you that much. You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

In 2011, Jones announced his retirement from football. Two years later, Jones co-founded Qey Capital, a private equity firm. “[Entrepreneurship] is an area in which I have an incredible passion, and also … African-Americans need to be able to get involved in investing,” Jones said. Soon, Jones was approached by CNBC about a new show, Adventure Capitalists, that combined his love for entrepreneurship and adventure. It premiered in 2016. Season two began on Oct. 10. The hourlong program showcases the products of four entrepreneurs who are seeking investments from Jones, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and world champion skier Jeremy Bloom.

“I’m as crazy as the rest of them,” said Jones. “I like learning about people just as much as I like learning about their product. There’s still the American dream that lives in this world. Whether it’s technology or packaged goods or whether you’re an artist, it all still can be accomplished. The most important thing is, you need partners.”

What question are you asked most by fans?

The question I get asked all the time is, ‘Why do you live in Cincinnati?’ People ask me that every single week. It’s amazing.

And what’s your answer?

My answer is, the Midwest is important. There’s a lot of things going on on the coasts, and they’ll always be extremely successful. But the Midwest is on the uptick. Think about all the people that support you — why would you run from them? People who play in Green Bay and they live in Arizona. Doesn’t make any sense. No one knows you in Arizona. … If you want to vacation in Arizona, great. But work where people know, like and trust you.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It’s from Michael Strahan. He was like, ‘Say please. Say thank you. Shake people’s hands. Look them in the eye. Be very appreciative, and it will come back around in a very valuable way.’ That’s been very true. Strahan taught me a lot when I was on the Giants.

What’s a place you’ve never been that you’re dying to visit?

Greece, like Mykonos. Places like that. I haven’t been there. All my friends go. I’ve been kind of saving that place.

What is the worst purchase you’ve ever made?

I’m trying to figure out what I bought and didn’t like. We’ll have to come back to that one.

Best purchase?

Oh, my belt. I’ve had this belt for a long time. I’ve probably owned two belts in my life, and this is the second one. I love it. I own a bunch of belts, but there’s only two belts I’ve ever worn.

If you hadn’t become a football player, what would you have been doing?

A pediatric neuroplastic surgeon.

Are there any habits you picked up in football that you still find yourself doing today?

Yeah, the most important habit I picked up in football is always sort of scanning the field, and I always scan the world. It’s helped me a lot in terms of the world of business. That’s the most important skill.

If you could go back and deliver a message to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?

Always take a beat. Be patient. Don’t be so … anxious is the wrong word, but don’t be so quick to do things. Take your time.

Chad Johnson is happy the NFL is getting back to being fun again ‘Ochocinco’ talks ‘Madden 18,’ celebration rules, cleats and why in the world Terrell Owens isn’t in the Hall of Fame

Long before Antonio Brown’s twerking and Odell Beckham Jr.’s love-hate relationship with a kicking net, there was Chad Johnson and the infectious pizzazz he delivered to the NFL. The retired wide receiver, who played 10 seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals and one for the New England Patriots, brought a creative style and swagger to the field that many who’ve come after him have attempted to replicate. But no player pushed the limits of excitement on the field quite like No. 85. “Have I ever had a reason for why I do what I do?” Johnson said in 2008, after legally changing his name to “Ochocinco.” “I’m having fun.”

Every NFL Sunday during his career, fans tuned in for the Chad Johnson show, and to be dazzled by his electric plays in hopes that he’d reach the end zone. Because when he did, Johnson always had something up his sleeve for the touchdown celebration — from river dancing, to putting the football with an end zone pylon, to breaking out a sombrero on the sidelines after a score.

Six years after playing his final down of football in the NFL, Ochocinco’s personality and flair remain relevant. He gave NFL commissioner Roger Goodell advice for the league’s new touchdown rule, continues to advocate for his former teammate Terrell Owens’ induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and is even featured on the “Longshot” story mode of the newly released Madden 18. Before the video game dropped on Aug. 25, The Undefeated caught up with Johnson, who discussed his go-to team to play with on Madden, his love of soccer, the NFL’s new rules on celebrations and cleats, and why Owens will always be the Batman to his Robin.

How’s it feel to be in Madden 18’s new Longshot story mode?

It’s dope. Like, really dope. The fact that I have the opportunity to still be a part of the game of Madden, such an entity of that magnitude, something I always grew up playing and watching. After being a part of it as a player for years, I’m out the game now, but still able to be a part of it. Dog, that’s f—ing phenomenal.

Do you remember the first Madden you ever played?

I forgot what year it was, but I believe it was on Sega. And John Madden was on the cover. It was a longgggg time ago.

Do you remember the first time you were featured on the game as a player? What was that like?

In 2001. I remember it as a rookie. It was really dope to be able to see yourself. I was never able to envision myself on the video game, but the first time you were able to play, via yourself, it was cool. But you know what’s crazy? I never used myself anyway; I always used the Dolphins, because I’m from Miami. So anytime I play a sports game, I always use the Florida teams.

Besides yourself, which NFL player was the best video gamer that you ever experienced?

You know what? They all say they’re good, but I’ve beaten them all. From the NBA players to the NFL players to a few soccer players that play FIFA. They can all play because they all are very competitive, but none of them actually have the time to sit down and hone the skill set that I actually have being that I’m retired.

What’s the craziest lie you’ve ever told?

I didn’t sleep with her.

“I mean, c’mon. That goes without saying. Terrell Owens should be in the Hall of Fame. I just have no time for the damn politics.”

Who’s your favorite superhero and why?

I don’t have a favorite superhero. I didn’t read comics … not even as a kid.

When you and Terrell Owens were in Cincinnati, people called you two Batman and Robin. Who was really Batman, and who was Robin?

He was Batman. It was out of respect. We’re talking about T.O., man! He was one of the best, if not the best to f—ing suit it up. So I had no problem taking a back seat to one of my favorite receivers growing up.

Should T.O. be in the Hall of Fame?

I mean, c’mon. That goes without saying. T.O. should be in the Hall of Fame. I just have no time for the damn politics.

Where do you get your swag from?

Probably my upbringing. Just being from Liberty City, Miami.

Who’s the best soccer player in the world right now?

Cristiano Ronaldo. Period. It goes without saying. He just is.

Not Lionel Messi?

Who?

You don’t like Messi?

Who?

What about Neymar?

Oooh, Neymar is nice.

Have you ever been starstruck?

No … but I am waiting to meet Johnny Depp and Daniel Day-Lewis, then I’ll be starstruck. Deada–. Those are the only two people that I really admire as actors, their range as actors. Being able to get lost in character and what they’re able to do on the big screen is phenomenal. I’ve met Denzel Washington. … I’ve met everybody. But those are the two that I have yet to meet.

What was your first major purchase after you got drafted in 2001?

Uhhh, p—y. … It was probably my first car: Lexus IS300.

What would be your go-to karaoke song?

‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd … Oh, yeah. Oh, f— yeah.

What’s your spirit animal, and why?

The orca. You should know that. They’re the smartest mammal in the sea, s—, let alone Earth. They’re just brilliant at everything they do. The way they hunt. The way they communicate. They’re the largest dolphin in the sea, which a lot of people don’t know — they are dolphins. They’re just fabolous.

Who in the NFL right now could beat you in your prime in a footrace?

Probably some of those dudes who run 4.2s right now. John Ross … it’s a few of them. It’s a few that are what we called ‘crackhead fast’ growing up.

The league has relaxed its rules on touchdown celebrations. How do you feel about that?

It’s dope, and now that they’ve loosened up, I want them to pay attention to the ratings — the people who are watching — now that they’ve allowed football to be fun. They’ve allowed players to express themselves through celebrations. As long as it’s not disrespectful to their opponents, and nothing malicious.

Out of all the celebrations from your career, which one was your favorite?

Probably the proposal. That one was dope.

The league has also loosened up on its rules on custom cleats. How do you feel about that?

That’s dope as well. Some of the players that are endorsed by certain products, that’s gonna be huge. They can make a pretty penny, with companies being able to get their products out — seeing them through certain players and individuals. Players can make beaucoup bucks, and these companies can profit extremely well.

When you look back at your career, do you think you were ahead of your time in terms of the flashiness, swag and celebrations you brought to the field?

You know what, with some of the rules that the NFL is loosening up on, and some of the things that are happening, we’re in 2017 now, and I was doing this almost 20 years ago. I might have been ahead of my time.

Is Madden 18 the best of all time?

Probably so. Because each year, you already know they improve on something and add something different so it’s better than the last. And technology being as advanced as it is, it can only go up from here.

Besides the Dolphins, which team are you playing with on Madden 18?

Just the Dolphins. I never switch up.