Sam McGuffie isn’t your typical Olympian. As a kid, he didn’t exactly dream of representing the red, white, and blue in bobsled during the Winter Olympics. McGuffie, who will compete for the U.S. on the two- and four-man bobsled teams in Pyeongchang, South Korea, dreamed of a football career.
As a native of Cypress, Texas, McGuffie played high school ball for Cy-Fair, about 24 miles northwest of Houston. The four-star recruit was the nation’s No. 17 running back in the class of 2008. But what really put McGuffie on the map nationally? A viral highlight video of him hurdling over people:
“People still bring it up,” McGuffie said on a media call a few weeks before the Olympics. “That’s probably how I’ll be remembered ‘til I die.”
McGuffie added that a potential reason the video was so popular was its presence on the creator of MySpace’s bio (think a similar version of Facebook in the early 2000s, kiddos).
“Over on his profile, in his bio [was] my highlight tape,” McGuffie said. “So I think that’s how it garnered a lot of views. I try to tell people that it’s just kind of a crazy story, just thinking about how that came to be.
“Yeah, you know, I had Pete Carroll come to my high school, who was the USC head coach. I had Charlie Weis, Notre Dame, Bob Stoops. I had a lot of teams come through.”
McGuffie committed to Michigan, where he played just one season. He transferred closer to home to Rice, where he rushed for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns over three seasons.
Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images
“I think most of it was him wanting to get closer to home,” said David Baliff, McGuffie’s coach at Rice, when interviewed by SB Nation. “One of the things he told me was there were 100,000 people in the stands and he didn’t know any of them. And it had nothing to do with Coach [Rich] Rodriguez; he loved his time at Michigan. It was just too far from home for him. Sam did a great job of taking care of his family that lived in Houston. I mean, he came back for them.”
He played a bit of professional football after his collegiate career. He was in the NFL in 2013, splitting time between the Raiders, Cardinals, and Patriots. The next year he played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League.
McGuffie isn’t the first former football player to try his hand at bobsled
In 2015, he was introduced to the sport by one of his track and strength coaches, Casey Thom. He told McGuffie about Curtis Tomasevicz, who had previously played football for the Nebraska Cornhuskers before competing in bobsled.
“I mean, just based off, I guess he was looking at the athletic traits or whatever. ‘He did it, shoot, you could do it,’ so I pretty much just went from there,” McGuffie said.
Tomasevicz played linebacker for Nebraska from 1999-2003, mostly on special teams during his senior season. He took up bobsled in 2004 and participated in two Olympic Games and a handful of World Cups with Team USA. Tomasevicz took home gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics in the four-man event.
Other past football players who have picked up bobsled include Herschel Walker, former CFL receiver Johnny Quinn, and former Tulsa linebacker Todd Hays. McGuffie said a lot of aspects on the gridiron translate to bobsledding.
“You have to be physical, you have to be fast, you have to be strong,” he said. “You can’t just be mediocre at both. You have to be 99 to 100 percentile in those aspects, so it’s tough, but it translates pretty well. Running back, it’s all explosive movements, and that’s what it is in bobsled basically. You have to explode off the line, off the block, and you’re hitting a 1,000-pound sled — so you have to have power and speed to get it going.”
His senior year at Rice, he gave track a whirl.
“He was the fastest person in 15 yards I’ve ever seen in my life from zero to 15,” Bailiff said. “His senior year he decided to join the track team and try to win the decathlon, and he worked at it for two weeks, and he came in third place in the Conference USA and would have won it had he got any points in pole vaulting. I mean he’s just the most incredible athlete — hand-eye, balance, quick twitch — that I’ve ever been around … that any of us have ever been around.”
McGuffie will be the brakeman, who sits in the back of the bobsled and controls the sled’s brakes after crossing the finish line, for both the two- and four-man teams in Pyeongchang.
“It’s different than you think,” McGuffie said of going down the track. “You look at it ‘Oh, it looks smooth, it’s just going down the ice, it’s a joyride’ — it’s nothing like that. It’s totally polar opposite of that. It’s violent. It’s like being put in a garbage can and being kicked down a flight of stairs for a minute straight.”
“None of it’s surprising, in the success he has, when you know the explosion he has out of the blocks and his commitment to working and learning,” Bailiff said.
McGuffie has also played professional rugby for the Ohio Aviators, part of the PRO Rugby League. Founded in 2016, the inaugural season was the first competition to be sanctioned by USA Rugby and World Rugby. McGuffie will play in the USA Sevens, an annual rugby sevens tournament.
“I only played one year of rugby, but I scored 65 tries, (those are touchdowns) in a season,” McGuffie said. “It was a few tournaments we played in; I was named to the all-star team for rugby my first year playing.”
Playing football helped prepare him for rugby, which uses a lot of the same elements on the gridiron.
“It’s pretty natural,” McGuffie said. “It’s kind of like pitch sweep over and over again. So as a running back, it’s natural for me to know what to do after that.”
“Obviously you’re very proud he’s going to represent our great country,” said Bailiff, who might make a last-minute trip to see his former player. “Anything can go wrong when you’re doing it — you know, you see track athletes getting disqualified coming out of the blocks — so you’re just proud for him that his hard work has paid off. We love it when he comes back to Houston, and we maintain a locker for him (in the) Rice football locker room that says Sam McGuffie that has Olympic rings on it. We’re quite proud of Sam.”
Outside of medaling for the U.S. in bobsled, McGuffie just plans to soak up his Olympic experience as much as he can.
“I think that it’ll be cool to see, and just be involved, and just be there. Everything,” said McGuffie on what he’s looking forward to most. “It’s not just the performing aspect; the whole being an Olympian is something that you get to be, so I’m just going to take it all in, basically.”