By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Entering this past weekend, Kevin Barnes was best known as a slender fifth-year senior who had a penchant for missing tackles last season in Maryland's defensive backfield. When the weekend ended, Barnes was known in select circles only as the player who delivered a hit so hard it made someone throw up.
How that happened is a testament to the power of the Internet, where Barnes's image will long live because of five seconds of football that resulted in considerable, if not typical, notoriety. When he crashed his shoulder into the chest of California running back Jahvid Best in the second quarter of Maryland's 35-27 victory, Barnes had no idea he soon would be entering cyberspace lore. Nor did he realize the magnitude of the hit when he saw Best crawling on knees and hands and vomiting on the field.
Only when the game had ended, and Barnes reached the locker room, did he understand that sometimes a hit is not just a hit. Before the game's end, a video clip of the play was available on YouTube. As of yesterday afternoon, six versions of the hit garnered a total of more than 50,000 views, which surpassed the number of spectators (49,527) who watched the play live at Byrd Stadium on Saturday. The video also was linked to several sports blogs and even to a some non-sports social networking sites.
"I have been kind of under the radar" in my career, Barnes said. "It is kind of cool. It's all over the place."
Best missed the final three minutes of the first half after the hit, but returned after halftime and played the rest of the game.
After the game, Best said it was probably the hardest he has ever been hit in his life and that he had trouble breathing the rest of the game. Asked if he felt bad for Best, Barnes said: "He's not permanently hurt, so I'm fine with that. Had he died or something, I'd have felt bad, but he'll probably be playing next week."
Barnes celebrated his 22nd birthday Monday, but recent well-wishers have wanted to discuss only one thing, and it's not his age. When Barnes visited a local restaurant this weekend, at least 40 customers approached asking him about the hit. Some with iPhones replayed the hit so everyone could watch together.
Barnes said he has received 200 text messages and e-mails since Saturday afternoon, not to mention scores of messages on Facebook, the social networking site. Everyone chimed in, from former Maryland players (Josh Wilson) to former high school buddies he has not thought about in five years. Yesterday morning, Barnes found that 15 more people had e-mailed him a link to the video.
Earning sudden acclaim through YouTube is nothing new. YouTube launched the profiles of once anonymous folks such as Matt Harding, the world-traveling dancer, and Obama Girl. In the football world, everything from Reggie Bush's jaw-dropping high school highlights to occasional mascot fights has drawn heavy Internet traffic.
Barnes knows his popularity also is a reflection of the diverse, and sometimes perverse, interests of sports and non-sports fans. Barnes said the widespread interest is in the vomit, not the tackle. Dewey Hammond, an Emeryville, Calif., resident who linked the video to his blog, Yardbarker, said: "No one is interested in the actual hit. Puking up something that looks radioactive doesn't happen every weekend, unless maybe you are a sophomore in college. Vicious hits are old hat."
To that end, Derek Wizzle, a 25-year-old from the Bay Area in California who posted the video on his blog D Wizzle's World, said the video is the most popular one on his blog. Wizzle said some fans think it was "cool how Barnes hit Best so hard that he puked, while others find the video nasty but fascinating. Other people just wanted to know what Best ate before the game when they saw that green liquid coming out of his mouth!"
The fascination continued yesterday, when Barnes answered few questions about Maryland's next opponent, Eastern Michigan, and a bunch about the collision. One reporter asked Barnes if he got vomit on his shoes. Another asked if fans bought him meals the past few days, which prompted Barnes to respond: "No. That's illegal."
Within the Gossett Team House, all it took was a vague reference to "the hit" to elicit reaction. Asked about the video, one school official simply said, "Thing of beauty." Wide receiver Danny Oquendo said every player had seen the video at least three times before Monday's practice.
At Maryland, teammates and coaches cherished the hit because it symbolized the physicality that Coach Ralph Friedgen had implored players to display. In a sense, it was a blunt message sent to California's most explosive player.
"It showed that we were not just playing," defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre said. "We were playing to hit."
Barnes explained how the play unfolded, saying that Cal quarterback Kevin Riley recognized Maryland was in man-to-man coverage with no safeties in the middle of the field. So Barnes disguised his stance, moving back and forth to bait the quarterback, and Barnes anticipated the quick screen pass to Best at the snap.
After looking for the interception first, Barnes leveled Best with his left shoulder. Barnes said the hit did not make a sound. All he heard was the crowd. Barnes saw Best on the ground and Barnes "strutted off a little bit."
"That was one of Kevin's better hits," Friedgen said. "I saw [Best] kind of feeling his chest after that. It affected him. The hit was an important play."
Oquendo said he watched the video after the game and has replayed it twice a day since. Does it get better each time?
Oquendo paused, before saying, "It gets a little sicker every time."