After only a few moments discussing his sudden Internet fame of a week ago, as a result of a photo featuring the handsome, helmet-less running back in the heat of battle against USC, Cam McDaniel had to catch himself from admitting he would rather talk about anything else.
“That was just a fun opportunity, to get to take advantage of that moment,” the junior running back said of his Thursday appearance on “The Today Show.”
“I really wish,” McDaniel halted, wanting to finish the sentence by saying he wished the opportunity had come due to his play, and not a one-in-a-million photo. “I don’t know. It was good,” he finished.
A few minutes later, McDaniel had just finished crediting his teammates for not giving him grief over the viral fame as a “ridiculously photogenic football player” when a voice from above and behind the usual media horde began giving McDaniel just such grief.
“What exactly do you call the look and how long have you been working on it?” junior tight end Troy Niklas asked, trying in vain to maintain a straight face. “Is there another look you’re working on? Could you debut it sometime soon here? Maybe ‘Magnum?’”
As much as McDaniel might wish the attention came strictly due to his play, he also sees the value and humor in the oddball fame of the last two weeks. Some of the memes -- ironic phrases plastered over the photo of McDaniel helmet-less, nearly smirking at the USC defenders trying to tackle him -- even made McDaniel laugh, though not as much as Niklas’s public ribbing.
“I was shocked at really how fast it went viral,” McDaniel said. “Like I said, just a coincidence. I think the real thing is I would never expect to be in a position like I was put in, in some ways with this whole -- almost like some people portraying it as some type of sex symbol or something like some model-type thing. Really, that’s kind of the exact opposite of the guy that I am.”
The guy that he is reminds the adoring public he is happily engaged -- and yes, to avoid any controversies like January’s, Stephani is “definitely real” -- and talks more eagerly about leading Notre Dame in carries than he does about any Derek Zoolander references. McDaniel’s 91 carries, including 10 for 61 yards against Air Force, are 20 more than the next Irish ball carrier, and he credits the attitude with which he runs for the workload increase.
“You always have the chip on your shoulder,” he said, before citing basketball legend Michael Jordan’s mentality as an inspiration. “It’s not just that you go out and play in a game. That’s when you perform. That’s when you prove everybody wrong.”
He may even have a few more carries if he could avoid situations like the one that led to the Internet fame in the first place. The fluke photo would have been another run-of-the-mill image if McDaniel’s helmet hadn’t popped off, as it does frequently. Each time it does, he must sit out a play.
“I was asking (equipment manager) Ryan Grooms about that,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “They must have some kind of deal going where (Grooms) gets cut in on any kind of placement (McDaniel) gets on the front page.”
McDaniel denied that business arrangement, as both he and Grooms are trying new methods to keep the helmet on. McDaniel says the problem has plagued him since youth football, and his headgear has abandoned him at least four times this season.
“Maybe it’s just the style of the way I run the ball,” McDaniel said. “We’re still trying to figure that out. I’ve got double straps this week, with two buttons on the side of my helmet, so we’re trying to eliminate that issue for sure. It stayed on against Air Force.”
Some fans may not want McDaniel’s helmet to stay on, if for no other reason than to see what his next look may be. After all, at the end of “Zoolander” -- which McDaniel said he, by happenstance, watched the night before all this hoopla began -- it is a new look, the aforementioned “Magnum” that saves the day.
“A lot of things go on underneath the helmet, so I’m just really focused on that right now,” McDaniel said when Niklas prompted him for a new look. “But if it pops off, then we’ll see.”