The fourth quarter of an NFL preseason game is usually a time fans would rather forget.
Christian Wade, however, gave the diehards who stuck around at New Era Field on Thursday night something to remember.
Wade, the 28-year-old running back and former professional rugby player who was allocated to the Buffalo Bills as part of the International Player Pathway program, took the first handoff of his career 65 yards to the house.
“Big congrats to him,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “You saw how we reacted on the sidelines. We all have an affinity for this kid and what he’s been through and the challenges he’s been through that go along with learning the game of football. He got an opportunity and he made the most out of it. That was one of the coolest experiences of my football career, and I wasn’t even on the field. It was awesome to be a part of that.”
Wade’s touchdown gave the Bills their final points in a 24-16 win against the Indianapolis Colts, a game in which the score will soon be forgotten, but that particular moment will live on.
“We had to push everyone off the field so we can kick the extra point in,” Allen said. “All he’s used to is practice. When he breaks a long run in practice, he goes straight back to the huddle. After he scored the touchdown, he was just standing there. We had to tell him to get off the field.
“That just shows how little he knows about football because he’s never played it, but also how much he’s learned. He got the opportunity and took advantage of it. I think as time goes on, he’s going to be smarter and learn a lot more things. The entire team was super pumped for that.”
On the play, Wade took a handoff from Tyree Jackson and took his first couple steps left before sharply cutting right and then heading up field. He made Colts safety Derrick Kindred look silly, and was no match for Indianapolis defensive end Carroll Phillips in a footrace.
“I knew where I was going even before the ball came because they overloaded one side,” Wade said. “I was like, ‘I’m definitely going up there.’ As soon as I got the ball – woosh! – I was off to the races and I was looking up at the screens to see if any of the linebackers or if anyone was coming up behind me. I know you have the best athletes in the world here, just as fast as any running backs and wide receivers.”
Wade had nothing to worry about, leaving the Colts’ defense in his dust. He was even able to toe drag his way across the goal line from 5 yards out. It was then that he wasn’t sure what to do next.
“I had it all planned out. I was like, ‘When I get to the end zone I’m going to put the ball down, like rugby.’ I was thinking I might even dive like rugby, but I thought I could hurt myself in all these pads,” he said. “Once I got closer I just slowed down. And then I turned around because I'm so used to the conversion in rugby, I was just like running back to the halfway and getting ready to go again. I was kind of looking around and didn’t know what to do, everyone was celebrating and I was trying to celebrate, but thinking about, ‘What am I supposed to do next?’ Everyone was like ‘Come off the field!’ ... It was the best feeling in the world.”
As his teammates mobbed him on the sideline, Wade kept thinking about what he had to do next. Was he on special teams? What was the next play he had to prepare for?
“The way we were celebrating was like it was the end of the game and we just won,” he said. "I was like, ‘Yeah, let's celebrate, but at the same time, get away from me.’ Let me try and focus, because I don't want to mess up the next play or miss my opportunity to go back on the field.”
A native of Slough, England, Wade was allocated to the Bills in April after making the decision to retire from professional rugby in 2018. He played for the Wasps Rugby Football Club, and finished third on the Premiership’s all-time try scorers list, with 82 tries in 130 matches.
After deciding to try his hand at the NFL, Wade moved to Florida to train at IMG Academy with former Browns and Redskins running back Earnest Byner. In a workout for scouts in the Tampa Bay area, Wade said he was timed in the range of 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That might be underselling his speed after Thursday’s touchdown run.
Bills coach Sean McDermott was asked after the game if the Bills gave Wade a 40 time on his run, but cracked, “You’d probably have to use Big Ben for that.”
According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Wade reached 21.01 mph on his touchdown run, which was the second-fastest speed clocked by a ball carrier during Thursday night’s games. That’s equivalent to about 10.3 yards per second.
“He real fast,” running back Frank Gore said. “Real fast.”
Gore credited Bills running backs coach Kelly Skipper for preparing Wade. The team practiced that specific play this week, and Skipper pointed out to Wade in a subsequent film session when he should make his cut based on when the offensive line blocks a certain direction.
“That’s great coaching by him, and you know that (Wade) is paying attention and he’s catching onto the game,” Gore said. “A guy who never played the game – playing it at the highest level – to go out there and make a big play on his first carry, I’m happy for him.”
On his run, Wade got big blocks from Jarron Jones and Nico Siragusa on the right side of the offensive line. Afterward, he spoke about another lesson he’s learned since coming to the Bills.
“The thing I've found with football as well, it's not just one man that kind of has the show. There are a lot of like, poster boys and people who do get the credit for stuff, but it's a whole team effort,” he said. “If the O-line didn't block the way they needed to block and hold the guys where they were at, then that hole wouldn't have opened up. I'm just thankful for the guys.”
In his first football game ever. On his first NFL touch.
— NFL (@NFL) August 9, 2019
Backup quarterback Matt Barkley was sure to get the ball from the officials in order to give to Wade. "That'll be a memory for a lifetime," Barkley wrote on Instagram after the game.
McDermott, who started his postgame press conference by calling Wade’s run a “special moment,” presented the running back with the game ball in the victorious locker room. As he accepted it, Wade thanked his teammates for their patience when he made mistakes in “training,” as he calls practice.
“I can say this is definitely one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life, in terms of studying and the mental stress and the physical stress and stuff,” Wade said. “It's definitely been very challenging for me. I think moments like this kind of makes it all worth it, and it just shows if you do put the hard work in, good things do come. I'm just going to keep pushing on and see where it takes me.”
As the seventh running back on the depth chart, it remains a long shot that Wade would crack the Bills’ 53-man roster. There’s a good chance he could stick in Buffalo, though. Players who are a part of the International Pathway don’t count on a team’s practice squad – the same way the Bills are able to carry 91 players at the moment instead of the usual 90. If Wade is released and not claimed by another team, he could join the practice squad as an exempt 11th member.
“It gives me the motivation to keep going, it gives me the positive energy that I'm making strides in the right direction,” Wade said. “I know I've got loads of work to do.”
One area of the game in which Wade needs no help is handling the media. In a large scrum around his shared locker, he explained that his 10 years in professional rugby trained him to be comfortable in front of the cameras.
“I don’t feel intimidated, if that’s what you’re trying to say,” he said of the horde of reporters standing around him, before talking clearly into each tape recorder and saying, “What’s good? What’s good? What’s good?”
The answer Thursday night was Wade’s one shining moment.