Hang Time: Todd Gurley's happy place

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A day at the water park with Todd Gurley (4:14)

All-Pro RB Todd Gurley talks to Sam Alipour about his new deal with the Rams and LeBron James coming to L.A. (4:14)

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's September 10 NFL Preview 2018 Issue. Subscribe today!

"Big spoon or little spoon?" I ask Todd Gurley, the Rams' All-Pro running back. "I'm big spoon, obviously," he says, leaving no room for debate. I acquiesce and take the front seat in our double tube, with Gurley's grimy aqua socks at my nose, just as we begin our rapid ride down an open-air waterslide. What's worse, Big Spoon won't stop screaming in my ears: "Yeeeaaahhh, boy! Woooh!"

Gurley turned 24 today, Aug. 3, an off-day from training camp, and he's marking his arrival on earth not with a club night, as many ballers would, but with a day at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor. The water park sits 33 miles north of L.A. -- a city that Gurley and his boys have won over after an 11-5 season and their first playoff berth since 2004, when they were St. Louis' team.

All around this park are reminders of how far Gurley's Rams have come since their disastrous 4-12 debut season in L.A. just two years ago. Kids wearing Rams jerseys, park employees with team ball caps and flip-flopped parkgoers of all ages swarm-tackle the local celebrity to offer birthday well-wishes and congratulatory high-fives for his freshly inked four-year, $60 million contract extension, the richest-ever per-year average for a back.

Gurley is digging the adulation he's receiving here and on social media when a scroll of his Instagram reveals an interesting factoid he hadn't known. "Damn, it's Tom Brady's birthday too?" Gurley says, bemused to be sharing his special day with the guy who topped him in MVP votes last season 40-8. Most of the following conversation takes place in the kiddie pool. "Best spot in the whole park," Gurley says. And when it's over, we'll take to Gurley's private cabana, where his loved ones await with his favorite food ever: "It don't get any better than ice cream cake," he says.

ESPN: You and I bonded over this when we spoke a few years ago: We love water parks.
GURLEY: Water parks are just relaxing, man. You can just have fun and get on slides without fear. It's just water -- it's not the ocean. It's clear. You know what's in it. So it's perfect for me.
I was talking to your boy Jared Goff recently, and he felt you and I would get along great because we're both "big kids." 
I think it was a compliment.
I mean, why grow up? Yeah, that's a compliment for sure. I love kids. They're fun and they speak their mind.
You're known as a low-key dude. Outsiders like me don't know a ton about you. So let's get to know each other: What would you list as your "likes," like on a dating app?
I like a tall woman. You know, like 5-foot-7 or 5-8.
I meant: What do you like to do for fun? But we can talk about what you like in a woman.
Oh, my bad. [Laughs] I love riding bikes -- I just got an electronic bicycle. It's pretty sweet. If it dies, you can still pedal. I like to play pranks. I like big-kid stuff.
What would you list as your dislikes?
Driving. Waking up early. And I hate 
dogs. I love cats, though. Cats are so cool. Actually, I'm probably gonna get some 
this year.
Sorry, you're gonna get a bunch of cats?
Two, at least, so they can, you know, conversate or whatever. I mean, how would I feel if I was a cat and someone bought me and just left me by myself 
for like 20 years?
So, you're the Crazy Cat Lady.
Yeah, I'll be Cat Dude.

You can probably afford all the cats. Congratulations on your new deal.
Thank you, man. It feels good to know all the hard work pays off. Going from being a little kid wanting to play in the NFL -- and playing it for the love of the game -- to signing the extension is one of the greatest feelings ever.
The NFL's running backs were happy to see your deal. Are you proud to have reset the market for backs?
That's what I do, man -- I set the bar. It was not only big for me, but it was a statement for the running backs, for what we do and what we deserve to get in this league, as much as we put in.
Le'Veon Bell showed support for your deal, and you supported him in his negotiations with the Steelers. Are you all in this together as undervalued running backs?
All positions. I love to see a guy get his payday. That's what I think is unique about the NFL -- it's a brotherhood. I hope Le'Veon gets something done. He probably won't get one done with the Steelers, but someone will pay him.
I was terrible in fantasy last year, so I'm picking first. Who should I take, you or Le'Veon?
Me.
Le'Veon is fighting for the deal you just got, though. He's motivated.
That ain't got nothing to do with the stats. I was No. 1 last year in fantasy. You want me for sure. If not, you can't go wrong with AB [Antonio Brown] or DeAndre Hopkins.
When we spoke after your rookie year, you weren't quite an NFL star yet. Today I've noticed you're getting recognized a ton.
Yeah, it's happening more, probably because of the dreads. But I get confused for DeAndre Hopkins a lot. And in Cancun, someone called me Roddy White. People get excited when they think you're somebody you're not, so I go along with it, like, "If this make you happy, then I'm DeAndre Hopkins."
It sure seems like you're kicking the Chargers' butts in terms of winning over 
the city.
The who?
The Chargers.
Oh yeah, I forgot. [Smiles]
You're not the only one. I live in L.A. and I know two Chargers fans here. Literally, 
two fans.
Yeah, man, they're from San Diego. 
We were the Los Angeles Rams before 
we were in St. Louis. And it's hard not 
to support us, we got a great team. But 
you can't beat being in this city, man. 
It's a great sports town, and, ya know, LeBron's coming.

You guys might've been the biggest story in town if it weren't for LeBron.
[Laughs] I mean, you don't really have a choice but to take the back seat to LeBron. But it's cool. Him coming to L.A., that's motivation to win a Super Bowl. You know the Lakers are going to be good now with LeBron, but you want to be the talk of the town as well. He's been in eight Finals in a row. You just want to get one Super Bowl.
What are your expectations for this team?
If you don't win the Super Bowl, you can have a good season and all, but it's still a failed season as a team.
How do you feel about the additions?
I feel good. We got some great guys on defense -- Sam Shields, [Ndamukong] Suh, [Aqib] Talib, [Marcus] Peters -- so I'm super excited. And we added the bow and arrow himself, Mr. Brandin Cooks -- man, he's a phenomenal worker. It's a great locker room, a great bunch of guys. Offense hangs with defense, defense hangs with offense. It's a lot of fun.
Coach Sean McVay has overseen one heck of a turnaround -- both the Rams and yours -- following your disappointing sophomore year. What has he done for you personally?
He made me into a better player. He's made me work harder and know the game a lot more with all his schemes. McVay, he uses his backs all around the field, in the passing game, the screen game, out wide. I went from having [327 receiving] yards, just not really getting the ball, to [788 receiving yards]. You just trust in him, because you know he's gonna put you in a great position to be successful.
Speaking of turnarounds, how about Goff? Dude went from 
potential bust to Pro Bowler in one season.
For him to have the year that he had last year was amazing. The guy was a No. 1 pick for a reason. You can't put it on the quarterback to change around the whole franchise. That's not how it works. But he just keeps becoming a better player, better leader. I'm just happy to play with him.
Now that you have your deal squared away, what other goals have you set for yourself?
Seeing my friends play in the Super Bowl, I get super excited, then I get super mad because I just want to know what that feeling's like. It seems like it's one of the best feelings ever. That and to put on that gold jacket one day, to be a Hall of Famer, to say you're one of the best in the game. If I was able to get those two things, that'd be a dream come true.
You were runner-up for MVP last year. You want that award too?
Yeah, I definitely wanted it, man, and I felt like I deserved it, but it went to the G.O.A.T., and I can't be mad at that. I just gotta keep working hard and do the same thing again this season, if not even better.
New contract, a birthday, Super Bowl aspirations. How good is life for Todd Gurley right now?
Life's always been good, man. God is good all the time. But to be in my position and to share it with my family, friends, teammates, there's no better feeling in the world. I just try to live life stress-free.
With the money you're making now, 
you could conceivably start your own water park.
For real? Gurley Park. We'll talk about it.
Can I get free tickets?
Once a year.
Just once a year?
Gotta make money, man. Can't be giving out free tickets. Aight, twice a year.
Twice a year sounds good.
But you gotta pay for parking.