July 21, 2009

Bruce Jenkins reflected on the David Beckham business and said in the SF Chronicle, reflecting on the David Beckham affair and the sorry state of U.S. soccer, he wrote: “Everywhere else, the absolute best athletes in their respective countries are playing soccer. Here, it’s like you’re picking from sixth or seventh on the depth chart of athletes. The best ones are playing football, basketball, baseball (hell, maybe even lacrosse) and then maybe soccer.
“Can you imagine Kobe Bryant as a Michael Ballack- or Pirlo-type midfielder, controlling a game and making passes to LeBron James on the front line? Forget Luca Toni or Ruud Van Nistelrooy; neither of those guys could come close to the athleticism of LeBron. Or how about guys like Adrian Peterson or Randy Moss rushing down the wing? Or a guy with hands as strong as Larry Fitzgerald in goal?”
Better yet, I wondered: How about LeBron in goal?
I seriously wonder if anyone would ever score beyond point-blank range. LeBron is 6-9 with cat-like quickness, an absurd wingspan and fabulous hands. Not to diminish the feats of legendary goalkeepers from Italy (Dino Zoff, Gianluigi Buffon), Denmark (Peter Schmeichel), Germany (Sepp Maier, Oliver Kahn), Spain (Andoni Zubizarreta), Russia (Lev Yashin) or England (Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton). They’re all part of the game’s treasured lore. But imagine the altered course of history if the greatest athletes of the NBA and NFL played soccer. How about Wilt Chamberlain in goal and Jim Brown the primary striker?
Drifting back to reality, there’s no need to get too worked up about it. The best U.S. athletes will never play soccer. After a while, at least in this country, it reaches a point where if you’re going to play sports, you must use your hands.
Tom Robinson of HamptonRoads.com talked about what NFL-Commissioner “Jolly Roger” Goodell should do about the Vick business: “Football fans, media commentators, animal lovers, even Michael Vick himself – especially Michael Vick himself – have had plenty of time to think, weigh and decide:
Should Vick, whose 23-month sentence for running his dog-fighting ring ends Monday, get to make a living again as an NFL player? If so, will coordinated
public protests seek to deny Vick the chance or harass the team that hires him?
As he goes about the rest of his life, should Vick’s degree of expressed remorse for his crime define his path, in and out of sports, or influence our opinion of
These issues have finally come to roost at the desk of Roger Goodell. The NFL’s commissioner has spent two years insisting he’s not even begun to consider his role in Vick’s immediate future, i.e. whether to formally suspend the former Virginia Tech star from the league.
It’s silly, of course, to believe Goodell has mentally tabled the entire thing all along. But what the commissioner routinely has said is that he would deal with everything upon Vick’s return to freedom.
Also, that he needed to get a true sense Vick’s contrition, through words and actions, before he would announce his judgment and bang his gavel.
Goodell has unilateral power because of the relationship between the league office and the player’s union, and he’s proven ready to dole punishment for poor or illegal behavior. Pacman Jones and Donte’ Stallworth know it. Plaxico Burress might soon as well; he’s also on Goodell’s docket for his inadvertent gun play last November in Manhattan.
When Goodell at last sits and spreads Vick’s facts before him, the fair call would be to let Vick pick up his NFL career without delay if a team is brave enough to offer him a contract.
Recent whisperings reported at yahoo.com say Goodell is actually leaning the other way and could banish Vick this whole season in order to get a fuller view of whatever “new” Vick emerges from his disgraceful past.
That makes sense; Vick has had a long while to rehearse what he’ll say and do, in at least the short term, to persuade Goodell. From here, though, it’s hard to see what a suspension will teach Vick that nearly two years in custody, concurrent bankruptcy proceedings and a lifetime of humiliation haven’t already taught
And don’t doubt that somebody will give him a chance – at a minimum salary – to show whether he’s still a ridiculously talented athlete or whether inactivity has rusted his running and throwing gifts.
It’s a long shot Vick, 29, would return as a quarterback; accuracy, decision-making and leadership weren’t his strong suits even when he was the game’s
highest-paid player with the Atlanta Falcons.
But the NFL’s infatuation with the “Wildcat” offense, in which direct snaps go to running backs instead of quarterbacks, has opened a wide window of possibilityfor Vick that could be his impeccably timed salvation.
Vick will almost certainly be asked to join the fledgling United Football League that starts in October, and whose commissioner Michael Huyghue has made no secret of coveting Vick for the attention it would generate.
Yet, you know there are NFL personnel people who privately shiver at the thought of Vick once again on the run in their uniform. And the more I see, the less I believe NFL publicity or community-relations people will have a tempest of local outrage on their hands.
Initially, it was assumed Vick would meet a daunting backlash if and when he tried to return to football. Anecdotally, however, Vick’s recent appearances at bankruptcy hearings and his well-chronicled entry into house arrest in Newport News last May drew little or no animal-rights static.
True, going to work for an internationally visible NFL franchise is worlds apart from slipping in to see a probation officer. But Vick and the Humane Society of the United States have discussed some sort of public-awareness partnership. And it’s somehow harder now to believe hectoring Vick or his new team will be a long-term priority with enough people to alter everyone’s course.
Either way, Goodell is on the clock. Time to say whether the Vick drama can start to unfold, or whether it remains a discussion for yet another day.
Tom’s fellow Hampton-Roadie, Bob Molinaro wrote about some local-area pride by saying: “It’s been brought to my attention that a national magazine rates Hampton Roads one of the country’s “least sports-obsessed” regions. The July/August issue of Men’s Health doesn’t even recognize the term “Hampton Roads.” It lists “Norfolk, VA,” as 90th on the list of America’s top 100 sports towns. Nationally, our region continues to be identified by a single city – not the most populous one, either. Tough luck, Virginia Beach.
At any rate, if you’re keeping score at home, Norfolk (i.e., Hampton Roads) finished only two places behind New York City, while Richmond came in 92nd. If New York isn’t sports-obsessed, what is? But the magazine gives each city a D-minus.
For what it’s worth, the designated No. 1 most sports-obsessed town is Arlington, Texas. The rest of the top 10 includes Aurora, Colo., and Colorado Springs, Colo.; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Fla.; Fort Worth and Dallas; Charlotte, N.C.; and Anchorage, Alaska.
ANCHORAGE? (You bet-cha) Sounds weird, but maybe the moose go around dressed in Vancouver Canucks jerseys.
Still, is TV viewership for NFL games as high in Alaska as it is in Hampton Roads? What are you going to believe, a survey from Men’s Health that rates us as relatively un-obsessed about sports, or Nielsen ratings that reflect our area’s fanatical interest in the NFL?
On any given Sunday (or Monday night), the percentage of Hampton Roads TVs tuned to football – even when the Redskins aren’t playing – has been known to rank in the top five nationally.
Not that it’s any great surprise our community gets a grade of D-minus.
But if New York and L.A. can shake off this blow to their self esteem, so can we.


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