A prototype for the pro athlete

January 08, 2002 9:01 AM
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How sweet it is!

I’ve been battling the bug far too long, but Marker Down readers never missed a beat. A powerful entry ”” 1 and 1A (Ray Poirier and David Stratton) came to my rescue. They turned on the words and the bells rang. I am most grateful for their assist; truly they are strong wordsmiths. ”” CD

Sports heroes are scarce these days. Professional athletes who make millions of dollars and can barely read their stock portfolio without moving their lips aren’t candidates for my autograph book.

But I must confess I’ve found a sports hero in Tom Brady, the quarterback for the playoff-bound New England Patriots.

Brady has a rare quality that every other professional athlete should try to emulate. It’s called humility.

Brady is not the best quarterback in the NFL. Kordell Stewart can fun faster. Daunte Culpepper can throw the ball farther, and Brett Favre can better execute the two-minute offense.

Furthermore, Jake Plummer celebrates touchdown passes with more flair, and Quincy Carter has a more impressive array of gold chains around his neck.

But no other quarterback in the league is more genuine than Tom Brady. From his Buster Brown-style hair do to the Kirk Douglas-like dimple in his chin, Brady is cut from the Midwest mold of the all-star athlete. After he led the Patriots to victory on Sunday, Brady made a few comments of thanks and gratitude to the media ”” then slipped out the back door of the locker room.

I suppose the media geeks were upset by his quiet though abrupt departure. But I think it’s refreshing. Next to politicians, TV sportscasters and network news anchors, the people who babble the most public nonsense are professional athletes.

But it hasn’t always been that way. Before television turned sports into a national circus, athletes used to say quaint, harmless little things.

For instance, the old-time prizefighter would wipe the blood from his nose and tell a radio audience: “I wanna thank everybody down at the gym, especially my manager, Leroy, and my trainer, Ernie the Weasel, who pieced me back together with Scotch tape and Crazy Glue.”

Or the baseball player who wore a baggy uniform and would say: “I wanna thank Father O’Reilly at the orphanage who taught me how to throw a 95-mph spitball, and all my fellow inmates, who are a great bunch of guys. I hope they all get out on parole real soon.”

But you don’t see these fellows anymore. Nowadays, public statements by athletes fall into two or three categories, all of which evoke a response best described as nausea.

Money

“Abdullah, you seem to be distracted as you threw your third interception of the game, the one that cost you a place in the playoffs.”

“Of course I was distracted, we’re in the process of renegotiating my contract and my agent says I need a long-term deal, one that extends beyond my 28th birthday and offers incentives for quarterback rating, touchdown passes and minor head injuries.

“You know, a man has to think about his future, especially when the mutual fund market is slumping and high-yield bonds seem to offer the best long-term equity protection. What was the question?”

The Media

When things don’t go their way, athletes take it out on the news media.

“I’m not speaking to you guys anymore, though I would grant a one-one-one with Jill Arrington. But you guys always get the facts wrong. There was a story that said I was pulled over while driving 90 miles an hour, then arrested for having a controlled substance sewed into the lining of my suede jacket. Now, I was only going 85 and there was an underage juvenile in the car that can substantiate that fact. Also, the jacket wasn’t suede, it’s calfskin. Anyone should know the difference. And why didn’t you mention that I was only fined $100,000 by the league, and that the judge let me off with 90 says of community service and three years probation. You guys are always looking for the worst in things.”

Religion

Oddly enough, there is a growing number of athletes who believe that God is exclusively in their corner.

“When I took the handoff and hit the hole, I knew that God was blocking for me. In fact, I could almost see him take the linebacker out with crack-back block, and leg-whip the center out of the way. And when I finally crossed the goal line, I could see God (presumably in a striped shirt) signaling touchdown.

“God has blessed me with the physical talent to run the 40 in 4.4 seconds, and a vertical leap of about 4 feet. It would be a sin to waste these diving gifts. I thank Him, and my corporate sponsor every day.”

Listening to these Cretins, you get a picture of God as not only a compulsive sports nut flipping the TV channels to keep track of every game, but something much worse: He’s not content to watch the games unfold, He decides which side will win or lose, or who will look foolish.

In other words, these athletes apparently believe God is a points shaver. Maybe they envision Him wearing a green visor and a gold pinkie ring. If the city’s bookies every start believing it too, they’ll have to add a bleacher section to the churches in Las Vegas.