For the next few weeks, a lot of people will be using the term "football" not to refer to the sport we celebrate here, but to that one sports (which I also like) where no pads are required, and no one can use their hands.
I'm psyched about it. The NFL is a dead zone right now, so let's embrace Football Lite. They go entire halves without commercials. How can you not love that?
To help make the mental transition, I thought it would be fun to think about which NFL players I'd like to see give it a try on the soccer pitch. Meaningless, yes, but perhaps an entertaining way to kill some offseason time.
Here's my line-up:
Before we start breaking it down, player-by-player, let's go over a few things.
Criteria guidelines: There are none, and roster decisions are made on my own whim, really, though I should acknowledge a few things. First, real life height, weight and speed issues were taken into consideration. For example, I'd have loved to start the Williams Wall, Vince Wilford and Casey Hampton(notes) along the back line, but, awesome, entertaining and bloody as that might have been, it's just not realistic.
Secondly, yes, I am aware that none of these individuals could step onto a pitch and play soccer at anywhere near a World Cup level right now. I'm not suggesting that. I do believe, though, that the best athletes in America don't play soccer, and for our purposes here, we're assuming we can go back in time, and make these guys take up soccer as children, in lieu of American football.
And yes, I'm calling it soccer. Sorry. It's not meant as disrespect of any kind, it just happens to be the word that refers to the sport where you kick the ball, in this particular geographic location. That's the way it goes.
The Starting Eleven:
GK: DeMarcus Ware(notes), Dallas Cowboys. DeMarcus is 6-5, has long arms, and he's an end rusher, so he's comfortable playing low to the ground or getting up high to knock a pass. He's also pure beast. Yes, he'll be the biggest and scariest goalie in the world, but I see that as a plus. An opponent who gets too close to goal on an attempted header off a corner could just end up in the hospital. I'm fine with this. We need some physicality on the American team.
LB: Kassim Osgood(notes), Jacksonville Jaguars. I love the special teamer's mentality, and I want it on the field. Osgood's the best in the business. He fears nothing, and he'll sacrifice anything for the team. An immediate fan-favorite.
CB: Brian Dawkins(notes), Denver Broncos. Every defensive unit needs a cerebral anchor keeping things organized at the back, and Dawkins is my guy. He's not the fleetest of foot anymore, but unlike the Eagles, I think he's still got quite a bit of value to a unit seeking cohesiveness. As far as the slowness of foot, I think we've got him covered with the rest of our back line. Speaking of which ...
CB: Troy Polamalu(notes), Pittsburgh Steelers. Polamalu is Carles Puyol, but with insane speed and quickness. He also looks less like the Ultimate Warrior. I've never seen anyone close a gap as quick as Polamalu can. You think you're getting that shot off, Frank Lampard? No, I'm sorry, but by the time you've drawn your foot back, Troy Polamalu's rammed his boot into your narrow British bum. Polamalu has the instincts, intelligence, ferocity ... he's the complete package. He's the first guy I thought of for this team.
RB: Hines Ward(notes), Pittsburgh Steelers. Purely for agitation purposes. Hines can't get through a match without six or seven guys wanting to punch him in the face, and if they do, he'll get up smiling, and then six or seven more guys will want to punch him. It's just how Hines does things. And I know he won't mind playing defense. In fact, I think it's probably always been a dream of his. You love him if he's on your side, and hate him if he's not. America deserves the chance to love him.
CDM: Darrelle Revis(notes), New York Jets. Oh, you think you're going to run free like a meth-head through a trailer park, Wayne Rooney? You think you're going to have your filthy way with the porous U.S. defense? Well how about we instruct Darrelle Revis to blanket you one-on-one, and then you disappear for 90 minutes? How's that sound? Oh, and nice beard. You look like a 9-year-old who found a ball of hair on a barbershop floor and some Elmer's glue.
LW: Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers. I favored wide receivers for the wing positions, as I like their speed in covering the pitch from one end to the other. Steve Smith, Carolina version, got the nod because I've always admired his tenacity, fearlessness, and willingness to, um, get physical. I want opponents to hate playing against this team.
RW: Randy Moss(notes), New England Patriots. Moss is one of those guys I can't envision not being good at any sport. He's just such an incredible natural athlete, and he makes things look so easy. I can see his effortless stride outpacing damn near anyone up and down the right side of the pitch. And goal celebrations? I demand disgusting acts.
CAM: Philip Rivers(notes), San Diego Chargers. It seems like a good idea to have a quarterback in this position where creating plays is a necessity. Rivers is a smart quarterback; he'll find the right place for the ball. Also, doesn't Rivers seem like he'd be great at diving? He'll just yap someone's ear off for 60 minutes, the guy will gently shove him away, and Rivers will have to be carried off on a stretcher. The other guy gets red-carded, and boom, Ill Phil is back on the field. Remarkable recovery. What incredible heart displayed by this courageous young man.
ST: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans. Chris Johnson is going to get behind your defense. I don't care who you have back there. Chris Johnson is much, much faster than they are. And the things he can do with his feet? My goodness. Apply those to soccer, and it could be absolutely magical.
ST: Ramses Barden(notes), New York Giants. Perhaps an untraditional selection, but I'm expecting some sweet crosses from Randy Moss, and I want a tall guy up front to head those home. Enter the 6-7 Barden. He's got that kind of height, and has been training all his life to go up after defenders and get to the ball. I like his chances to head a few into the back of the net.
And now, the reserves:
D: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings. You may quibble with an offensive player on defense, but I think it's a good fit. He's got a wide, sturdy body, and he delivers the punishment. I also like speed on the back line, and no one's getting a breakaway with A.D. back there.
Mid: Tom Brady(notes), New England Patriots. Like Rivers, the obligatory quarterback is thrown in here as a playmaker, with his field vision and picking out the right pass being his most valuable attributes. Also, if soccer adopts a "Brady Rule" anything like football's, he'll be racking up free kicks at an incredible pace.
Mid: Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes), Oakland Raiders. Perhaps in this sport, his speed will do him some good. While we're here, though, I should note that Heyward-Bey is currently getting rave reviews in practice. Perhaps there's hope there after all.
Mid: Chad Ochocinco(notes). The Ocho's going to be upset I don't have him in a starting role, as he claims that he's good enough right now to play professionally in Spain. Perhaps he is, and this is a mistake on my part. If that happens, and during the NFL lockout, Chad really does play pro soccer ... what can I tell you? I'll be happy to apologize.
ST: Vince Young(notes), Tennessee Titans. I see Vince thriving more in a role that's more creative and less structured than NFL quarterback. I think he's a right-brain, imaginative type. I see him making plays up front.
ST: Andre Johnson(notes), Houston Texans. The same could probably be said for a lot of guys (Calvin Johnson(notes) comes to mind), but Johnson's overall athleticism alone warrants a spot on the roster. He's got to be here, in some capacity.
ST: Michael Vick(notes), Philadelphia Eagles. He's not what he used to be, but he's one of the best pure athletes I've ever seen do anything. Assuming he chose soccer as a wee lad, I'd also assume his life would've taken a drastically different path, and he may not have staged regular puppy bloodbaths in his backyard. Thus, he wouldn't have done time, and may still be the sick athlete he once was, and perhaps still is.
- Troy Polamalu