Published July 25, 2001 – Cameron Citizen-Observer
THIS JUST IN: I had forgotten how much fun football practice could be. As long as you’re not the one running the drills, wearing over-sized pads in humidity. Summer camps and two-a-days are great for a laugh, if you find looks of exhaustion funny.
In four years of football, I never went through two-a-days. Freshman weren’t required to run in the August heat, so I spent those two weeks doing what I do best: waking up around midday and goofing around the rest of the time.
When the season started, I was 5-foot-3 and over 170 pounds. I looked more like a half-keg than a halfback and I can understand why the coaching staff put me on the line. All through Pee-Wee football, I played center and nose guard.
But that was against kids our age and our size. My high school was in Group 4, 4A around here. Our league was full of small cities and Catholic schools that recruited blue-chip talent from around the Tri-state area. I realized very fast that I was too small for the line and asked to be moved to inside linebacker. I’ve always had a quick first step and for three glorious days, I proved just that with the other linebackers. But after three days, they moved me back to the line. At the end of that season, I quit playing football.
Well, let me rephrase that. I quit playing football with pads and helmets. I’m still the best tight end I’ve ever seen run the square out to the first down marker. I know the Run-n-Shoot and can run the two-minute drill like John Elway in a playoff game. So if anyone is looking for another body for a pickup game, don’t hesitate to call…
Some of your children are average. Some of everybody’s children are average. It’s the law of averages. But just because they’re average doesn’t mean they should be told so. I believe one of the main goals of youth sports is to build confidence. If I were to blast young players in print, I would be destroying confidence. The averageness of others should not be spotlighted in one’s youth.
There’s ample time when one is highly paid for averageness and in the public spotlight. That last part is important because you’ll never see an average teacher on Sportscenter, but the brief on Clarence Weatherspoon getting $27 million over five years is.
As the NBA Summer League plays out on ESPN, ask yourself this: How many of these guys could start at Duke University? During a Wizards-Celtics game, I counted three. Joe Forte, Kwame Brown and Kalid El-Amin. Yes, that was just a passing glance, but there wasn’t much better on the bench.
The averageness of the NBA is on full view because there are only 12 men on a roster. In football, the average pros are called special teams. In baseball, they’re called bullpen catchers and middle relievers. In the NBA, there’s no helmet or bullpen to hide averageness.
In fact, they have the audacity to give their average players contracts for outrageous amounts of money. Examples include, but aren’t excluded to:
Avery Johnson – three years, $15 million from Denver
Corliss Williamson – six years, $32.5 million from Detroit
Jerome Williams – seven years, $40.8 million from Toronto
Christian Laettner – four years, $21 million from Washington
Todd MacCulloch – six years, 33.75 million from New Jersey
Ladies and gentleman, I present the All-Average All-Stars.
The averageness of professional sports is an epidemic that can’t be helped, partially because youth strive to be superstars. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, however, 12 chiefs can’t cook a soup or win in the playoffs.
Before my time, there was no ESPN and no cable television. Fans followed their favorite players on the radio and in the daily paper. You only saw your team when they were at home and that’s if you could get into the building. Fans loved everyone on the team, from superstar to scrub. Maybe because they knew the players would be back next year, not bolt for the no-tax sanctity of Florida.
When I was young, my favorite player was Wally Backman and he still is today. Backman was a scrappy, small-ball hitter who’s stance I would imitate to my friends.
My first year in Little League, I played second base and wore number six, just like Backman. In 1986, Backman batted .320 in 124 games, batting second for the New York Mets.
He was on second base in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the NLCS when Lenny Dykstra hit his game winning home run off Dave Smith of the Houston Astros. Backman played 14 years with 5 teams.
His career batting average was .275 with a .975 fielding percentage. This just in, folks: he was average.
So what’s the moral to the story? If you asked Wally Backman about his professional career, he’d probably flash his World Series ring. But I’m 99.84 percent sure he would tell you he was an average major leaguer. He wouldn’t have asked for $27 million over five years because he wouldn’t have got it and that’s the truth.