The View From the Basement
I am not blessed with great speed. I do not scare opponents with my breakaway running ability. I rarely turn heads with quicksilver bursts of superhuman velocity.
I like to think there are still places for people like me in the sports world. However, at the rate that things seem to be going I might as well embrace my slowness and accept the fact that I may never play professional soccer in Spain. It’s just not fair, man.
You hear the phrase “speed kills” at least a dozen times per NFL playoff game and I have no idea what they are talking about. Yeah, you might get your ass kicked but you get up and try again. I guess that if speed really did kill then I would probably be the safest guy around.
Sports, just like any other societal institution, goes through fads. By this I am not referring to knee-high socks, headbands, or those funky nose strips, but rather intangible athletic characteristics that have all coaches fantasizing into the wee hours of the morning.
Right now, speed is hot. The St. Louis Rams’ defense is built around flocking to the ball and converging on opponents. The Rams’ linebacking corps of London Fletcher, Tommy Polley, and Don Davis all run faster than the new Stihl Farm Boss chainsaws. And yet this speed and cutting ability is becoming typical, and expected, on virtually every NFL rosters. Last year’s Ravens thrived on the same speed-fueled model, as have the Buccaneers for four years and counting.
Gone are the days of the hole-plugging, stay-at-home ‘backer. Studs like Brian Urlacher and Derrick Brooks make Karl Mecklenburg and his cohorts from the 80s seem like lumbering dinosaurs.
The Rams’ game plan, both offensively and defensively, revolves around fast-breaking the opposition to the point of implosion. Even when teams do what the Packers did and try to contain the Rams or exploit their over-zealousness, they are constantly under pressure. It must feel a bit like police cruisers trying to pull over a renegade Ferrarri
In college football, the Rose Bowl battle between the Miami Hurricanes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers was dubbed by some sports pundits as the battle of speed versus power. As it turned out (surprise, surprise) power only works if you can catch your opponent. Miami smoked the Huskers with speed guys like Andre Johnson and went on to win the National Championship by a score of 37-14.
I can already see the day coming when the players will have to wear little color-coded radar sensors so you can see them whizzing around your television screen. Probably the only thing you will really be able to make out will be the poor, bewildered kickers who won’t even know where the ball is. It will be like this one laser show that I.never mind.
It will be interesting to see how far this fad goes and if new generations of players will indeed be faster and faster. Eventually it seems that the whiplash, the opposite reaction, must occur and that speed will be reined in by some other quality. Yet honestly, as of right now, I have no idea what that quality might be.
While football linebackers stick out in my mind as the clearest example of the speed phenomenon, the conspiracy has reached other sports as well. In baseball, for example, guys like Ichiro Suzuki and the Braves’ Rafael Furcal have designed their games around the slap-and-run strategy. If a few more players of that style come out of the woodwork, the game takes on a completely new character-or, rather, it retakes its character from the 80s. Good thing that Mark McGwire got out when he did.
Speed is a highly valued commodity in our modern society as well. The quickest and most efficient is usually regarded as the best. Sometimes it seems that this speed obsession drives one on to the next thing and the next after that before he is even finished with the first. It is an easy pattern to fall into, especially amid the hectic bombination of college life. But one should not feel embarrassed about being slow.
I have enjoyed my life even without possessing those lightning fast feet and quick, nimble movements. In fact, I have come to treasure my steady slowness and for this reason have been able to enjoy the long, strange trip towards responsibility. But in my next life I would like to come back as the love child of Forrest Gump and Florence Griffith-Joyner, just to see what that’s like.
It would be fun to be the fast one for a change, to get places early and leave people lagging behind with my stylish power-walking. I would gallop with wild horses, dash past stunned Harley-riders, chase down enemy quarterbacks and then hear John Madden gush “Boy, he sure can run.”
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