One of Oscar Wilde’s greatest quotes (and he has many), is, “Talent borrows, genius steals.” I don’t consider myself a genius, but when I read the blogpost my good buddy Juan Alvarado Valdivia wrote last week, in which he detailed which position he would play in each major sport, I knew it would be a genius move to steal his idea. So thanks, Juanito! Here’s my version:
Football: Slot Receiver
I’d love to say quarterback, but I’ve never been the guy who gets the glamour spot. I’d love to be a hard-hitting safety or linebacker, the guy who doles out the punishment, but in my life I’ve taken a lot more punishment than I’ve ever given, so it’s far more likely that I’d be the guy who gets drilled running across the middle. That’s the slot receiver, the guy who’s undersized, probably doesn’t have burning speed, but has quick feet and smarts that help him get open on underneath routes and the concentration and hands to make the tough catches in traffic to keep the chains moving, even if a linebacker is waiting to try to take his head off when the ball comes. He’s tough, he’s resourceful, and he’s integral to the offense. He may not be the receiver that makes an opposing team’s fans wake up screaming in the middle of the night, a la Jerry Rice, but he is the guy who, after making his third straight third-down conversion catch on a big drive, leaves opposing team’s fans saying, “Fuck, that guy again?”
Favorite Slot Receiver:
This is too easy. In the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl I played in for years with my High School buddies (we finally quit last year after the injury toll became too severe), I got the nickname “Welker,” after former Patriot Wes Welker, the undersized receiver who became Tom Brady’s favorite target and, despite going undrafted out of college, led the NFL in receptions three times.
Because I’m not especially knowledgeable about soccer, and if I play soccer, I want to score goals, goddammit.
This one’s easy, too. Lionel Messi, the dimunitive Argentinean genius, whose low center of gravity, quickness, and unbelievable skill with the ball have made him the best player in the world, and put him in the conversation for best of all time. Also, he gets to play for Barcelona, which would be pretty awesome.
NBA: Shooting Guard
Like my pal Juan, I kind of wish I could be a point guard. The guy who’s in control of the action, keeps command of the ball like a yo-yo on a string, makes all the smart plays, orchestrates the offense, and leads the team. Chris Paul. But that’s not really who I am on a basketball court. Back in middle school, when I was one of the few white kids on the schoolyard courts in Richmond, I remember another kid telling me, “Damn J, you got a shot. You just ain’t not got no handles.” Almost twenty years later, this scouting report is still pretty freaking accurate. If I’m the guy bringing the ball up, the team is probably in trouble. I don’t handle pressure defense well, and I often make bad passes trying to make a flashy play. But as the guy curling off the screen for a jumper? The guy floating out to the wing on a fastbreak? The spot-up shooter in the corner waiting to bury a catch-and-shoot trey? Yeah, that’s my game. The quiet assassin.
Favorite Shooting Guard:
I’d love to say Steph Curry, but he’s more of a hybrid guy, with a lot of point guard in his game. No, I’m more like Ray Allen, who made an All-Star career out of splashing threes through even the tiniest of windows. Jesus lives.
Part of me wanted to say shortstop, the captain of the infield, but the reason baseball is my favorite sport is the cat-and-mouse game between hitter and pitcher, as the pitcher works locations on and off the plate, fastballs and off-speed pitches, to mess with a hitter’s eye level, his timing, throw him off balance and try to make him look like a fool. That’s the guy I always wanted to be on the baseball field.
My favorite guy to watch was always Pedro Martinez at his peak (even though I hate the fucking Red Sox), because he combined a cerebral approach (his fastball, curve, and change were all plus-plus pitches, and he really knew how to mix them) with dominant stuff (his fastball could touch 98), all coming from a small package–he was less than six feet tall, rail thin.
But the guy that I think I’d be a little closer to is another smallish, skinny guy whose bulldog demeanor helped turn him into an ace: Tim Hudson, who led the Oakland A’s staff for years before moving to Atlanta (ugh). Huddy had good velocity, but he mostly beat hitters with his toughness and his smart pitching, throwing nasty sinkers, sliders, and cutters (A’s catchers needed more than one hand to give Hudson his signs), forcing hitters to beat ball after ball into the ground. That’s the guy I’d be.
This one’s easy. I played goalie for years. It’s a position that requires mental toughness–any mistake can cost your team a game, and you have to be able to instantly forget about the puck that got behind you and focus on the next shot. And there’s no better feeling than being the hot goalie who stole a win on a night your team was outplayed.
He’s not necessarily my favorite, but Mike Vernon embodies the qualities I’m talking about. In 1994, Vernon, a veteran of more than ten NHL seasons, came to the Detroit Red Wings, who despite being stacked with talent had underachieved in the playoffs. This continued as the team lost in the 1995 Finals and was upset in the Western Conference Finals in 1996. Vernon bore much of the blame for these failures, and he shared the starting position during the 1996-97 season. But in the ’97 playoffs he won playoff MVP as Detroit won its first Stanley Cup in 42 years. Plus, he kicked Patrick Roy’s ass during one of hockey’s greatest brawls.
No matter the sport, my alter-egos tend to be small, quick, tough players who battled adversity and became integral parts of their teams’ successes. They got a little bit of glory, but mostly they’ve got grit.