Greg Paulus is the most fascinating football story in the country.
Even if he is the latest proof that football is the easiest major sport to play.
Please, calm yourself. I didn't say football is "easy." I said it's the easiest major sport to play. It's right there in the second sentence of this story. Go back and read it for yourself.
Because it is. The easiest major sport to play.
|With 167 passing yards in his first game, Greg Paulus doesn't look like he hasn't played in four years. (AP)|
If this is where you want to crack a joke about the quality of Syracuse football, fine.
Syracuse football is bad.
How bad is it?
It's so bad, it's starting Greg Paulus at quarterback. (Rim shot!)
Great joke. You should copyright that thing. But when you're finished cracking on Syracuse, go ahead and crack on Florida State back in its national powerhouse heyday, and crack on the Dallas Cowboys -- and the Chargers and the 49ers -- because this isn't an isolated incident. Greg Paulus isn't a trailblazer. He's just the latest athlete to turn his back on football for several years, come back to the sport, and step right into the mix at an incredibly high level.
This doesn't happen in baseball or basketball. Only Julius Peppers at North Carolina comes to mind, and Julius Peppers is a freak of nature. He quit basketball for several years until joining the UNC team on a lark, and he probably could have made it in the NBA if he weren't so damn good at football. But then, Julius Peppers is one of the most impressive all-around athletes in the world. That's not an exaggeration. As a high school senior he nearly won the state title in track -- the state team title -- all by himself. He's a latter-day Jim Thorpe, only 100 pounds heavier. And probably faster.
Other than Peppers, the only exception to my premise -- that stories like Greg Paulus don't happen in baseball or basketball -- came during World War II and the Korean War, when baseball players like Ted Williams took off years to fight for this country. Some differences between that situation and the situation embodied by Paulus: One, Williams was already an established professional in his baseball prime. Two, the majors were decimated by the war, watering down the product until the soldiers returned.
Otherwise, you don't see this in baseball or basketball. But you see it all the time in football. You see it most commonly with stud football recruits who sign a professional baseball contract out of high school, then return to the gridiron after years in the minors. Chris Weinke spent six years in the minors, then came back to Florida State -- when Florida State was the top program in the country -- and won a Heisman Trophy. Josh Booty spent five years in the Florida Marlins' organization, then quit and won the starting quarterback job at LSU. Quincy Carter played professional baseball before going to Georgia and eventually making it to the NFL. Drew Henson played professional baseball after playing football at Michigan, sucked at it, then returned to football and was good enough to make a start in the NFL.
See my point?
Antonio Gates was a fine college basketball player at Kent State but a great all-around athlete who became -- despite playing zero football in college -- the best NFL tight end of his era for the Chargers. This is a theme that transcends positions, and even time. In the mid-1960s Preston Pearson played basketball at Illinois, not football, but the Baltimore Colts drafted him and he would play in five Super Bowls at running back, three with the Cowboys.
My point is a great athlete can make the transition to the NFL, even a great athlete with zero football experience -- anyone remember Olympic hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah's three seasons with the 49ers, from 1982-84? -- while great athletes can't do it at other sports.
The greatest himself proved it.
Michael Jordan was at the prime of his athletic powers when he retired from the NBA's Chicago Bulls to pursue a career in baseball. He played at the Double-A level in 1994 and hit .202 for the White Sox affiliate, and there were only two reasons he lasted the full season without being released: One, he was Michael Jordan. Two, the White Sox were owned by the same man, Jerry Reinsdorf, who owned the Bulls.
Meanwhile, Paulus is playing quarterback for Syracuse -- and looking good. He was impressive, if not perfect, in the Orange's opening loss to Minnesota, and his progress this season will be intriguing to watch, continuing Saturday against Penn State.
The success of Paulus at Syracuse makes me wonder about the football potential of Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, who will win the American League batting title or the MVP -- or both -- but who turned down a football scholarship out of high school to play quarterback at Florida State. And what about Glen "Big Baby" Davis? He's making a nice living in the NBA but was allegedly an even better football prospect, a quick but enormous left tackle who could have revolutionized the position. Kansas point guard Sherron Collins was a dynamic receiver in high school. Adam Dunn, sloppy as he looks, was a stud quarterback recruited by the Texas Longhorns. Dunn's teammate with the Nationals, Elijah Dukes, would have played linebacker for the North Carolina State football team if it weren't for off-field issues. But we'll never know about any of those guys on the football field.
And we'll never know about the most fascinating non-football player of all time. He was an all-state receiver in Ohio -- where they play great high school football -- at age 15. He had more than 100 catches, 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns as a high school sophomore and junior.
But LeBron James gave up football for basketball.
At least we have Greg Paulus.
And next year we'll have somebody else -- somebody else who returns to the game at a high level. This is football, people. There's always somebody else.