There seems a decent chance that the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins will play an exhibition game in England's Wembley Stadium sometime this July. One snowbound mind is bedazzled by the endless possible ramifications.
Assuming he's still Hog-tied to the Redskins, John Riggins will not be in any shape to tote the ball more than a few token times, so Joe Theismann will be throwing 45 or so passes. David Woodley also will be pass-mad, the Dolphins being anxious to see if the Super Bowl was one F in a major test by an otherwise brilliant young quarterback or the sad reality that he is destined to flunk Advanced NFL Defense Reading.
Anyway, the British love it.
As do the other Europeans who see the game on television.
What a marvelous idea, this using hands in sport. And passing the ball forward! Why didn't we think of it?
Some rich sportsmen behold the rampant enthusiasm, the fact that no price seemed too high for a ticket to the 100,000-seat stadium, and decide there just might be a profit to be turned from this new game.
But what to call it?
Why not soccer? It's familiar. And the Yanks are the only ones using it now, for what the British and everybody else in the world knows full well has been and always will be football. The Eurosportsmen do an ironic reverse; they call what we call football soccer.
They insist to fans this is all very easy to comprehend: if you can only use the feet, it's football; if the hands are involved, it's soccer.
The problem is how best to sell this unknown sport, this infatuation with hands, this soccer. The sportsmen are split into two camps. One decides that entire teams should be imported from the United States, during the NFL offseason, to represent cities such as London, Paris, Bonn and some others suddenly wild over foo . . , er, soccer.
The Raiders quickly agree, because they have no home anyway. So do the Packers, who want out of the cold for a few months; so do the Colts, who want away from Robert Irsay for a while. And so on.
The other franchise owners believe that a few skilled Americans blended with native Europeans is the best way to get soccer kicking. After much deliberation, they refer to their product as the North Atlantic Soccer League, or NASL.
Naturally, the American leagues pay too lavishly for such as Theismann, Danny White or Dan Fouts to be coaxed across the ocean. So every few days we will read . . .
"Sonny Jurgensen and Bobby Mitchell today signed multiyear contracts to play soccer for the London Fogs. Mitchell said he could make more playing two seasons of European soccer than he did in all his NFL football years combined. Jurgensen, who had lost nearly all of his familiar paunch in retirement, began training immediately--in a pub.
" 'You don't throw with your stomach,' Jurgensen reminded English lads anxious to emulate him."
The NASL's proves the wiser gamble.
That league survives, though barely.
Attendance is much less than anticipated. Several franchises fold; others switch cities. But because youngsters take to the sport in such remarkable numbers the owners who stay keep insisting, all over Europe, "The soccer boom is just around the corner. Wait till the kids grow up. If the Americans love soccer, why shouldn't the rest of the world."
O.J. Simpson is given Switzerland to sign. Quickly, he is known as "the Pele of soccer" and helps give the NASL credibility. Even he is unable to carry an entire sport on his shoulders, however.
One reason soccer fails to enthrall Europeans, some think, is the game itself. Too much offense. Europeans are used to going entire football games without any scoring and along comes blessed soccer, with points every few plays. Jurgensen and Mitchell, each now in his 50s, still average three touchdown pitch-and-catches a game.
The NASL owners huddle and finally determine that the rules must be altered, to include something to reward defense. Chosen is a gimmick they call "shutout."
Nobody even remotely understands "shutout," although part of it has somethng to do with a receiver being unable to catch a pass unless a defender is between him and the goal line. Americans and other traditionalists yelp in defense of offense. They even threaten to bar the NASL from the American-run international football council.
Meanwhile, the youngsters still care deeply for soccer, but the NASL cannot maintain healthy stability. A team called the Diplomats moves from three countries, then folds. Many detached observers wonder about the merits of soccer, about all the sideline fuss among pushy parents and officials not that much more familiar with it.
Why do so many players limp off the field so often?
Football seems much less dangerous.
Puzzled and frustrated, the NASL finally hits upon a plan it hopes will take advantage of both the zest of the youngsters and international pride. It decides to round up all the very good native players from around the continent, all the cornerbacks and guards, safeties, linebackers and quarterbacks who have been playing minor roles on their teams, and see how they fare together.
The ultimate would be for this select team to eventually play the Super Bowl winner each year, in a neutral (warm-weather) country. The idea is to take on the Americans at their own game, the soccer they still call football, to give this new sport a mildly World Cup sense of global passion.
The appeal is obvious; the challenge dangerous, for if the kids together fail to beat NASL teams still populated with aging Americans, any game against, say, the Redskins would be futile. Maybe interest in soccer would fade entirely.
Still, all in all, Team Europe seems worth a try.