Of course, you’re going to watch. As a sports fan, you can’t help it.
Dismiss it as a stunt, which it is. Sound wise by saying that Olympics-level sprinters are a different class of athlete than football players — not better, just different. Fear, if you prefer, the consequences to the Seahawks if there’s an injury.
But I’ll bet you a poster of Bo Jackson — the one that was pinned above the beds of many boys, and fathers who won’t admit it, across America in the 1980s — that you’ll watch.
Because there’s the teensiest chance you’ll see something you otherwise would not believe. And you want to be part of the moment.
Especially if you watched the Seahawks-Cardinals game the past fall when DK Metcalf saved a touchdown when he ran down Budda Baker after his theft of a Russell Wilson pass. You may even be sitting in the same chair, now sacred, that you jumped out of when it happened.
As coach Pete Carroll said afterward, “That was one of the best football plays I’ve ever seen.”
The video launched a thousand amusing memes across social media, and would have been the Monday talk of the office/classroom/shop/bus stop, if you had any one of them to go to. (unmute)
The play cemented Metcalf’s place in 21st century sports lore, no matter how the rest of his career plays out.
So yes, you will watch on NBC at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, after he accepted the tweeted dare from USA Track & Field, in a Summer Olympics year, to run against 17 professional sprinters in the 100 meters at the Golden Games in Walnut, CA. If he advances out of the first round, he’ll have to do it again in the final.
— DK Metcalf (@dkm14) May 3, 2021
If he can somehow run it in 10.05 seconds, he would qualify automatically for the U.S. track trials in June ahead of the Tokyo Games (hopefully) in July.
But Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah, a former world record holder in the 110-meter hurdles who was a 49ers receiver when San Francisco won the 1982 Super Bowl, delivered an industrial-grade scoff in Metcalf’s direction.
“If you put a world-class track athlete in the same spot, he would be 10 meters in front of Baker and waiting for Baker,” Nehemiah told reporters. “People just don’t understand world-class speed.
“There’s not a sprinter in the world who will let this guy think he can run with them. They will destroy him. No offense to DK, I’m a fan of his. I applaud him for wanting to find out — and find out he will.”
Far be it from me to dispute Nehemiah’s expertise. I mean, as remarkable as was Metcalf’s 4.33-second time at the 2020 scouting combo for a guy 6-4 and 230 pounds, it wasn’t an NFL record. That belongs to former University of Washington receiver John Ross, at 4.22.
But besides times, the comparison that intrigues me, and many others, is Usain Bolt of Jamaica, the greatest sprinter in history.
I had the privilege of a 2008 Summer Olympics press seat in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium when Bolt, 22, exploded upon global sports scene. He set world records in both the 100 (9.69) and 200 (19.30) and won his third gold in the 4×200-meter relay.
There’s something about pure speed that is enthralling.
Running is something we’ve all done, racing is something we’ve tried at least once until the truth came over us. The 100 meters at the Olympics is perhaps the one event even non-fans find a way to see live. Watching in person Bolt, taller than Metcalf at 6-5 and slimmer at 207 pounds, swallow half-acres with his strides to gain the title of World’s Fastest Human as the world watched, was among the most majestic things I’ve seen in sports.
A year later, Bolt outdid himself at the World Championships in Berlin, clocking a 9.58 that stands today as the world record. Here’s the point that intrigues me about Sunday: Bolt was 23 when he set the record, same age as Metcalf now.
Since Metcalf hasn’t run track since his high school days in Oxford, Miss., where he was mostly a hurdler and a triple jumper — and part of a state-record 4×100-meter relay team — he’s missed a whole lot of practice time and techniques that are part of an event more difficult that it looks.
But none of us, including Metcalf, know what apex physical maturity has brought to him.
The fact that Bolt, who repeated his triple golds in London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016 before retiring, could not top his 2009 time, suggests that the absolute peak is fleeting, critical and, perhaps, now for Metcalf in track.
Obviously, comparing Metcalf to Bolt, who dominated globally his fellow sprinter pros, is unfair. It is also irresistible, because we love to see great athletes push frontiers of human achievement.
Jackson did it best in from 1986 to 1994 when he starred for NFL Raiders and the MLB Royals. He was the first and only player to be named an all-star in both sports. Deion Sanders doubled in football and baseball too, and the nation was intrigued by Michael Jordan’s mid-hoops career attempt at minor-league baseball.
There were others, including Gene Conley, subject of a Wayback Machine profile for his feats after he starred in baseball and basketball at Richland High School and Washington State. He spent a combined 22 seasons as pitcher for the Boston Braves/Red Sox and a forward for the Boston Celtics. Conley won a World Series ring in 1957 with the then-Milwaukee Braves and three titles with the Bill Russell-era Celts.
Metcalf isn’t attempting anything as prodigious. But in these times when every premier athlete is bubble-wrapped and banned from anything that would jeopardize the millions to be made from his skills and gifts, it’s fun to contemplate an attempt, however fleeting is 10 seconds, to reside at the frontier.
If Metcalf pulls this off, I’d like to see him find a tee time at a U.S. Open qualifier.
So would Budda Baker.