Former Washington Huskies basketball star Nate Robinson is determined to resume the football career he gave up in 2003.
“I know how to play,” Robinson says in a short video released the other day — it includes earnest testimonials from the likes of Rick Neuheisel, his college football coach — that resembles a Saturday Night Live infomercial parody.
The cynical side in me scoffs at the notion of Robinson’s hopes to reinvent himself. He’ll turn 32 in May. Since his double-duty freshman season at Washington, where he was a cornerback in the fall and high-jumping guard in the winter, he’s played as much full-contact football as Adele has.
And yet the fan in me wants to shake Robinson’s hand. During a week the NFL has dominated the news cycle with rumors of free-agent signings, reports of free-agent signings, mistaken reports of free-agent signings and the ramifications of actual free-agent signings, Robinson is posing a question that reminds me why I started following sports in the first place:
Can a dynamic athlete with rare physical gifts cut it in the NFL after cutting it in the NBA?
The obvious answer is no, of course not. There’s a reason Bud Grant, best known as the retired Hall of Fame coach of the Minnesota Vikings, is also a trivia-game obscurity. A starting wide receiver for the Eagles and a backup forward for the Lakers, Grant remains the only man to have played in both the NFL and NBA.
Grant made this history during the early 1950s, long before a culture of specialization encouraged talented schoolkids (more accurately, the parents of schoolkids) to identify a single activity worth pursuing from January through December.
Six decades have passed since Grant competed at the highest level of basketball and football. Who does Robinson he think he is? Superman Jr.?
He thinks — knows, actually — he’s Nate Robinson, the pint-size acrobat who won the NBA’s slam-dunk contest three times. When the Suns took Robinson as the 21st selection of the 2005 draft and sent him to the Knicks on the same night as a throw-in piece of a trade package, few NBA pundits envisioned the 5-foot-9 guard surviving a year in the league, much less 10 of them.
So go ahead and mock his crazy dream. He can take it. Being little, he’s a veteran of belittlement.
Just know this: Washington offered the Rainier Beach product a football scholarship. Football was his primary sport, basketball was a recreation.
An athlete capable of turning a recreation into a lucrative pro career is an athlete whose ambitions shouldn’t be dismissed.
“I haven’t played in 11 years, 12 years, but I know how to play,” Robinson says of his football skills. “I know how to hit. I know how to catch. I can get picks, I can get deflections, I know all techniques — bump 7 yards off, 5yards off. I know it all.”
He’s lobbying for a tryout, preferably with the Seahawks, his favorite NFL team. I’ll be surprised if the Seahawks don’t take him up on it.
The Hawks, you might recall, signed former University of Texas long-snapper Nate Boyer to what amounted to an audition contract last spring. Boyer’s biography was unique: a 34-year old rookie who happened to be a veteran, a Green Beret soldier familiar with the most dangerous villages in Afghanistan.
Boyer was released in training camp, but his mere invitation to it posed a feel-good story with the potential for a movie script. (The Seahawks, to their credit, realized a potential movie script is not an especially relevant factor in roster construction.)
A team that invited a 34-year-old long snapper to training camp last summer is a team that invites a 32-year-old slam-dunk master to training camp this summer.
If nothing else, Robinson’s football aspirations provide some fresh air to a sport rocked by the concussion issues that have accelerated early retirements.
Players who’ve bankrolled enough money to support the great-grandchildren of their great-grandchildren want out.
Nate Robinson wants in, and he doesn’t mind the giggles. He craves them.
Being told he’s got no NFL future just puts more fuel on the fire burning inside Superman Jr.
John McGrath: firstname.lastname@example.org