x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Fans waiting for Lightning to strike

NFL teams and coaches love something speed. The fastest man in the world, Usain "Lightning" Bolt, in an NFL uniform?

The National Football League (NFL) is, at times, brutal. Fans love the crushing hits. We love to watch super-human men recklessly colliding into each other in the most physically demanding sport in the world. However, NFL teams and coaches love something else - speed. Every NFL coach wants the next great speedster on his team. We saw it at this year's entry draft when the Oakland Raiders passed on top ranked college receiver Michael Crabtree in order to take the speedier Darius Heyward-Bey.

The search does not end with the usual college talent. The fastest man in the world, Usain "Lightning" Bolt, in an NFL uniform? We had Bolt on our radio show this week and asked him about the chance of playing in the NFL someday. Do not laugh, it has happened before. In 1964, Bob Hayes won gold in the Olympic 100 metres, equalling the world record in the process. Dallas drafted Hayes in the seventh round of the NFL draft that year. The Cowboys took a chance that they could mould the fastest man on the planet into a wide receiver.

It worked. Hayes caught 371 passes for 71 touchdowns in his Dallas career, and this year he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bolt is not only the fastest man in history; he also combines this speed with size. At 6ft 5ins, Bolt would be a nightmare for opposing defences. This possibility has caused NFL teams to broach the topic of trying American football with the Jamaican speedster.

While the dream of seeing Bolt develop into an NFL star is enticing, it is unlikely and here is why. 1. Unlike Hayes and other American sprinters who made the transition to the NFL, Bolt grew up in Jamaica and has never played the game. It would be a challenge to just teach Bolt the basics of football, much less make him ready to play in a game. 2. Bolt is not that interested in the NFL. He grew up a fan of cricket and football. He told me that he could try football down the road, but even that is unlikely

3. He has too much still to do. Bolt is 23-years old and has just captured the world's attention in the past two years. As he continues to lower the world records and push human boundaries, the world will continue to follow his quest. 4. He has spoken of adding other events such as the long jump to his repertoire. His track and field career is still growing. 5. Money. When Hayes switched from track and field to the NFL, money was a motivating factor. This is not the case with Bolt. He makes millions by winning races, appearance fees and endorsements. I could make the case that he would lose money by trying to play in the NFL.

So we asked him straight out, any interest in the NFL? It would appear not. "If I did, I'd want to play running back but they say I'm too tall," said Bolt. "They would want me to play wide receiver. They get hit too much. I'm not in the mood to be hit that much." As an NFL fan I can still hope that someday, when his sprinting career is winding down, Bolt does give American football a try. My expectations are low, but the story would be compelling to follow.

So far, Bolt has left sports fans with their mouths open as we blankly stare at his unreal speed. He has a super-human feel to him and the NFL is the sport where physical dominance rules the day. So Usain, keep knocking out world records - keep posing and having a good time on the track. The NFL can wait. So can we. ppabst@thenational.ae