Beckham, playing soccer in the U.S.? You must be joking

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Pssssssst! Hey! Did you hear? David Beckham is playing soccer for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

OK, so the secret was out, like, two Paris Hilton jail terms and three Kobe Bryant trade demands ago.

Reporting this arrival of futbol deity as news is like stopping the presses to declare that Peyton Manning is a human billboard, Brett Favre is John Madden’s man crush and Tom Brady’s girlfriends are hot.

Those truths are self-evident. But so is the reality that Manning, Favre and Brady are real American sports heroes playing in the only team sport that America universally still cares about. Beckham, citizen of the world, is just another high-priced, aging veteran in a niche activity. He’s Ray Allen with a milk mustache.

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Friday’s ticker-tape triumphal entry was so contrived as to be comical. We’re talking a city heavily populated with left-leaning thespians and other seekers, one with nine times the population of Maine and one without a real football team for more than a decade. It wasn’t hard luring unemployed warm bodies to play the choir to Beckham’s Billy Graham.

The needle on the hyperbole machine was clearly more active than the marker on the give-a-crap meter, and that’s cool. It’s the job of a city, a franchise and every 24-hour sports news enterprise to justify the attention bestowed upon the blond bloke.

My opinion of soccer hasn’t changed, and it’s probably a Mount Katahdin higher than most of you believe. I think it’s an exhilarating game to play, and a hell of a game to watch when you have a rooting interest (i.e., your own kid, or a local high school playing in the state tournament).

It’s better experienced in person. Not unlike baseball, hockey or auto racing, really. Nothing about soccer translates well to television.

Unfortunately for those whose livelihood is intravenously connected to the sport, TV is the only place most of us will even accidentally experience Beckham. It’s their whole motivation for portraying him as a rock star. Far in advance of his first gooooooooooooooooal, Beckham has basked in far more ink than The Police reunion. ‘Nuff said.

The excessive exposure is welcome, actually, because it will force Major League Soccer (and the game at large as a fringe phenomenon) to fish or cut bait.

Neither we nor our parents warmed up to Pele. If our kids don’t embrace Becks, soccer here is done. You can bury it in the attic with 8-tracks and the Beta machine. And believe me, I’ll take the 1970s Pele with one foot in the retirement home and the other on a banana peel over the 2007 Beckham.

Let the confetti and artificial euphoria subside. Now it’s time for Mr. Posh to put up or his worshippers to shut up. Pssssssst! Pass it along. Soccer’s life in the U.S.A. depends on it.

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