- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2007

I asked Dave Johnson, the voice of D.C. United on Comcast SportsNet, whether he could do me a favor before the start of the David Beckham press conference at RFK Stadium yesterday.

“Could you point out to me which one is Beckham when they come in?”

He laughed, but thank goodness just two people, Beckham and Los Angeles Galaxy coach Frank Yallop, walked into the Washington Nationals’ indoor batting cages, where the press conference was held.

Only one of them looked like he still was a player — though with the tattoos, I might have mistaken him for the guy driving the beer forklift through the tunnels of RFK.

“It’s great to be in Washington,” Beckham said. “It’s an amazing city with so much history.”

Actually, Washington is a pimple on history compared to Beckham’s homeland, but it was nice of him to say. He seemed like a nice bloke, the sort of guy you would want to have a beer with — not at all like the “Entertainment Tonight” rock star he has become.

“That’s a shame about all that stuff because people don’t really get to see there is a lot more substance there than style,” Johnson said.

But only about half of the 45,000 people expected to pack RFK Stadium in hopes of seeing Beckham make his MLS debut — an event that’s still uncertain because of his injured ankle — are there for the substance.

The other half want to see the style, the spice, if you will, as in Victoria, his wife.

No Spice Girl sightings yesterday at RFK, though — not even a spice rack.

No celebrities in sight, either, at the press conference, though I’m sure there will be some in the crowd tonight at RFK, Washington style: politicians, media and lobbyists with maybe a few Hollywood types mixed in.

It’s not clear to me why Beckham and his Spice wife have achieved British royalty-like status. He has been a great player, but there have been other, better soccer players to come out of England. And she was just a gimmick.

Yet they have become the World’s Couple, with people bowing before them.

When Beckham came to Los Angeles last month to start his career with the Galaxy, they received a private welcome party that included the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey and Dan Snyder’s business partner, Tom Cruise — which conjures up something I could get excited about.

How about a deal for Beckham to kick field goals for the Redskins? That would be the ultimate Americanization of a worldwide treasure.

We’ve already done it with soccer, moving it indoors and kicking up the scoring — indoor soccer is the only version of the game that has sustained any kind of professional success in this country.

We’ve rejected the metric system and rightly so. Could you imagine Edwin Starr singing, “25 Kilometers?”

So why not make David Beckham a field goal kicker?

This, of course, is blasphemy among those who look at Beckham as the savior of soccer in America. He is here to lift an entire league — no wonder his ankle hurts.

He may hold the league up for a while, and people likely will make a lot of money off Beckham. They already have, and he hasn’t played yet. League merchandise sales have tripled, and internationally the MLS profile is getting a big boost.

But we have seen this before with a far bigger soccer legend, though one without the People magazine profile. Pele put the North American Soccer League on the map in the late 1970s. Then, when he disappeared from view upon retirement, so did the league.

MLS appears to have built a far more solid foundation, and the league likely won’t disappear. But its post-Beckham level of interest may not be that much better than its pre-Beckham level in this country.

Current Beckham interest is certainly high among soccer geeks and “Showbiz Tonight” airheads, but it is not nearly as big as those who live in those worlds believe.

“You have to be on Mars not to know who David Beckham is,” Yallop said.

Or in College Park, where I asked a convenience store clerk whether she knew who David Beckham was. She had no clue.

Beckham could be the Slim Jim delivery man — if he wasn’t a soccer god and married to a diva named for a food flavoring additive.



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