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Gridiron Stars Peterson and Bell to Give, Take Some Really Off-Tackle Hits

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  • Gridiron Stars Peterson and Bell to Give, Take Some Really Off-Tackle Hits

    Click image for larger version  Name:	LEvEON.PNG Views:	0 Size:	506.8 KB ID:	21962

    By Bernard Fernandez

    You see it at virtually every much-anticipated, big-ticket boxing event. The premium seats at or close to ringside are often occupied by standout athletes in other sports, there to witness the action, of course, but also to indulge in the sort of what-if daydreams that can fire the imagination of even the most sedentary of couch potatoes.

    Each daydream, individually tailored though it might be, goes something like this: If I took time to train and get myself into decent shape, I bet I could do that. By “that,” the dreamer imagines being inside the ropes, winging loaded-up shots and knocking his (or, increasingly so, her) opponent colder than a gutted mackerel stashed since the preceding month or two in the freezer compartment of their kitchen refrigerator.

    Two outstanding NFL running backs of reasonably recent vintage, Adrian Peterson and Le’Veon Bell, get to possibly live their shared dream Saturday night as the co-main event of a highly dubious pay-per-view card to be televised via from Banc of California Stadium, home of MLS’ LA Galaxy. How dubious is most of the 10-bout lineup, collectively titled Social Gloves 2? Well, Peterson and Bell, who collectively have made millions of dollars from football and have six first-team All-Pro selections between them, are getting secondary billing to a matchup of somebody named Austin McBroom (0-0) against another somebody named Ali Eson Gib, who is 0-1 with his only previous bout a technical-knockout loss to Jake Paul, the YouTube guy who has a gazillion social media followers and now is the undisputed champion of all those pugilistic daydreamers who once got the better of a classmate in a sixth-grade schoolyard fight.

    Also on the card is a bout between former Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Young, who now prefers to go by his nickname, Swaggy P, and whomever is the last-minute replacement for rapper Blueface, whose birth certificate lists him as the much less intriguing Johnathan Jamall Porter.

    Make no mistake, Jake “The Problem Child” Paul now would seem to be an erstwhile combination of Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali in comparison to McBroom and Gib, who are said to have substantial presences on such platforms as TikTok. When Paul (5-0, 4 KOs, but with none of his wins coming against an actual professional boxer) swaps punches in the ring with UFC legend Anderson “The Spider” Silva on Oct. 29 in Glendale, Ariz., it will be the most legitimate step yet taken by the incrementally more-proficient fighter and extraordinarily adroit self-promoter. Silva might be 47, but he has some boxing experience (going 3-1) and was a lights-out striker in the Octagon, where he was 34-11, but lost seven of his last nine fights, including one no-decision. If Paul gets past Silva, you can bet he’ll grab a bullhorn and call out, say, Canelo Alvarez. Wait a second … he’s already done that.

    Peterson’s glory seasons were with the Vikings, for whom he played through the 2016 season, whereupon he became something of a vagabond ball-carrier for hire, logging cameo stints with the New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, then-Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks. Playing in just four games in 2021 with the Titans and Seahawks, he rushed for a total of just 98 yards, seemingly finishing a career that should earn him first-ballot induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 14,918 yards, fifth on the all-time list. Bell, 30, had a more abbreviated prime, mostly for the Pittsburgh Steelers with stopovers with the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was a capable receiver too, apparently finishing his nine-year NFL career with 6,554 rushing yards and 3,289 more through the air.

    Given their production while wearing helmets and shoulder pads, Peterson and Bell both express confidence that their transition will be successful, if not necessarily seamless.

    “At the end of the day, I’m leaving with a `W,’” Peterson said when asked by an interviewer for his expected outcome.

    Countered the slightly favored Bell, mostly based on his being seven years younger and presumably having less wear-and-tear on his body, “I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase my skills and show what I’m working hard on,” he said when asked the same question. “I’m obviously confident in myself.” Another potential factor that might prove to Bell’s advantage is the running style he exhibited to great effect with the Steelers, that being an ability to patiently wait for holes to open, then stomping on the accelerator and bursting through them.

    “Picking and choosing your shots,” Bell said of the one trait of his on the field he hopes translates well to the ring. “When to turn it up and when not to. It’s a little different in football. In football, you get a play, you run the play. In boxing there ain’t no play. You get a read on the guy as you go.”

    The history of football players who daydream of becoming heavyweight champion of the world – or in whatever weight class they might find themselves – is spotty at best and depressing at worst. Maybe the best of the lot is former San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders wide receiver Charlie Powell, who at one point in the late 1950s rose as high as a No. 2 ranking. At least Powell’s resume, which saw him go 25-11-3 with 17 wins inside the distance and eight losses in similar fashion, was mostly compiled against legitimate competition. He was 5-8-1 in his final 14 appearances, the last of which was a third-round stoppage at the hands of Muhammad Ali, still known then as Cassius Clay, on Jan. 24, 1963.

    Many of the football guys following Powell, some of whom were quite accomplished on the field, were able to milk their fame in that sport en route to building artificially inflated records that crumbled like sand castles once they stepped up in class. Cowboys defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones tried his hand at boxing for a year and all six of his bouts were nationally televised by CBS. He was 6-0 against a parade of pretenders especially picked for the likelihood they would fall down quickly if hit, but even though he had shown some ability fighting as a young kid, enough to convince one notable observer, Angelo Dundee, with whom Jones was not associated, that he might have had something going had he stuck with it, the fight game is not something you can walk away from for two decades and pick up just like that.

    Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau, former NFL single-season record holder for sacks, went 15-2 with 15 KOs in his five years as a pro, but all his wins came against carefully selected designated victims. He retired after being stopped in two one-sided rounds by another former NFL star, running back Alonzo Highsmith, who was 27-1-2 with 23 KOs. Highsmith rightly took umbrage in being compared to the mostly inept Gastineau, but he never took the kind of step-up bouts that might have stamped him as something more viable than a curiosity item.

    More recently, there was Golden Boy-backed former Michigan State linebacker Seth Mitchell, whom some saw as a superstar-in-the-making during a quick ascent into semi-prominence. But Mitchell (26-2-1, 19) lost two of his last three fights, both on stoppages, one against Johnathon Banks and a bit later against Chris Arreola, which convinced him that the best way to enjoy the rest of his life was to walk away and stay away from that squared circle.

    Still, Peterson and Bell are clinging to the remote possibility that whatever best part of themselves they didn’t leave between those chalked sidelines might be resurrected if they don’t embarrass themselves Saturday night. And you can hardly blame either for daring to think that way. They were, after all, once great at their former jobs. Peterson remarked that he even kayoed an unidentified sparring partner in preparation for squaring off against Bell.

    “It was in the last minute of the fifth round,” he recalled. “He threw a good combination. I was able to block (most of the punches). Then I came back with a left and was able to swing through his guard with the right and it landed.

    “It didn’t really feel like I hit him with a lot of power, but I was talking to some of the fighters (in his Houston gym) and they said that’s kind of how it goes.”

    Sometimes it does go like that for a fighter, even a football player on a busman’s holiday. Then again, a lot of times it does not.

    I’ll be interested in reading about how this particular bout goes. And no, I won’t be springing for the PPV.

    Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the Class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Round 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, is currently out. The anthology can be ordered through and other book-selling websites and outlets.
    Last edited by AcidArne; 09-10-2022, 06:45 AM.