From Tennis To Track To, Yes, Soccer: If American Football Never Existed, What Sport Would Colts Players Have Played?

Last month, I set out into the Colts' locker room to try to find an alternate universe where some of the best athletes in the world could've wound up playing for the United States Men's National Soccer Team. 

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Every four years, thousands of Americans get on Twitter and wonder: If all of the best athletes in the United States played soccer, we'd crush the men's World Cup, right?

Imagine LeBron James pummeling headers on crosses from Mike Trout. Picture Tyreek Hill bombing down the wing with unmatched speed. Or a clever, incisive pass from Stephen Curry landing at the feet of Odell Beckham Jr. for an easy goal.

Surely the United States would've overwhelmed the Netherlands and would be heavily favored against Argentina in the quarterfinals, instead of crashing out of the 2022 World Cup with a 3-1 loss over the weekend.

This is, by the way, a silly argument that takes away from the hard work and talent of guys like Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams. But in the spirit of the season, I wanted to see if I could find a few Colts players who in an alternate universe maybe could've helped the United States Men's National Team in Qatar this year.

These are some of the best athletes in the world who graciously played along with, honestly, a pretty dumb thought: If American football never existed, what sport are you playing professionally?

Here are their answers:

Ryan Kelly: And I have the skill to be a professional at that sport?

JJ Stankevitz: You are yourself as an athlete. What do you play?

Ryan Kelly: Do I have any mobility in my back take?

Matt Ryan: He's trying to say golf, is what he's trying to tell you.

Ryan Kelly: I would love to be a professional golfer.

JJ Stankevitz: So you're —

Ryan Kelly: What are you writing, Stankevitz?

JJ Stankevitz: I saw this graphic from ESPN of what if all these great Americans played soccer.

Ryan Kelly: Dude, I tell you what it would not be, is (expletive) soccer, that's for sure. That sport is stupid.

JJ Stankevitz: I'm just trying to find one guy who will say soccer in here.

Ryan Kelly: Maybe down there in that corner (points to where the special teamers' lockers are). It'd definitely be golf. I'd be so dedicated to golf, and that's why it'd be golf, because I would just get better every day.

JJ Stankevitz: Because you're just competing against yourself.

Ryan Kelly: Golf is a game of six inches between your ears. My mindset would be, I'm gonna play every day until I become sick at it.

***

Chase McLaughlin: So if I grew up up north, I tell everyone all the time — even if football did exist, I think I would've played hockey. I love playing hockey, but I'm from Houston, Texas. I played roller hockey growing up, I played a season of ice hockey but it wasn't very big down there. Didn't play much after that.

JJ Stankevitz: What position?

Chase McLaughlin: Probably left wing. I'm a lefty, actually. Everything else, I'm righty – golf, throwing, writing, kicking. But hockey I'm lefty.

[Punter Matt Haack wasn't sure beyond his sport not being soccer. 0/2 on the guys who use their feet.]

***

Matt Ryan: Baseball.

JJ Stankevitz (after trying and failing to get Matt, who's considered by his teammates to be the best golfer on the team, to say golf): What position?

Matt Ryan: Probably middle infield.

JJ Stankevitz: You're a little tall to play middle infield, right?

Matt Ryan: Nah, man, I'd be like Jeter. [Walks away mimicking Derek Jeter's signature jump throw]

***

Stephon Gilmore: I'd probably say tennis.

JJ Stankevitz: Why tennis?

Stephon Gilmore: It's one-on-one.

***

Zaire Franklin: I got the same height and weight?

JJ Stankevitz: Yeah.

Zaire Franklin: Baseball.

JJ Stankevitz: You were a good baseball player growing up?

Zaire Franklin: I actually wanted to quit football and play baseball for a second. I never played like that organized. I quit when I was in like seventh grade. I really was just tired of losing weight because I was a fat kid when I was young. I was playing Pop Warner, so I had to weigh in every time I wanted to play. So I was tired of playing. But yeah, I love baseball — first base, outfield. I was good at outfield but then I realized I needed contacts because I kept losing balls. But I was a good hitter.

JJ Stankevitz: So you're like Ryan Howard out there?

Zaire Franklin: Oh for sure Ryan Howard. That's who I considered myself as. Do the same little [accurately imitates Ryan Howard's batting stance].

***

Kenny Moore II: Who said I'm playing a sport?

JJ Stankevitz: Okay. You're an athletic guy though.

Julian Blackmon: You're driving.

JJ Stankevitz: Yeah, you could be racing.

Kenny Moore II: No, I wouldn't — don't put me in the race car. I'd probably go soccer.

JJ Stankevitz, relieved: You're the first person to say soccer in this locker room.

Kenny Moore II: It's all about backgrounds. I guess not many of us got a soccer background. But I grew up liking FIFA and just having that diverse, open mindset. I played soccer my freshman year of high school. But nothing seriously. I would probably go soccer.

JJ Stankevitz: You're in the starting 11 for the USA against England. What position are you playing?

Kenny Moore II: Probably center-mid. Not too much on attack, on the defensive side but keeping things neutral and being the floor general.

***

Julian Blackmon: I'd take my chances in either basketball or soccer. More basketball.

JJ Stankevitz: Why basketball?

Julian Blackmon: I was more of a basketball player than a football player anyway growing up. I loved basketball. But young, I always told myself I'm going to the NFL. I knew that at like seven.

JJ Stankevitz: Let's say seven-year-old Julian Blackmon doesn't have that as an option.

Julian Blackmon: I'm hooping. Or baseball.

JJ Stankevitz: Baseball?

Julian Blackmon: I played all of them — baseball, track, basketball, but I was really good at basketball.

JJ Stankevitz: Who are you modeling your game after?

Julian Blackmon: Probably Damian Lillard. Steph Curry — I can't shoot like Steph…nah, I can shoot. I can't even lie. I can shoot too. So I would be like a Damian Lillard.

JJ Stankevitz: Got some handles.

Julian Blackmon: All-around point guard.

JJ Stankevitz: You can see the whole thing.

Julian Blackmon: It's not about me. I'm just trying to get somebody open.

***

Bobby Okereke: Man, I'm playing soccer.

JJ Stankevitz: Alright, Bobby Okereke's starting for the USA against England. What position?

Bobby Okereke: Midfield.

JJ Stankevitz: Where in midfield? Are you a holding midfielder? Attacking?

Bobby Okereke: I'm an attacking right midfielder.

JJ Stankevitz: Kenny said he'd be the holding midfielder doing the dirty work.

Bobby Okereke: Yeah, exactly. I'm a guy, just take off — I got a long stride, so shoot me a long ball, I'm catching up to it.

***

Deon Jackson: Baseball.

JJ Stankevitz: What position?

Deon Jackson: It depends. I played in the outfield, I played center field, third base. I stopped playing baseball when I got to high school though. My whole life leading up to high school, I was better at baseball than football. And then I stopped playing because I didn't like it anymore. I kind of got bored with baseball.

JJ Stankevitz: Were you a better hitter or fielder?

Deon Jackson: I don't know. I'd probably say fielder. I can hit too, I'm strong, but I would say fielder. I used to throw people out from center field and all that.

JJ Stankevitz: Did you model your game off of anyone? Braves guys? [Jackson grew up in Atlanta]

Deon Jackson: Nah. I played a lot of baseball but I wouldn't watch baseball. I can't watch baseball on TV.

***

Bernhard Raimann: I did grow up playing soccer my whole life. So I assume I would've stuck with soccer my whole life.

JJ Stankevitz: Is Austria in the World Cup right now if Bernhard Raimann is playing for them?

Bernhard Raimann: Oh yeah, for sure. If that was the difference, yes, of course.

JJ Stankevitz: What position?

Bernhard Raimann: I always played defender.

Will Fries: Attack.

Bernhard Raimann: I'll guess play attack this time and score all the goals.

***

EJ Speed: I'm definitely hooping. See what Luka's doing in Dallas? I'd be right there beside it. Luka would've dropped 30, I would've dropped 40.

JJ Stankevitz: Are you the point guard? Small forward?

EJ Speed: Small forward, but I'm bringing the ball down the court like a LeBron-type vibe. I'm off the screen like Klay. I'm bringing it down like Bron, you know what I'm saying? But I'll iso it at any minute. Any minute I call iso out. Everybody get out of the way. But I got Luka next to me.

JJ Stankevitz: You know I'm running this by Mo (Alie-Cox), right?

EJ Speed: Yeah, run it by Mo. Mo know. Mo know. I gave him buckets in the offseason. … He did me too, though, I ain't gonna lie. He got a little bucket on me. I ain't play in college so I was a little rusty.

[Dallis Flowers, said he'd be a basketball player in this scenario, hears this and is incredulous. When I leave the locker room 15 minutes later they're still arguing about if EJ could hoop or not.]

***

JJ Stankevitz: I'm doing an article asking guys in the locker room, if football as a sport never existed what sport would they be playing professionally. I know what your answer is going to be. But who on this team could actually play basketball professionally?

Mo Alie-Cox: [Laughs] Jelani (Woods). I would go Jelani. If not Jelani. Dang, Khari (Willis)'s gone. I haven't really seen anyone else play.

JJ Stankevitz: EJ told me he'd be scoring 40 next to Luka Doncic.

Mo Alie-Cox: Don't take anything EJ says seriously when it comes to basketball. One offseason we all got together, offense versus defense, and played. Killed him. So definitely not EJ.

JJ Stankevitz: He actually did admit that.

Mo Alie-Cox: Alright, cool cool cool. But definitely not EJ. I'd go Kenny (Moore II). Kenny's pretty good too.

JJ Stankevitz: Kenny said soccer.

Mo Alie-Cox: Yeah. Kenny loves soccer.

JJ Stankevitz: Julian said basketball.

Mo Alie-Cox: Oh yeah, I've heard Julian – I've never seen Julian play but I heard he's a pretty good player. But I'd go Jelani.

JJ Stankevitz: Pitt said basketball too.

Mo Alie-Cox: I've never seen Pitt play basketball. I have no idea. I think I'd be Julian. Or Nick (Foles). Nick's a great shooter.

JJ Stankevitz: I can see that.

Mo Alie-Cox: Maybe a little Steve Novak, Joe Ingles vibe.

JJ Stankevitz: Buck (DeForest Buckner) could probably do it. He was a double-double guy in high school.

Mo Alie-Cox: Yeah, put him in the low block.

JJ Stankevitz: So your starting five on this team.

Mo Alie-Cox: Me, Jelani, Kenny, Nick and Julian.

***

I saved the most frequent response I got for the end.

Grover Stewart: I'd probably do track and field. I used to do that. I would've been a field player.

JJ Stankevitz: Like shot put?

Grover Stewart: Shot put. Or wrestling.

JJ Stankevitz: Wrestling?

Grover Stewart: Yeah. [laughs]

JJ Stankevitz: We talking WWE or like an Olympic wrestler?

Grover Stewart: Probably Olympics. I would've been good at that one.

***

Parris Campbell: Ooooh. What would I play professionally? Not soccer. That's for damn sure. I'd probably be in the Olympics.

JJ Stankevitz: Doing what? Track?

Parris Campbell: For sure.

JJ Stankevitz: What's your event?

Parris Campbell: 100, 200 (meter).

JJ Stankevitz: There are a lot of track guys on this team.

Parris Campbell: I still want to run professionally. I just want to try it out and run in a couple meets or something.

JJ Stankevitz: Like DK (Metcalf)?

Parris Campbell: So me and DK actually have the same trainer. And obviously I was battling injuries and stuff but I knew he was gonna do that before. Our trainers talked about getting a 4x100 team together and literally going to one of the Olympic trials of football players. Which I think would be sweet. Ever since I was a kid — since track was the first sport I did — I always wanted to run in the Olympics.

[This conversation gets me thinking – if you're doing a 4x100 relay team of Colts players, who's on it?]

***

Kwity Paye: I'll say probably track. Track was my first sport.

JJ Stankevitz: What event?

Kwity Paye: Back in the day when I was light, I was doing the open 100. The long jump was my event. Long jump was probably my best event.

JJ Stankevitz: Are you making a 4x100 team of your teammates?

Kwity Paye: Oh yeah. I think I could make this 4x100 team, maybe the third leg. Let me see. Who else is available? (Scans the locker room) Parris, you got JT, Isaiah definitely.

JJ Stankevitz: Yeah. Lotta fast guys here.

Kwity Paye: Big Grove can move, now.

JJ Stankevitz: I heard Grove went and ran track and was crushing it.

Kwity Paye: Yeah, it was funny because he said he would go and run track and he'd win. Imagine a 280 pound guy in the 100.

***

[Dallis Flowers and E.J. Speed are *strongly* pushing bobsledding]

Isaiah Rodgers Sr.: Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme.

JJ Stankevitz: So when I've asked around the locker room you've been named to every single theoretical 4x100 track team.

Isaiah Rodgers Sr.: I'd do the 4x100. But if I had to do a 4x100 on the team, I don't know who the other three people would be. Nyheim (Hines) probably would've been the anchor leg. I'm going to go Tony Brown, Isaiah Rodgers, Jonathan Taylor. Parris and Ashton gotta Rock Paper Scissors for the last one. Best two out of three.

***

Ashton Dulin: I would definitely be running track. 100 percent be running track.

JJ Stankevitz: What's your fastest time?

Ashton Dulin: In the 400 hurdles in college I went 51.3. And then my 110 was 14-flat. And then in the 100 I was 10.5, 10.6, something around there.

JJ Stankevitz: Who's on your 4x100 team?

Ashton Dulin: If it's receivers, it would be Parris, Keke (Coutee) and Mike Strachan.

Alec Pierce, maybe hoping he'd get a spot: Woooowwww!

[Alec later told me he would've played beach volleyball but also would've had to grow up somewhere other than Chicagoland, where it's freezing cold about nine months of the year.]

JJ Stankevitz: What if you can't pick receivers? You gotta pick other people in this locker room.

Ashton Dulin: Oh, I'd definitely go Isaiah, TB (Tony Brown) and I'd put JT on it.

***

JJ Stankevitz: You've been named to like three theoretical 4x100 track teams. Are you gonna be a track guy?

Tony Brown: Definitely. I definitely would be a track athlete.

JJ Stankevitz: So who's on your Colts 4x100 relay team?

Tony Brown: Zay (Isaiah Rodgers Sr.). Ashton. Oh man. Zay, Ashton, and…either…Zay, Ashton, either…

JJ Stankevitz: It's tough, isn't it?

Tony Brown: Either it's a three-way tie for the last leg. They'd have to run for it. Mike Strachan, PC (Parris Campbell) and Dallis have to run for that last leg.

JJ Stankevitz: Think you guys could get a medal at the Olympics?

Tony Brown: The Olympics? Whoa. I wouldn't even — because I've competed in track at the international level and I was a first-team All-American in college. So I know what it takes to get to the Olympic level, and I would never trivialize the hard work and effort that those guys put into their craft. To say we would pass them up being professional football players, I wouldn't go that far because I've been at the international level and I know what it takes to get there. So I wouldn't say that, but I would say we could compete for sure in an open track meet.

[Brown was a first-team All-American at Alabama in both the 110-meter hurdles and 4x100-meter relay, and his personal best in the 100-meter is a blazing 10.12 seconds. He also competed at the 2017 USA Track and Field Championships.]

***

Jonathan Taylor: I would try my best to be a professional track and field athlete. I really enjoyed running track.

JJ Stankevitz: What's your event?

Jonathan Taylor: I was 100, 200, 4x100. They tried to get me to long jump in high school — they tried to get me to triple jump, actually. They could've at least started off with long jump. They went right to triple, I was like, ahhh, I don't know.

JJ Stankevitz: Okay, so you got a 4x100 team of your teammates here. Who's on it?

Jonathan Taylor: I gotta have — people sleep, I gotta have Ashton on it. Parris. I gotta go with Isaiah Rodgers, but I know we got Tony Brown, Tony Brown is 10.1.

JJ Stankevitz: He's a track record holder!

Jonathan Taylor: Yeah, Tony is 10.1. But the thing is, no one knows how fast Ashton is. We just know he's super fast. I haven't heard any gauges or measurements but if you watch him, Ashton is rolling.

JJ Stankevitz: Yeah.

Jonathan Taylor, grabbing his head: I don't know. I want to put Tony on there. I want to put Tony on there.

ESPN's Stephen Holder, noticing JT agonizing over this: It's your team! You can!

Jonathan Taylor: But then I've seen Parris in action, here and in college. He took a bubble to the crib on us for like 70 yards, Big Ten Championship. I've seen it with my own eyes. He's 4.31, 4.32.

JJ Stankevitz: I think he was 4.29. [JT was right, Campbell ran a 4.31 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.]

Jonathan Taylor, still agonizing: We got some fast dudes here. If anything I'll take myself out and put Tony in. But I gotta be on it. Man…

[So in this alternate universe, Kenny Moore II and Bobby Okereke are starring in Qatar, Parris Campbell and Jonathan Taylor are winning medals at the Olympics, Zaire Franklin is hitting cleanup for the Phillies and Stephon Gilmore is a four-time Wimbledon champion while Ryan Kelly has a green jacket. But thankfully, we live in a universe where football, indeed, does exist.]

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