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Ramsey: Stenerud embraces football, leaving soccer behind

December 4, 2009
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NFL great Jan Stenerud, who has adopted Colorado Springs as his hometown, is hooked on what he calls “America’s game.”

“I think American football is the greatest team sport ever invented,” he said.

Which leads us to this question:

What about soccer?

Stenerud, 67, hails from Norway, where he played futbol, or soccer, every day in the summer. He knows the game. He once loved the game.

Now, he watches NFL games every weekend. He watches entire soccer games once every decade.

Stenerud kicked field goals in the NFL from 1967 to 1985, and he kicked with enough accuracy and power to gain membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is the toughest sports hall to enter. (Just ask former Broncos Randy Gradishar and Rich Jackson.)

Soccer reigns as the world’s most popular sport, and there’s not a close second. Billions of girls, boys, women and men follow the sport, and the World Cup ignites hearts like no other event.

Yet most Americans have declined to join the craze, and Stenerud understands why.

“American football is a lot more exciting than soccer,” Stenerud said as he sipped coffee near his home in Kissing Camels. “As you know, half the passes are backward in soccer.

“Soccer, it’s not boring, but compared to American football it is boring and that comes from somebody who grew up with soccer. Realistically, soccer doesn’t have as much to offer.

 “Soccer is fun to play. It’s great to play, but for the drama and the toughness, I don’t think it can match American football.”

Listen, I know several dozen soccer devotees are preparing to drown me with e-mails.

So let me state this clearly:

I am one of you. I regularly watch Spanish, English, Italian and German matches and if forced to choose between the World Cup final and the Super Bowl, I’d watch the World Cup.

Stenerud wouldn’t hesitate in his choice. He would watch the Super Bowl.

He has reason to love the game after crafting a masterful, unlikely career. He arrived at Montana State on a ski scholarship but was intrigued by massive classmates who played for the football team.

He followed them to the field and soon developed into one of the pioneers of soccer-style placekicking. He launched a 59-yard field goal, caught the eyes of NFL scouts and played 19 NFL seasons in the NFL.

It was a great ride. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1970. He became friends with Howard Cosell, one of the great talents in broadcast history and one of the great egos in world history.

With the Minnesota Vikings, his final stop, Stenerud roomed on the road with quarterback Archie Manning in 1984. Stenerud still remembers meeting Archie’s son, a polite 8-year-old named Peyton.

At the beginning of his ride, Stenerud found football baffling. Every play looked the same, and there were such long breaks in the action.

But he kept watching, kept studying. He sensed the strategy and the players’ conditioning and courage.

The first time Stenerud watched receiver and defensive back crash into each other at full speed, he figured both players would remain on the ground for a long time.

He never had seen such orchestrated violence. He was stunned, scared.

Both players instantly hopped to their feet, and a Norwegian skier was hooked on “America’s game.” 

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