Can you imagine Billy Hamilton on the pitch?

So we’re out of the World Cup. Belgium ended the U.S. soccer dream with a 2-1 victory in extra time.

It was a splendid effort — great theatre, too.

But the Belgians were better. They were more skilled, more polished. If not for our goalkeeper, Tim Howard, it would have been worse, much worse. In the end, the U.S. won one, lost two and tied one in the World Cup, not quite reaching the quarterfinals. For the U.S., that’s a good showing.

And now we will listen to TV and radio commentators talk about why the U.S. remains pretty much an also-ran in futball.

Two answers:

One, for all the mini-vans and youth leagues, soccer remains far down in the pecking order of U.S. sports. It’s just not as important here as football, basketball and baseball.

People ask all the time: How come Mississippi produces so many of the greatest football players in the world? Chief reason: The sport is so important here. Friday nights and Saturday afternoons and evenings are part of our social fabric. Deuce McAllister, who was a helluva soccer player in his youth, grew up wanting to be Walter Payton, not Pele or Maradona.

Our most talented athletes pay the traditional American sports. I mean, can you imagine Walter Payton on the soccer pitch? His combination of speed, strength, quickness, and ability to change directions would have made him a soccer terror. Lance Alworth? He’d have scored a million goals in soccer. Or how about Dexter McCluster? Or the former Chris Jackson? Or Michael Jordan, for that matter.

How do you think Tim Duncan would have been as a goalkeeper with his wingspan and agility?

Billy Hamilton, the Cincinnati Reds centerfielder and the fastest guy in baseball, was also a football and basketball star in high school at Taylorsville. Hamilton possessed the uncommon athletic skills to be one of the greatest futball players ever. He’s is a blur on the diamond and was on the football field and basketball floor. He would have been sensational on the pitch.

He was too busy playing the other sports.

Such is the case with 99 percent of the greatest athletes this country produces.

That’s just the way it is.

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