- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
CARSON, Calif. -- It's only 8:48 a.m. local and already there's a helicopter stationed overhead, the media credential line outside the Home Depot Center is -- oh, my gawd -- at least 75 yards long and growing, it's Africa hot, and the German radio reporter in front of me is going on and on about the wedding dress she bought in Berlin. If David Beckham were here -- and there's more than a full hour before the L.A. Galaxy plant a big wet one on the world's most recognizable soccer player -- I'd have him kick me out of my misery.
Instead, I'm stuck. Stuck with the fraulein bride to be. Stuck in a line that winds more times than the Mississippi. Stuck in Becks Mania, which, to be honest, is much more interesting than any MLS game thus far.
Not to put too fine of a point on it, but Friday, July the 13th, 2007, will be forever known as the day Beckham attached a pair of jumper cables to America's soccer batteries, or as the latest example of this country's indifference to a sport the rest of the world adores. There is no in-between.
Beckham, his wife Victoria/Posh, and their three sons arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from London a night earlier, made their way through customs, past the paparazzi and eventually to their $22 million, Moroccan-style mansion (so says The Telegraph of London) in Beverly Hills. I spent the night at a Courtyard Marriott across the street from a Ralph's grocery store. Free wireless, though.
Everyone is here for Beckham's official introduction to the Galaxy, to Southern California and to the rest of America. There are about 700 media members, another 5,000 Galaxy fans, and a collection of MLS and Galaxy officials. This is huge stuff. Sort of.
As we wait to go through the security detectors (for a soccer news conference?), the German wedding woman asks a guard what he thinks of Beckham.
A shrug of the shoulders.
"Do you watch soccer?" she says.
"I'll watch the World Cup," he says. "But I'm not watching the MLS."
That probably won't go over huge at MLS headquarters, but that's soccer reality in America. It's a wannabe league with a lot of heavy lifting to do.
Steve Cohen, an English expatriate who hosts a show on Fox Soccer Channel, tells me not one MLS team could make it through a Premiership season. And a reporter for the London-based The Guardian wrote earlier this week, "If you wished to hide a map giving Osama Bin Laden's precise location, inside a Major League Soccer event would be the place to do it."
Yeah, that's going to leave a mark.
But the MLS and the Galaxy are Beckham's home for the next five years at $6.5 million per, plus a generous share of merchandise sales and gate receipts. He'll play for the England national team when asked (and miss Galaxy games doing it), but otherwise L.A. is home.
It's obvious the Beckhams and their agent Simon Fuller (of Spice Girls and "American Idol" creative and marketing fame) believe in the Big Bang Theory. Today is the stadium extravaganza. Next week is the NBC reality show, "Victoria Beckham: Coming To America," as well as the newsstand release of the August issue of W magazine. In case you haven't seen some of the mag photos, Becks and Victoria pose provocatively in various stages of undress in beds and atop cars. You know, just a couple of parents trying to fit in.
Anyway, the cover headline says it all. Something about them being determined "to become the new American Idols."
Good luck. The Galaxy are 3-5-4 and one of the worst teams in the league. Becks immediately becomes the best player in the league -- and he's not even a scorer. He's a magical passer who can do wondrous things with that right foot on crosses and free kicks. "He's almost a special-team player, like an American football player," Italy soccer legend Giorgio Chinaglia has told reporters.
Still, The Times of London recently ranked him the 34th-best footballer on the planet, which is nice. And my employer, ESPN, plans to keep a Beck-cam on him during upcoming broadcasts. According to The Times, the camera "will track the player's last pick of his nostril."
Meanwhile, back in line, the German reporter asks an American friend why we -- Americans -- only like winners, why the conventional wisdom is that we'll only buy into soccer if the USA one day returns with the World Cup.
"Why are they like that?" she says.
First of all, we're not like that. If we were, the Chicago Cubs wouldn't sell out just about every game. And second, we won the Miracle on Ice Olympics in 1980. Didn't exactly turn Americans into NHL freaks, did it?
Nope, the MLS is going to need more than Beckham to pull this off. The league knows it. Beckham knows it. All of us doing a slow baste in the morning sun know it.
But this stadium gig is a nice little start. The Galaxy PR and marketing staff haven't missed a thing, except cloud cover. There are huge banners of Beckham. The big-screen scoreboard runs a constant loop of Beckham promos. The black-shirted LA Riot Squad (the Galaxy's most devout fans) is singing and chanting. Other fans begin to fill in the empty steel bleachers in the corner of the stadium.
Then wait there she is: Posh herself emerges from a stadium tunnel at about 9:50 and receives an ovation. She's wearing a magenta-ish-colored dress that is part Jackie O, part Star Trek.
"What is that -- fuchsia?" says an American radio reporter.
"No, that's his wife," says another radio reporter.
OK, so we're not that bright here in the States.
Wearing black, oversized sunglasses the width of Slurpee cups, that killer Saran-wrapped dress and a pair of 4-inch heels, Posh walks across the pitch and to the waiting pack of photographers. She holds her matching purse just so, then places her tanned left leg out in front of the right just so. Then she puts her left hand on her hip. Then she lets the camera clicks wash over her. A few moments later right foot in front of the left, left arm dropped, cool, sexy look with the short, blonde hair. And we're spent.
At exactly 10 a.m., the stadium speaker system goes into full power mode. Music rattles the bleachers as a new Beckham highlight package is played. Then cut to a live shot of Becks emerging from behind a Galaxy-logo double door. He's wearing a gray-silver suit, silver tie, silver pocket square, white shirt, brown shoes. Think Brad Pitt, "Ocean's 11," but cooler.
Even most of the 700 journalists stand up when he walks onto the field. Beckham takes his place on the stage with assorted team officials and city dignitaries.
Team president and general manager Alexi Lalas describes Beckham's arrival as "a historic event." MLS Commissioner Don Garber tells the crowd "it's a moment we should all cherish." Head coach Frank Yallop mumbles something of little consequence and quickly sits down. Poor guy. If he screws up this Beckham thing, he's gone.
Lalas leans toward the microphone again.
"If you have a camera, this would be a good moment to take the lens cap off," he says.
A confetti machine starts spitting out yellow, blue and white paper strips. Music blares. Fans scream. Beckham steps to the podium.
"This is one of the biggest challenges I've ever taken in my career," he says in his East End Cockney accent.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is introduced and is nearly drowned out by boos (he's in the midst of a scandal involving a divorce and a relationship with a local TV reporter). It is the only awkward moment of the ceremony. Well, that and when Lalas ends the presentation by reciting most of the Galaxy schedule, hawking Beckham jerseys and reminding everyone of the team's Web site.
Beckham shakes more hands, then poses with several youth soccer teams. Then it looks like the mayor makes another run at him. Then he signs some autographs. Then he works the TV camera and photog line.
Eventually he ends up in Event Suite 3, where I, and about 30 other reporters, ask questions for about 20 minutes. He'll make the rounds to five suites in all.
Beckham, 32, doesn't say anything particularly interesting. Wait, that's not exactly true. He says he approached one of his new Galaxy teammates earlier in the morning and said, "Nice to meet you." The teammate said, "Nice to meet you too. What's your name?"
Beckham smiles hard at the memory. He knows the weight of the MLS is on his shoulders and that his salary dwarfs the $17,700 that a player such as Galaxy center back Kyle Veris earns. He wants to fit in. He also wants to elevate the league to more than an international way station, and to elevate soccer in America to top-four status.
"And if I can't, then I know I will have done my best," he says.
He wants to be a soccer ambassador. He likes challenges. He says for America to succeed internationally, there need to be more homegrown players. He's a blue-collar guy who says he has no problem being an international sex symbol.
A reporter discloses that the reporter's wife thinks he's "hot."
"First of all," says Beckham, "thank you to your wife."
The session ends a few minutes later. I walk down to the stadium merchandise store. Galaxy Beckham T-shirts go for $32.99. Jerseys go for $92.99. Real Madrid Beckham T-shirts go for $9.99.
I turn around and there's Posh in her full magenta splendor. She's chomping on a piece of gum while picking out T-shirts, soccer balls and warm-ups by the handfuls. There's something for her kids, for her sister's kids, for her dad, her brother, her husband's family
"We've got to look good for the first game," she says to me and a Washington Post reporter.
I ask her if she gets an employee discount.
"No, I don't," she says.
Instead, an assistant hands over a credit card for the 5-minute, $583 shopping spree. A security detail escorts her from the store and past a line of customers waiting to get in.
"Good," says one woman. "I can buy a pair of socks now."
Posh ducks into a brand-new Lexus SUV, rolls down the window and waves to the small crowd.
"Bye, Mrs. Beckham," says a little girl wearing a jersey.
She'll be back. So will Beckham himself. Whether America's sports fans come back with him is an entirely different question.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.