I am, as we know, a little odd. My first question to Tony Gonzalez involved not the sport he has been hired by the Falcons to play but the one he played as a lark in college. “So how many points,” I asked last week, “did you have against Villanova in the NCAA tournament?”
A bit of background: Villanova was the No. 4 seed in the East Regional in 1997, and Cal — Gonzalez’s team — played the Wildcats in the second half of a Round 2 doubleheader on a Saturday in Winston-Salem. This game was widely ignored nationally and locally because Dean Smith had broken Adolph Rupp’s record for career victories in the first game, and North Carolina basketball tends to be a big deal everywhere but especially in Winston-Salem, N.C.
But does Gonzalez recall the game? Oh, yes. “Twenty-three,” he said, in answer to my question. “Tim Thomas [who's still in the NBA] had eight. We were guarding each other.”
Which brings me, albeit in a roundabout manner, to A.J. Green. It was in Tempe, Ariz., last September that he rose and snatched — that’s the only proper description — a Matthew Stafford pass from the desert sky, and I sat upstairs and said to myself, “That wasn’t a catch. That was a rebound.” So last week at Media Day I asked him: What kind of basketball player were you? Pretty good?”
“I was OK,” he said, and he smiled.
Where’d you play? Small forward? “Everywhere. Forward. Point guard. Everywhere.”
What’d you average? “About 25,” he said.
Did you ever think of playing both sports in college? “Sometimes. But football is my first love.”
And I say that’s a shame. Not that he’s playing the wrong sport — I like football, too — but I figure he’s so gifted he could walk onto Georgia’s basketball team in mid-January and be starting, Gonzalez-like, by February.
Indeed, here’s the Charleston Post and Courier’s recap of Green’s performance for Summerville (S.C.) High in the 2008 Class AAAA state title game against Spartanburg, and you’ll gather from Philip M. Bowman’s account that Mr. Green did more than OK that night. He scored 25 of his team’s 50 points, took nine rebounds and blocked three shots. (Heck of a game, too: A 60-footer that would have won the game for Spartanburg was waved off by the refs.)
But enough basketball. Green’s favorite catch as a Georgia freshman wasn’t the one in Tempe but the one in Lexington, Ky. “The game-winner,” he said, smiling again. As for 2009:
Does he worry the offense will become more run-oriented with a new quarterback? No, Green said. “The offensive coordinator [Mike Bobo] has confidence in Joe [Cox] and his ability to step up and lead the team.”
With Stafford and Knowshon Moreno gone, does the sophomore feel like the old man of the offense? “I guess it’s me and Mike [Moore, a fellow receiver]. But we’ve still got some things to learn.”
What does the addition of Orson Charles, an ebullient freshman tight end, mean for the offense? “Orson’s a great tight end. He’s going to do great things. He reminds me [disposition-wise] of Knowshon.”
And what Georgia receiver, you’re asking, does Green most resemble? Well, I haven’t seen them all, but I did see Gene Washington and Lindsay Scott and Andre Hastings and Brice Hunter and Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown, and each was very good. But Green has the potential to better than all of them. He is, not to put any pressure on him, a talent on the order of Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson. He’s an All-American.