If I may, I would like to wax nostalgic: It's Feb. 22, 2005, I'm sitting at home, twirling my hair, thinking about what I could possibly write, and I haven't a clue. I'm a few weeks removed from my first national team camp but I don't know if I could dedicate a whole entry, over 1,000 words, to my I-was-just-so-happy-to-be-there attitude without gagging readers with genuine heartfelt sappiness and a giant, wooden spoon. So I remain idle. I throw myself into my "real" job and hope that inspiration will hit me in the face at some point in the near future. It doesn't. So I agonize and stress and lie in bed awake, at 2 in the morning, mumbling to myself.
"Fine," I state.
"Fine what?" I offer back.
"Let's do what we always do when we can't think of something to write about."
"Which is what?" I respond sassily.
"Come on, are you being serious?" I ask.
"It's 2:30 in the morning, I'm incapable of being anything but a mix of borderline psychotic and somewhat sarcastic. Just tell me what we always do."
"Well first off, we always make up imaginary conversations between you and me and if that doesn't fill the word count, then we ask 10 random questions of our teammates like, 'Are you jealous of me in the shower?'"
"That's right. We should do that again. The feedback from the readers is always good even if nobody on the team is jealous of you in the shower."
"Thanks for the reminder."
With internal peace restored, I fall asleep into a deep, tranquil bliss, wake up the following day, crank out nine to 10 questions, interview my teammates in the morning before practice and their cup of coffee, edit some of their answers to make them sound funny and coherent, send the finished product to my (not-that-) demanding editor, and cringe at the thought that in a few weeks' time I will be reliving this vicious cycle all over again.
Fast forward to February 2008. Nostalgia aside, I find myself in a familiar predicament and I can't bring myself to start off a new year by asking my teammates questions again, and here's a few reasons why:
1. It's too easy.
2. People expect it.
3. I've run out of new ways to flatter myself. I think I've made it clear to everyone how good-looking and charming I am.
So after careful self-versus-self deliberation, I've decided that it's time to start ANSWERING some questions instead of asking them. In fact, during the offseason, I've been asked a lot of questions on a variety of topics. I've had some time to rethink my answers to those queries, so below, I provide both my off-the-cuff response, as well as my answer following some serious introspection:
1. What did you do for your birthday?
What I said: Not much. I was in Florida with the Wizards and I was doing my best to not let anyone know that I had become a 30-something. I'm like a dinosaur compared to some of these young guys on our team now. Of course, let it be known, I am a dinosaur that crushes them in fitness.
What I should have said: I rented a stretch limo to take all of us down to South Beach and we partied like it was 1999. We made the rookies dance on tables as part of their initiation and Davy Arnaud and Jack Jewsbury sang a duet to "[I've had] the Time of my Life," at the karaoke bar. Davy nailed the female lead with surprising range.
2. Are you ever nervous before you play in a big game?
What I said: Explaining the psychology behind my answer would initiate a flurry of follow-up questions, so let's just agree to agree on what I know to be true, the bigger the game, the less nervous I am.
What I should have said: Butterflies are for wussies.
3. Do you like the band U2?
What I said: Kind of.
What I should have said: Not really.
4. Is it hard being you every day?
What I said: Nope. I'm proud to say that my chiseled looks and undeniable wit come natural to me.
What I should have said: Of course it is! Do you know how hard it is to have to wear my FREE adidas stuff all the time? It's exhausting. And due to this exhaustion I have to take a regularly scheduled afternoon nap. But sometimes, due to circumstances beyond my control, I can only get in one hour! And then add that to the fact that I have to stretch, yeah that's right, MY MUSCLES, every day. I'm telling you, this lifestyle is not for everybody.
5. How is life different now that you are a dad?
What I said: I've learned that anything that is about "me" pales in comparison to what is happening with my sweet baby girl.
What I should have said: I get the opportunity to brainwash my daughter's 10-month old brain daily with phrases like,
"My dad says not until I'm married."
"I know you're changing my diapers now so I promise I will change yours and Mom's in the future."
6. What is it like when you are taking a picture for a poster or something?
What I said: I become the "anti-athlete" because sweating of any kind is frowned upon and wrinkling the product is a cardinal sin.
What I should have said, because it's true: Photo shoots take a long time for me because of my illuminating radiance and it always takes the photographer a while to come to.
7. What was your favorite class in high school?
What I said: PE.
What I'm going to say (since impressionable young people will read this): PE.
8. Was it your personal goal in life to become a professional soccer player?
What I said: Honestly, it wasn't my personal goal in life because when I was a kid there was no professional league in the U.S. to follow, and trying to find a national team game on television was near-impossible until we qualified for the 1990 World Cup.
What I should have said: After the U.S. national team wore denim blue jerseys in a World Cup game in 1994 I knew what needed to be done. I needed to become a professional soccer player so I could have my own column on ESPN to make sure no one forgot just how bad those jerseys were. In short, denim inspired me to become the person I am today.
9. Worst playing surface to play on?
What I said: Sports turf.
What I should have said: The No. 1 worst playing surface is sports turf with football lines and a distant second would be playing on dirt with rocks, glass and potholes.
10. Landon Donovan really is way, way meaner than everyone thinks he is, right?
What I said: Actually he's quite the guy. He walks little old ladies across the street, rescues kittens that are stuck in trees, stands outside grocery stores with a little bell for the Salvation Army, misses penalty kicks so the opposing team can feel the thrill of victory, buys Girl Scout cookies by the truckload, knows all the answers on Family Feud and single-handedly repaired part of the ozone layer.
What I should have said: He's the biggest jerk I know.
11. Is seeing everyone in the stands wearing all the same color as big a deal to players as it is to some fans or is crowd noise more important?
What I said: As cool as it is to see a certain section or a whole stadium dressed in the same color as the home team, I think crowd noise is much more important because it's something I can sense when I'm on the field playing and it's something the home team can feed off of.
What I should have said sarcastically: As cool as it is to hear a certain section or a whole stadium cheering as one to rally around the home team, I think all the fans wearing the same color shirt is much more important because it's something that has me shaking in my little space boots when I come out of the tunnel as a visiting player. For example, I definitely know I'm in for a long night if all the fans agree to wear black for a playoff game. Ooh, scary.
12. How come a guy who's been a walk-on for every team he's played for from college all the way to the World Cup doesn't have his own "impossible is nothing" adidas ad?
What I said: Good question. I should ask.
What I'll say now after asking: Two words for you from them: aging defender. They want young, attacking players to push into the spotlight like that one kid in the commercial who kicks a hole through an opposing player's body with the ball. I can't do that. And apparently I'm not getting any kind of love until I can.
21. Who's got the goofiest time-killing off-the-field hobby? Someone on the team knits, right?
What I said: I know quite a few players who have such a serious Halo addiction that they talk trash to their opponents through their headsets. Mind you, these opponents are 11 years old and are dominating these players, who will remain nameless, with relative ease.
What I should have said: Do you consider Kerry Zavagnin modeling women's lingerie a hobby?
23. Who are your big heroes, soccer-related or otherwise?
What I said: Any of the ThunderCats.
What I should have said: Inspector Gadget
24. What do you wish we fans knew or understood about your side of the game?
What I said: That we players intentionally pass balls out of bounds or to the other team to hear how loud we can get our own fans to groan or yell obscenities in our direction.
What I should have said: Nothing. You guys know everything!
Jimmy Conrad is a defender for the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer's Kansas City Wizards. He contributes regularly to ESPNsoccernet and can be reached at JimmyKnowsAll@gmail.com.