It is one of those moments where you find yourself watching the Olympic sports at five or six in the morning that Americans have never seen before. And you love every second of it.
Forget NFL Sunday Ticket. Forget my NHL season pass for television. If there was a channel that aired team handball 24/7, my money would be going there.
It blows my mind how this sport has not caught on in the United States. It is played indoors on a 130 by 66 foot court featuring six field players and a goalie who has his own designated crease. Team handball has everything we worship in American sports: contact, (surprisingly) good athletes, penalties, coaches getting technical fouls (I won't say yellow and red cards because this will then get associated with soccer and turn people off), ejections and ridiculously hard throwing of a ball for goals.
Why has this not caught on?
Tuesday morning, I found myself watching South Korea play Hungary. In a matter of 10 minutes, I saw the Hungarian coach get the basketball equivalent of a technical foul, a player get "helicoptered" to the ground and smack his head on the court floor, easily resulting in a concussion (Roger Goodell would have slapped him with a fine), six goals and players getting mugged while preparing to shoot.
I did some research and it turns out there is an American handball team. It's kind of like our national soccer team. The team consists of foreign last names (the best player on the American team is Vladimir Andjelic), very little talent compared to the European countries and they under perform at international tournaments.
In fact, the United States is ranked a respectable 37th in the world according to International Handball Federation rankings. The Pan American games, where the Olympic automatic qualifying tournament for handball is held in the western hemisphere, was won this year by host nation Argentina. The USA finished seventh… out of nine teams. The stars and stripes lost to the eventual champions 33-13, but the problem is the Argentine squad is ranked 47th in the world.
I don't know… you tell me how that happens. I highly doubt home court advantage in handball is that big of a game changer. Maybe we should ask all of the 700 rowdy spectators that attended.
My point is we are an athletic country whose national past time involves a sport fixed around throwing a ball. I realize European nations might value the sport more, but I think if the USA gave handball a chance, we could be dominant.
Here are the description of the positions in team handball: for offense, there are wingmen, backcourt players, a center backcourt and a pivot. Wingmen stand in the corners of the court. Since shooting from that position provides a horrible angle at the goal, the wingmen typically jump from the corners as far and high as they can to improve their angle and shoot the ball before landing in the goal crease (players cannot be inside the crease on the ground with the ball). Backcourt players usually endure the most contact as they shoot from the middle of the court and are typically the hardest throwers on the team. A good backcourt scorer needs to be able to shoot around and over defenders. A center backcourt player is like a point guard in basketball. The pivot is a pick-and-roll player in the middle of the floor who frees up shooting lanes for others and sometimes shoots off of the roll. Defensive players match up accordingly.
The basic rules are simple: Two 30 minute halves and one cannot stall the ball for more than three seconds. The player must pass, shoot or dribble the ball before taking a third step or violating the three-second rule. Dribbling results in three more steps and three additional seconds. Players sub in and out on the fly.
So, I have creatively constructed the USA National Handball Team for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, taking America's best and putting seven men on the court to compete:
Head Coach: Nick Saban (University of Alabama)
Assistant Coach: Tom Izzo (Michigan State University)
Izzo is one of the best adaptive-moment coaches in sports. He works with what he has and finds a way to win. Saban is a winner and a defensive guru. He is intimidating, motivational and controls his teams. Did I mention he is a winner?
Goalkeeper: Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)
The breakout goalkeeper for the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings had a .946 save percentage and recorded three shut outs as he led the underdog Kings on arguably the greatest postseason run in hockey history. If Quick can catch a 100 mile per hour slap shot on ice, goalkeeping in handball should be a walk in the park.
Wingmen: LeBron James (Miami Heat) and Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins)
Reread the description… jump far and high and throw the ball into the goal. King James' vertical leap is north of 40 inches, and from inside 10 feet I would not want to stand in the way of a ball thrown by him. RG3 provided us with one of the most athletically gifted NFL combines of all time. He's fast, quick, strong, athletic and can throw the heck out of a football. Give me LeBron on the right and the Heisman Trophy winner on the left.
Backcourts: Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers) and Tim Tebow (New York Jets)
I originally wanted to put a baseball pitcher or maybe Peyton Manning into one of these spots, but baseball is not a contact sport and Manning would need his 20th neck surgery by the end of the first match. Hence, I put the two biggest freaks of nature football has seen at the quarterbacking position into the mix. Newton is 6' 5" and 250 pounds with a rocket arm. Tim Tebow gives you a left hander on the court to provide ambidextrousness (I'm making that a word if it isn't already) to the offense along with his never quit attitude. Plus, it's Tim Tebow… I will say though, it worries me handball is played in halves, not quarters.
Pivot: CC Sabathia (New York Yankees)
I know I'm contradicting what I just said above, but let me explain. CC is not your average scrawny, lengthy pitcher. The 2007 American League Cy Young winner is taller than Newton and weighs a wide 290 pounds. Before his incredible baseball career began, Sabathia was a stand out high school tight end who received offers to play for UCLA and actually signed a letter of intent to play for the University of Hawaii. He has an ideal body to set screens and can also hurl a 96-97 mile per hour fast ball when necessary.
Center Backcourt: Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics)
I was going to pick Derrick Rose, but Rose is injury prone and quite frankly a ball hog. A center backcourt player rarely shoots, needs to facilitate the game, possess great vision and have superior passing skills. That is a word-for-word description of Rondo. The Boston Celtics point guard is a defensive menace and will provide unselfish play to provide teammates with better opportunities to score.
-Eric Berry (Kansas City Chiefs)… Opponents will either be stripped of the ball or knocked out. He's quick and will be the best safety in the NFL in less than five seasons.
-Demarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys)… Ware is the master of the art of sacking quarterbacks. He provides size, strength and intimidation. Ware and Berry would sub in interchangeably on the fly with Griffin III and Sabathia for offense-defense.
-Vernon Davis (San Francisco 49ers)
-Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals)
-Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens)
-Ben Roethlisberger (PIttsburgh Steelers)
-Tim Howard (Everton Football Club)
I realize this squad is unrealistic, but don't we possess a number of basketball, football, baseball and hockey stars who are insane athletes and can't make it in their respective professional disciplines? This is the same proud Olympic nation that converted a Nebraska football player into an Olympic bobsled gold medalist. Don't tell me this can't be done for USA handball.
Beau Tiongson, the Reporter's summer intern, is a sports radio talk show host for KTCU-FM 88.7 The Choice in Fort Worth.