If you don’t think the All-Pro Curling Team comprised of former NFL All-Pro football players is serious about qualifying for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, consider this:
During a practice tournament at Las Vegas Ice Center, they drank only one beer each.
“In one match in October, I think I had two,” said Michael Roos, a former Tennessee Titans offensive tackle, almost cracking a smile. “But you gotta stay focused.”
You could tell by their demeanors and the tenacity with which they curled the rock at the Las Vegas Curling Club’s Sin City Spiel that Roos, former Rams quarterback Marc Bulger and ex-Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck weren’t pulling legs about competing in the Olympics.
Former Chiefs and Vikings defensive lineman Jared Allen, the fourth member of the team, didn’t curl in Las Vegas because of a previous commitment. But Allen might be the most focused of the bunch. It was his idea to start the All-Pro Curling Team when it was deemed badminton would be too physically taxing.
Honestly, Allen said that. But he’s serious all the other time, his teammates said.
The footballers lost the match I watched to a side of non-Olympic hopefuls. But at least they weren’t beaten by the team wearing kilts that was curling on the next sheet.
Lots to learn
“We get frustrated because we mastered our sport,” said Bulger, who was twice named All-Pro and reached 1,000 completions faster than any other quarterback in NFL history. “But I think that’s why our learning curve is going to be a little quicker than most.
“We’re six, seven months into this. So I think we’re a little too tough on ourselves.”
Allen got the idea to take up curling after a friend’s challenge. “It was chill, and the winners have to buy the losers beer,” he recently told The Associated Press.
That was in March. They didn’t tell anybody about curling and the Beijing dream because they didn’t want to be considered a novelty act, another Jamaican bobsled team or ski-jumping neophyte Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. By November, they were playing against the world’s best.
At the Curl Mesabi Classic in Minnesota’s Iron Range, Allen and Bulger and two curlers with a little more experience were matched against Pyeongchang gold medalist skip John Shuster and the sweeper who looks like Super Mario from the video game (Matt Hamilton). They lost 11-3 after giving up a bunch of points in the sixth end, which is what curling calls its innings or quarters.
Instead of conceding the match, the football players asked the Olympians if they could continue to curl.
“Honestly, they were a little better than I expected,” Hamilton said. “But at the end of the day, I’ve seen thousands of curling shots and situations, and that is ultimately going to win us more games.”
And that is ultimately going to send the All-Pro Curling Team back to the rink for more practice bonspiels. The one at the Las Vegas Ice Center preceded the Continental Cup at Orleans Arena that starts Thursday and will attract Olympians and world champions as well as thousands of curling enthusiasts.
“The curling community, I don’t think anybody had an idea about it going in,” Bulger said of the warm reception the football players have received in their new pursuit. “They know we’re really serious, and we take the sport serious. They’ve been great, and we’ve been humbled by how good the caliber of the sport actually is.”
But he agreed it’s a little safer than downhill skiing.
“When Jared came to me, I said I’m in for curling. But my body got beat up enough in football from guys like this,” said Bulger, who will be 42 in April.
“It’s a team sport, similar to football,” he added about the ancient sport that has been called chess on ice. “We’re all learning, figuring out why you’re throwing stones where. I always thought you were throwing them straight to the button in the house (target). But we’ve come to realize there’s a lot more to the game.
“We might be more athletically gifted than some of the teams, but they’re years ahead of us when it comes to things like that.”
“Or decades,” Roos said as a man from the tournament sidled up to inform the All-Pro Curling team its next match would be at 8 a.m. the following day.
It was decided the next beer should be a Michelob Ultra.