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By Mike Imrem
Chicago Daily Herald
How thought-provoking over the weekend that the paths of Lance Armstrong and Ricky Williams crossed halfway around the world from each other.
In France, Armstrong won the Tour de France for a record sixth consecutive time. From Hawaii, Williams announced his retirement from the NFL.
What this started me thinking about again is the claim Armstrong is the world's greatest athlete.
I have said this before: Even if Armstrong is the world's most dominant athlete ever, he's nowhere near the world's greatest athlete.
What does Williams have to do with the equation?
Well, to me the suddenly former Dolphins running back was a better athlete than Armstrong is. So is anyone who can hit Kerry Wood's curveball or execute a crossover dribble in Kobe Bryant's face.
Wayne Gretzky was skinny enough in his prime to win the Tour de France. Dennis Rodman could have if it wouldn't have bored him to death. Alex Rodriguez would have if there were more money in it.
This isn't personal on my part. A half-hour on a stationary bike is about my limit. I'd have trouble riding around France for three weeks in a Porsche unless it was chauffeur-driven.
Back to Williams, the point being anybody who ever carried the football once in the NFL is a better athlete than even cycling's best ever.
Put it this way: Williams could peddle a bicycle for a couple hours in the Tour de France but Armstrong couldn't survive a single hit in the NFL.
That doesn't minimize Armstrong's accomplishments. His training regimen suggests he's superhuman and his cycling record confirms the notion.
But I'm sorry ... neither makes him more athletic than an NFL running back.
Like, it's no surprise Williams announced his retirement the week NFL training camps begin, because few football players want to go through that. Nor is it surprising Williams quit after five seasons, because that's as long as any human being should have to endure the punishment.
It's one thing to tolerate physical agony while sitting on a bicycle. It's another while angry 300-pounders are slamming into you.
Just imagine the speed, agility and muscle - the athleticism - it takes to navigate past, around and through people like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Warren Sapp.
Walter Payton did it for 13 seasons. After a couple, he indicated he would play five total, then go teach hearing-impaired children. Unlike Williams, however, Payton just kept on keepin' on.
Now, don't you think if Payton applied himself to cycling the way he did to football - and if it were as financially and emotionally rewarding to Americans - that he could have become Armstrong?
I mean, if Payton could run up and down that Arlington Heights hill to get in shape for NFL beatings, don't you think he could have withstood a cyclist's workouts?
If Ricky Williams stays retired he will be the rare football player - along with the likes of Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Robert Smith - with the strength to both play that brutal game and to leave us wanting more.
Williams wants to explore other interests, fulfill other ambitions and experience other sensations.
Who knows, he might even take up cycling just for the fun of it and win the Tour de France just for the heck of it.
If so, he won't be the athlete he was as an NFL running back.
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