'I can't believe they're athletes'

MIKE BELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

Look, there they stand: The professional athletes.

Chiseled. Bronzed. Beautiful. Godlike.

This is what we worship, what we all -- be we afflicted with expanding waistlines, noodle arms or sagging teats -- imagine we could have been or hope to one day be.

A perfect specimen of physical humanity.

Arms toned. Locks blowing dramatically in the wind. Thighs rippling with sleek, cat-like musculature. Firm haunches. Taut buttocks with sweet, dimpled Well, you get the picture.

Or rather, you get the picture painted by those who wish to perpetuate the myth of athlete as a finely-honed organic creation.

They would have you believe only Joe Montana should toss the pigskin, Tiger Woods should swing a stick, Ted Williams should go yard, Mario Lemieux should strap on skates and Michael Jordan should slamdunk.

But what of the other athlete?

Say, an athlete such as John Daly, who will be participating in the Telus Skins Game Aug. 7-8 at Banff Springs golf course.

What of that athlete who doesn't quite fit the picture painted by TV, film, magazines, newspapers and all of the other media outlets we entrust with the heady task of defining our self-worth?

Who praises them and their impressive girths, receding hairlines, jaundiced livers or tar-stained lungs?

Who worships at their altar, littered with the crumbs of corn fritters, gravy stains, beer cans and cigarette butts?

Are not they just as, if not more deserving our admiration, given the fact they are closer to our lazy, amorphous Barbapapa-esque physiques than those whom the gods deigned as their earth-shackled surrogates?

I mean, like us, so content or resigned are they, they refuse even to chemically or surgically alter their appearance to fit that stereotype or attract those sponsors.

They rely solely on the skills they were birthrighted or acquired during, one can only imagine, their awkward, lonely and dateless adolescences.

So for that reason, it's high time they and their pockmarked, flab-adorned, troll-like vice-loving brethren get the due they deserve for inspiring us all a little more, pushing us beyond our boundaries or, at the very least, giving us something to laugh at.

And please, density activists, note, we're not merely referring to fat athletes -- or fathletes, if you will -- but rather individuals who, through physical appearance or even personality quirks/defects don't quite fit the mould of athlete or even the sport they choose to pursue and excel at.

Also note, for our purposes, no game played with sunglasses and a deck of cards -- or a bingo dauber, for that matter -- is considered a 'sport,' nor are the soiled, shady, out-of-shape and sun-deprived participants considered 'athletes.'

Here, though, are the Top-10 real athletes in real sports who don't look or act the part.

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10. TONYA HARDING

Figure skaters are pretty, tiny and cute.

They enjoy collecting stuffed animals and flowers from the ice, crying tears of joy and purging after every meal.

What they aren't -- or weren't, prior to the rise and fall and arrests of Tonya Harding several years ago-- is thug-hiring, porn-making, trailer- dwelling, punch-throwing sociopaths.

Harding makes Britney Spears look like one o' them there sophist-o-macated debutantes.

And the fact that after the Olympics (how delicious is that -- she's an Olympian!) she chose not to pursue a purgatory in the Ice Capades but rather entertain the world with her arrest blotter and fantastically sad d-list career ambitions, just makes us love her all the more.

Kudos, Tonya! Thanks to you, little girls in skating rinks everywhere now have an option other than 'Second Starfish' in the chorus of Disney on Ice's version of The Little Mermaid!

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9. MUGGSY BOGUES

With the success of Muggsy Bogues, short people now have plenty of reason to live to play basketball.

(Yes, that was a bit of a stretch and rather awkward but we were more than willing to go that extra mile in order to reference Randy Newman.)

At 5-ft. 3-in., the li'lfella is the shortest in NBA history.

He's also one of the league's most popular and inspirational players.

And, unlike the Canadian Half Pints -- the Globetrotter-esque team of little people which play charity games in order to spread the admirable message of 'Don't Tease' (what can I say, it fell on deaf ears) -- Bogues is actually very good at the sport.

One NBA barrier down, next up -- more Canadians!

See also: Theoren Fleury and any athlete called 'a sparkplug,' but not jockeys -- Lilliputians whipping and headbutting livestock may be entertaining but it is not a sport.

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8. JOHN DALY

Granted, golfers are not known for their physiques -- or fashion sense -- but John Daly takes it to a whole new level.

He's the NASCAR answer to Happy Gilmore.

He's the reason golf courses still have to remind patrons of the 'no cutoffs' rule -- a populist, good ol' boy PGA player, unapologetically smoking, eating, drinking, eating, gambling, eating and marrying with all of the restraint of Mel Gibson in a holding cell.

An endorsement by Hooters says it all.

So does the small bit of information the doughy one might be close to losing his Tour Card next year.

Ah, well, Tiger may be the king of the PGA but there's something to be said about lovable, ol' Baloo.

See also: Phil Mickelson, Dave Barr, Pat Hurst, three of the guys in the foursome ahead of you, etc.

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7. WILLIAM PERRY

While William (The Refrigerator) Perry did live up to the image of football linemen being beefy and burly (i.e. bovine), the former Chicago Bear player broke out from the rest of the crowd when he was used on the offence, scoring touchdowns by lumbering a yard at a time.

It was a smart move by coach Mike Ditka, presumably borrowed from the playbook of that baseball coach who dressed a monkey to bat, or Ed Asner, who used field-goal kicking Gus to win the championship.

After nine whole seasons in the NFL, Perry retired and continues to live off of his fame, wrestling, boxing and growing bigger every day -- soon to be seen in a very special episode of Springer, where Jerry and a crane operator cut The Fridge out of his apartment.

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6. DAVID WELLS

Hearkening back to the earlier era of baseball, Wells' nickname 'Boomer' is either referring to his arm, his loud mouth or the sound his thighs make as he thunders out of the bullpen.

I mean, you don't get gout -- the syphilis of foot ailments -- from mineral water, protein shakes and Jazzercise.

And also defying stereotypes, there is nothing whatsoever jolly about Wells, a man who gives new meaning to the word 'surly', picking fights in and out of the ballpark, and tossing insults as fiery as his fastball.

Also see: Fernando Valenzuela and Terry Forster (aka the Letterman-dubbed 'fat tub of goo').

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5. BUTTERBEAN

OK, the 365-lb. monolith known to the world as Butterbean (aka Eric Esch) is more of an undercard sideshow than a prize fighter well schooled in the subtleties and intricacies of the sweet science.

One look at him should tell you that.

(It would also tell you had he been the one gnawing on Evander Holyfield, he wouldn't have stopped at the ear.)

And if you need further references, his nickname, 'The King of Four Rounders,' is a pretty good indication of his staying power and athleticism.

That said, if you've ever seen the 'Bean squeeze into the ring and attempt to put his Crisco-lubed hamhock through the face of whatever palooka they've propped in front of him, you would admit there is a science to what he does.

It's called physics.

And when that 365-lb. of force connects, it's also called fun.

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4. SERENA WILLIAMS

Now keep in mind we're well aware Ms. Williams is an athlete, an incredible one who's deservedly near the top of her field.

But, um, how to put this delicately ...

Well, along with owning a ferocious serve and powerful return, the flamboyant Ms. Williams also has great game, a phenomenal set and an incredibly well-rounded match.

In other words, the tennis star does not fit the physical or personality model of lanky, trust fund, country club, court brat.

In fact, she looks more like an extra from a Sir Mix-A-Lot video.

(Although we'll hate ourselves in the morning for this -- "Baby got backhand?")

It's also nice that she accessorizes to go along with her body shape, wearing sexy form-fitting panther suits and even blinging -- you kids still use that word, right? -- it out on the court, with dangly earrings and chains.

Although the Sharapovas and Kournikovas of the tour often seem to get most of the attention, neither one of them can, er, stack up to Williams sis Serena.

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3. WAYNE GRETZKY

Hockey -- the roughest and toughest and most manly of sports perfected by a skinny, pasty Canadian kid who looked as if he was wearing his big brother's clothes and was ready to weep at the drop of a glove.

Ironic -- no?

Gretzky was also the last of that generation of physically unassuming and amazing NHL players who had long, illustrious, such as Guy Lafleur, Butch Goring, Mike Bossy, etc.

They've now been replaced by the bigger, stronger superstars such as Eric Lindros, last seen getting concussed after walking into a door.

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2. TOM WILKINSON

Do you remember when you were a kid tossing the ball around with your dad, while he cradled a can of Olympia under his arm?

The only difference between that memory and those of watching Tom Wilkinson in the CFL was your dad wasn't good enough to justify wearing those tight shorts that creeped out the rest of the neighbourhood.

Though he was born in the U.S. and played for the Eskimos through his 30s, Wilkie eternally looked like a middle-aged hoser ready for another brew every time he trotted back to the huddle.

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AND #1 ...

BABE RUTH

The original. The Bambino. The Sultan of Swat. The Colossus of Clout. The Obliterator of Buffets. The Consumer of Kegs.

Yes, arguably baseball's greatest player and character was also the dictionary definition of 'dumpy' -- a man whose appetites were many and legendary.

Which was fine, really, because while these days many of the game's most feared hitters rely on workout regimens, well-rounded diets or the clear or the cream, nothing sends a ball into the bleachers better than putting all of your hoagie- and suds-supplemented weight behind it.

(By the way, he wasn't calling his shot, he was ordering a bratwurst.)

It also allowed the Babe to perfect a leisurely and stylish trademark home-run trot, which was, in retrospect, merely him attempting to hurtle his mass around the diamond on his tiny little ankles before they snapped as easily as twigs for kindling.

So, yes, thanks Babe -- all that you accomplished with the sculpted body of a tech support team member still inspires the husky kid inside us all.


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