Wait was worth it

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

One of the biggest names in soccer history is minutes away, and the crowd at the Edmonton International Airport, which has swelled to about seven or eight, can barely contain itself.

This is huge, you can see it in their faces.

It's like meeting cricket great Imran Khan Niazi, or catching a brief glimpse of bowling legend Mark Roth, or bumping into one of the top 25 javelin throwers of all time - a rare opportunity to see a once in a generation athlete in a goofy sport.

David Beckham, part-time soccer player, part-time rock star and full-time celebrity, is touching down at 3:10 p.m. and the place is staked out like the Pope is flying in to take on George Bush and Queen Elizabeth in UFC triple-threat match (cage fighting, now there's a sport).

There are beefy security guys with radio transmitters in their ears, police officers wearing bullet-proof vests, about 35 reporters and cameramen jostling for position, a handful of airport employees trying to direct traffic and a bunch of people who are just waiting for relatives on the same flight and have no idea what the hell is going on.

All because Becks is playing in Edmonton.

LARGER THAN LIFE

He is larger than life, and it doesn't seem to matter much that he makes more news in People magazine than Sports Illustrated these days. He is David Freakin' Beckham, an underwear model with a $250 million contract and a Spice Girl wife. Enough said.

All of Edmonton's media is camped outside the arrivals gate, hoping for a brief word with the Human Billboard.

The plane is late, and a rumour spreads through the airport that they ran into some light turbulence over Seattle and the entire soccer team immediately started writhing in the aisles, clutching their shins, so pilots had to land the plane and get everyone a drink of water before they continued the flight.

Bad scoop. Turns out they were just flying Air Canada.

Now it's 3:25, the crowd is up to 20 or 25, and still no Beckham. The TV cameramen are getting antsy, and begin interviewing airport employees in yellow vests.

TV: "How does it feel to know that Beckham will be here any minute?"

Yellow Vest: "Leave me alone, dude, I'm on my break."

At 3:50, a PR guy says he's "99 per cent sure" Beckham won't be doing interviews. In other words, there's still an outside shot.

Failing that, we stake our spots along the rope so we're ready in case he says something like "Hello," or "See you at the game," as he blows by.

If we're lucky, somebody might shout "What do you think of Edmonton so far?" and he'll say "Good."

The crowd swells to 30 or 40 as more airport employees flock to the scene.

Then, at about 4 p.m., the security guys start whispering into their cuffs, the arrival doors open and a bunch of L.A. Galaxy players, also known as The Guys Who Aren't Beckham, file through.

Finally, it's him, smiling like a guy who's making $250 million and is married to Posh Spice.

The soccer fans respond as all sports fans do when one of their all-time greats walks by - they scream like the Beatles are back together.

"Eeeeeek! Welcome to Edmonton, David! We love you!"

The feeling doesn't appear mutual. The Galaxy staff hustle Beckham through the gauntlet of fans and media like he's an FBI informant on his way to testify against the Godfather and we're all snipers. The only things missing were a jacket over his head and a fake Beckham to draw the early rounds.

Needless to say, there were no interviews. Then, he stops. Actually stops walking. Right here in Edmonton. And he signs something! Penned it like Beckham.

The camera guys go nuts.

Remember, these are people who've been shooting footage of other cameramen and interviewing guys in yellow vests who work at the airport. Beckham, stopping, signing an autograph? They'd stomp through a field of baby chicks for that shot.

TRIPPING OVER EACH OTHER

And, sure enough, it's a frenzy. They're climbing over benches, standing on top of chairs, pushing, shoving.

You would have sworn Elvis and Marilyn Monroe were making out on a blanket sewn out of Kennedy Assassination confessions.

Beckham signs maybe three things before being whisked out of the airport and back to the hotel for a team meeting, where they will presumably discuss last second changes to their diving and shin-clutching strategy.

And tonight, more history. Not only a chance to see soccer's version of Imran Khan Niazi, but seeing him in an exhibition game. The last time these two sides met in a friendly, it was 0-0.

If we're treated to half that much excitement tonight, we should consider ourselves very fortunate.


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