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An imaginary oral history of how Manu Ginobili changed the NFL forever: Part 4

The conclusion of the alternate timeline in which The Argentine played quarterback and revolutionized American football.

Editor’s Note: On the occasion of our favorite player choosing to retire, we can either be maudlin and emotional or we can celebrate his career by having some fun. This is an attempt at the latter. What follows is the account of an imaginary universe in which Manu Ginobili never played in the NBA, and instead became a star quarterback in the National Football League. All quotes are fictional. No journalists were harmed in the making of this fake oral history. If you missed it, here’s part 1. and part 2. and part 3.]

- John Madden

Brett Brown, Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and former Saddles quarterback coach: “The best way I can describe what he did is to think of the football field like a chess board. A pocket quarterback —Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees— they’re like rooks. They can attack you vertically and horizontally. Then you get a quarterback who can run and throw —people like Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton— they’re like a queen. You’ve got to account for them diagonally too, okay? Before Manu came along we all thought we understood the rules of engagement. But he’s like a queen who can also move like a knight, picking off people in any direction and hopping over pieces. There’s just nowhere on the board where you’re safe from him.’

Bill Barnwell, NFL analyst, ESPN: “Ginobili took everything we thought we understood about football and flipped it on its head. All of those 340-pound offensive and defensive tackles? They went the way of the dodo. Everyone has to be versatile now. You’ve got to be able to move and catch and react. Positions don’t really exist anymore. The only thing I can even compare it to is [Wayne] Gretzky in hockey. After he came along, all the defensemen who couldn’t skate and the goalies who played standing up became an endangered species. Same thing here. He engineered an evolution, and unlike Gretzky, he did it with pedestrian stats, which was the ultimate “I rest my case” vindication for those of us who’ve long maintained that all the counting stats were outdated and irrelevant all along.”

Tim Duncan, former Saddles middle linebacker: “Every year during the Pro Bowl other defensive players would come up to me and tell me how lucky I was that he was on my team and I didn’t have to deal with him. I’m like, ‘Who the hell do you think he’s practicing against every week?’”

Gregg Popovich, Head Coach/President of San Antonio Saddles Football: “Once I stopped trying to change him and we, as a coaching staff, finally started to wrap our heads around what we had in him, then it became the kind of deal where, okay, ‘let’s go earn our paychecks.’ As much as I love spending time with all of you lovely people, they actually pay me to help the players win games, so I thought maybe it’d be a good idea to invest my time in that area. We made a few tweaks here and there.”

Buck Harvey, former San Antonio Express News columnist: “After the initial shock wore off after a couple of years, Pop and his assistants started getting really innovative. They’d line up one or two of their eligible receivers on the offensive line and then have the linemen out wide, to serve as escorts —or decoys— for lateral targets. Or they’d make their linemen report as eligible and their receivers as non-eligible. Eventually they quit using traditional linemen altogether and everyone was tight end-sized, nobody bigger than 275 pounds. Eventually the laterals became contagious and they’d have plays where they strung seven, eight, nine passes together. It was beautiful choreographed chaos.”

Mike Budenholzer, Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers and former Saddles Offensive Coordinator: “Once he helped us realize that the game isn’t one passer, five blockers and five eligible receivers but rather five eligibles behind the line [of scrimmage] and 11 after you cross it, our whole game plan became how to best take advantage of that. It looked easy —he made it look easy— but there was a method to the madness and we were always striving to stay one step ahead.”

Bill Belichick, Head coach, New England Patriots: ‘One thing that always upset me is when the media referred to them as a gimmick offense. To me they weren’t that at all. They took the game back to its roots and expounded on it with the advantages of the modern athlete. I have nothing but the ultimate respect for coach Popovich and his staff and I think Ginobili is just a fantastic player, a tremendous competitor. He ushered in a whole new era of the game. We actually tried trading for him after his rookie season and we were politely turned down by the Saddles. I saw where the game was going and we moved on from Tom [Brady] a year after that.’

Barnwell: ‘Manu’s rookie year was what, 2003? You’d have gotten some pretty good odds in Vegas that because of him Brady would be out football by 2009.’

Jeff McDonald, Saddles Beat Writer, San Antonio Express News: ‘Oh, people tried everything you could imagine to try to throw a wrench into the machine. They’d blitz eight people at Manu and he’d make them look like morons with the easiest wide open touchdown passes you’ve ever seen. Or they’d do the complete opposite thing and back everyone off and play like an 11-man zone. It was hilarious. Manu would simply hand it off to Tony and they’d get an easy 12 yards over and over and over again. It was like stealing. Eventually the tried-and-true universal strategy everyone decided on was to just beat the crap out of him, regardless of who had the ball.’

Mike Monroe, former columnist, San Antonio Express News: ‘They won their third Super Bowl in five years in 2007 and then statistically Manu actually had his best season the following year, but you could tell by the time the playoffs rolled around he was pretty banged up, and all those snaps he played at safety didn’t help matters.’

Mike Brown, defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders and former Saddles defensive coordinator: ‘It was hilarious to me. He and Pop went from cussing each other out over what he did with the ball to arguing about Manu wanting to play defense. Gino kept telling him, “I’m not a quarterback, I’m a f——— football player’ and ‘If you have somebody better, put them in the game then.” All I know was I was happy to have him. He led us in interceptions damn near every season.’

Manu Ginobili, Saddles Quarterback/Safety: ‘That was another of those things with the game that never made sense to me. Why wouldn’t I want to do it? Who knows what a quarterback is looking for on a play better than another quarterback? Football teams are so separated with offense and defense. You have your own meeting rooms and it’s like you don’t even see each other during the week. It’s not like that with other sports. I wanted to show [the defense] that I am just as accountable to them as I am to the offense and that we are all fighting together.’

Buck Harvey, former San Antonio Express News columnist: ‘Eventually he and Pop came to an understanding. Manu would only play defense on obvious passing downs like 3rd-and-long or maybe in the fourth quarter if it was a tight game. He was like a deep centerfielder more than anything, but he did have a nose for the football, pardon the pun. I will say that he wasn’t exactly the most physical tackler.’

Duncan: ‘Manu’s tackling? His technique was to literally get in the ball carrier’s way and fall down underneath him. Whatever works, I guess.’

McDonald: ‘It didn’t look pretty but all I know is he sacrificed one of his three best friends making a stop and I don’t mean Boris Diaw.’

Ginobili: ‘That was not a fun night.’

Popovich: ‘We had a lot of success, but Manu hurt his ankle pretty bad during the 2008 playoffs and then re-aggravated it during the Olympics, so after that, we had to re-evaluate how we did some things with him.’

Monroe: ‘Oh, that’s right. In the middle of all this madness, Manu was getting so much global attention that the Olympic committee decided to make American football a demonstrator sport —kind of like a one-time trial run— for the 2008 Olympics. He was the captain of Argentina’s team, obviously, and 10 other countries hastily fielded teams and the U.S. put out their All-Pro “Dream Team” captained by Timmy.’

Barnwell: ‘I mean, can you imagine? It would’ve made “The Miracle on Ice” look like nothing. The word “underdogs” doesn’t begin to describe Argentina here.’

McDonald: ‘Well you’ll never believe what happened, folks!’

Duncan: ‘Come on. We beat the crap out of them, 63-to-6.’

McDonald: ‘Oh, wait. You’ll totally believe what happened.’

Ginobili: ‘There was a little bit of a size and speed mismatch. [Laughs] That was a painful day, literally and emotionally. But I was proud to represent my country and I can always say I’ve got a silver medal.’

Harvey: ‘The Olympic committee decided not to bring it back for 2012. It was a one-and-done experiment.’

Popovich: ‘Once Manu got to 31 and 32, it was starting to take its toll on him so we decided he’d go back to a part-time role. All he cares about is what’s best for the team, so he never argued. He wasn’t worried about his stats and all that baloney. He was a total pro and he’d gotten over himself long ago, so he was an example for the rest of the squad.’

Barnwell: ‘For such a consistently successful team it was kind of crazy how many quarterbacks the Saddles cycled through. First it was Mike Finley, then George Hill, then Danny Green. But Ginobili would always be in there on the critical third down plays or in the fourth quarter.’

Ginobili: ‘I wasn’t in love with it, but I didn’t argue with Pop. I knew I’d be playing down the stretch of games and the truth is he probably prolonged my career by a few years. T.D.’s (Duncan’s) too.’

Matthew Berry, ESPN Fantasy guru: ‘For a few years there Ginobili was the bane of my existence. We just had no idea how to quantify or project what anyone on the team was going to do. He might throw four touchdowns in one half and then go a month without another. He had games where he’d run for 150 yards and other games where he’d run for 20 and just flip the ball to the other guys and boost up their rushing numbers. The Saddles always led the league in most guys with touchdowns, most guys with offensive touches, but you couldn’t really do anything with them in fantasy.’

R.C. Buford, Saddles general manager: ‘We were like this beleaguered little country surrounded by enemies on all sides. The league’s stats people were mad at us because they didn’t know how to keep track of our yardage on their box scores. The video game people were mad because it was hard to digitally replicate our offense. The fantasy people were up in arms, and they’re this huge lobby these days. The media was always upset because we wouldn’t give them enough access when they don’t understand what the demands on Manu’s time with the international press is like. Then the league’s promotional department is upset that we don’t play our stars enough to let them rack up numbers in line with the other stars. You can guess what Pop thinks of all of this stuff.’

John Madden, former broadcaster: ‘I’ve been around the game for a very long time and had the chance to watch and coach and be around so many great players. And I can honestly say that there is no one that has ever brought me as much joy, watching them play football than Manu Ginobili. When I yell “GINOBLIIIIIIII!!!!” during the games it’s because that is that is the enthusiasm he gives me watching him play. You hear all this stuff about Pop extending his career by making him a part-time player, well I’ll tell you, Ginobili single-handedly extended my career. I have too much fun watching him to quit.’

LeBron James, Cleveland Browns quarterback: ‘Manu’s the reason I decided to switch sports. Before he got there football was so robotic and micromanaged. He brought fun and improvisation back to the game. It’s like a kid’s game again, but with world-class athletes.’

Kawhi Leonard, Saddles cornerback/wide receiver: ‘When I was drafted everyone expected me to be a good defender and I took a lot of pride in that, but seeing Manu go both ways inspired me to want to try offense too, and now I want to be the best at both.’

Kevin Durant, Oakland Raiders wide receiver: ‘I really enjoyed beating Argentina and the rest of the world with Team USA in the Olympics and then I realized it’d be fun to be on a team that’s so dominant that there’s no point in even playing the sport anymore.’

Popovich: ‘People ask me all of the time, what did you see in him on that beach in Sydney, what did you see in him playing basketball that made you think he’d become what he became. How’d you know? And I tell them I knew because he’s Manu Ginobili. We were just lucky the baseball people didn’t get to him first.’

Matt Bonner, former Saddles tight end: ‘Back in April of 2008 we happened to have an off-day in Boston. I’d been bugging him forever to watch a baseball game and finally he relented. Little did he know that I arranged it with my beloved Red Sox to give him the V.I.P. treatment. He’d never swung a bat before in his life and I convinced him to get in the cage for batting practice and he was swatting pitch after pitch over the Green Monster, just effortlessly. Wicked awesome, right? Then he switched sides and he’s swinging lefty, same thing, every pitch going like 400, 450 feet, easy. His hand-eye coordination was like nothing I’d ever seen. And he was like trying to stifle yawns while he was swinging. Then they had him throw the ceremonial first pitch. I had to show him how to grip the ball by the seams and all that, the whole bit. So the catcher is expecting this nice, easy lob and I’m telling you I didn’t even see Manu’s pitch, I just heard it. The sound of it hitting the catcher’s mitt was like a shotgun blast. The catcher stumbles backward, and immediately, out of reflex, I turn to look at the radar gun. 102 miles-per-hour, I swear to god. He hadn’t even thrown any warm-up pitches! I decided I better get him out of there before somebody threw a contract at him because Pop would’ve killed me. Manu was more than happy to not have to stick around and when I told him how fast he threw he was like, “Is that good?”’

Ginobili: ‘Baseball? Come on be serious. What am I gonna do with a bat?’