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Championship game test of Iverson's allegiances

Championship game test of Iverson's allegiances

The basketballs were bouncing all over the court at the Sportsplex on Thursday, but Allen Iverson stood on the sideline enthusiastically talking about the sport he calls "my first love" - football.Eventually, of course, he was asked for whom he was rooting in today's (tomorrow morning Taiwan) NFC championship game battle of quarterbacks - Atlanta's Michael Vick, from Iverson's native Hampton Roads area of Virginia, or the Eagles' Donovan McNabb, who plays where Iverson now lives.
"Aw, I don't want to get caught up in it," Iverson, his smile still in place, said to a couple of reporters following 76ers practice. "I knew y'all were going to do that to me.
"It's like, Mike's from my neighborhood, and Donovan's a good friend. He's an Eagle. I'm in this town and you've got to be a fan of Donovan and T.O. (Terrell Owens) and a lot of those guys, especially (coach) Andy Reid and how far he's come.
"You want to see the city happy, so you definitely want to see the Eagles win. But I want to see Mike do well. I want to see Mike do great," said Iverson.
Iverson, the Sixers' 6-foot, 165-pound all-star guard, knows of what he speaks when it comes to football, particularly quarterbacks.
Phenomenal junior year
During a phenomenal junior year, in 1992, at Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia, Iverson accounted for a total of 34 touchdowns. He passed for 1,423 yards and 14 touchdowns. He ran for 781 yards and 15 TDs. He intercepted eight passes as a defensive back, returning one for a score. And he returned four punts all the way to the house.
He never played against Vick, but he did play against current New Orleans Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks, who is Vick's second cousin. Vick watched both Iverson and Brooks growing up.
"All of us basically modeled our games after each other," Iverson said. "It's just that same style doing both, running and passing. We've got some quarterbacks there."
That includes Ronald Curry, a two-sport star at Hampton High, the rival school of Bethel, who is a wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders; Marques Hagans, also of Hampton High and now at Virginia; and Marcus Vick, who is trying to follow in his older brother's footsteps at Virginia Tech.
Even though he's internationally known as a basketball player, a most valuable player in the NBA and a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, Iverson still fondly recalls his football days.
"It's just the same as I feel about playing now; then I thought I was the best football player in the world," he said. "It was the sport I fell in love with first.
"I always thought I was going to be a professional football player. It didn't end up that way. When I was in college (at Georgetown), I had a hard time walking to practice and seeing the guys that were on the football team going to practice. Sometimes, I used to cry about the situation, but I knew that I could never play again.
"I asked coach (John) Thompson one day, I told him I was thinking about playing on the football team. I can't tell you what he said. Basically he said, 'No, and don't even think of doing it again.' I haven't since that point. But it's something that I'll always remember and think about, just playing football."
After leading Bethel's football team to the 1992 Division 5 state championship, Iverson sparked his school to the Virginia Group AAA state basketball championship a few months later, averaging 31.6 points.
"When I tell people I was better at football, they don't believe it," he said. "People from Virginia who actually saw me play, they're like, 'Yeah, he is.' I try to tell my teammates and I know they're not going to believe it. But when they see the clips, they say, 'Yeah, it looks like you knew what you were doing.' "
Senior year
Iverson didn't play at Bethel in his senior year. In 1993, he was convicted for his alleged role in a brawl between black and white youths at a bowling alley in Hampton and received a five-year prison sentence.Although then-Governor L. Douglas Wilder granted him clemency after four months served and a state appeals court overturned the conviction in 1995, Iverson found that all the nation's top football powers, which had been recruiting him, had backed away.
"I was recruited by everybody in the country," he said, "and then when I got incarcerated, I never heard no more about football. I never got any more mail or anything, not even with basketball."
Thompson decided to take a chance on Iverson after the player's mother, Ann, "poured out her heart to him," Iverson said, adding, "God brought me Coach Thompson."
Iverson is always left to wonder what might have been, especially on those summer days when he sees Brooks and Vick back home. And that's why he wants to see Vick do well today, even if he is cheering for the Eagles.
"Just for bragging rights, especially with the guys that I hang out with in the summer," he said. "You want to see them do good because ... You came up with them, they're from your area and you have a relationship with them."