Olympic Speed, But Can Bates Play Football?
First in the 40. Last off the practice field.
Michael Bates is on a mission to prove to people - himself included - that he can play football.
Yesterday, Bates ran by rookie cornerbacks and made enough tough catches, stretching, snagging catches, to suggest he can play in the National Football League and be remembered for something other than winning a bronze medal in the Olympic Games.
He stands at the line of scrimmage at Seahawk training camp in Kirkland like any other wide receiver.
But as he settles into his stance, the rear leg stretches back in the air as if he were settling into the starting blocks in Zurich or Oslo.
"I love football," he said yesterday. "It's my first love. I played football and didn't run track until somebody talked me into it. My brothers played football. It is what I want to be known for."
Bates declined to sign with the Seahawks after they drafted him in the sixth round in 1992. Instead, he ran in meets across Europe, capitalizing on his medal in the Olympics.
Then, this spring, reality set in. There was the opportunity to re-enter the draft, but Bates found the NFL had stopped taking him seriously. He hadn't played football in three years. To them, he was a sprinter.
"I knew then," he said, "that I had some work to do."
Nearly a Cornhusker
Before and after the Seahawks' minicamp in May, Bates stayed in Seattle, running, catching passes, learning to play football all over again. Ten weeks in all.
He could have been running across Europe, making money, having fun, being important. But he wasn't.
"Many days," said Bob Bratkowski, the Seahawk wide receivers coach, "we were the only two out here. I'm really impressed with his work habits. It is obvious that he really wants to be a good football player."
Bates was a good football player, a "10" in the Best in the West recruiting assessment of high-school football talent, just like Napoleon Kaufman was. A running back who almost went to Nebraska.
"I often wonder what would have happened to me if I had gone to Nebraska," he said. "Maybe I'd be a running back today; maybe, without track, I would have been a wasted athlete."
Bates, from Tucson, decided to stay home and attend the University of Arizona.
"There were a lot of unkept promises as far as I was concerned," he said.
"They talked about changing the offense for me. Instead, they wanted me to change to wide receiver in an offense that only threw five or six passes a game."
Juggling football and track
Bates stayed a running back, but in two seasons didn't play much. Finally, he decided to quit in favor of track.
"My goal was to make the Olympic team," he said. "And, too, after my experiences in football, I was using track as something to build my confidence up and a way to be proud of myself."
At Barcelona, Bates finished third in the 200 meters behind U.S. teammate Mike Marsh and Namibia's Frank Fredericks.
"I was ready to sign with the Seahawks then, I really was," he said. "But the money wasn't there and I didn't want to sell myself short in track. The medal in the Olympics created many opportunities for me."
Bates said he still wants to run track on the international level, where an Olympic medalist can earn more than $100,000 a year.
"I want to do both, football and track," he said. "But first I have to prove that I can play football."
Bratkowski, is impressed not only with Bates' speed, but his instinctive nature.
"There was a time in minicamp when I knew we were going to disguise some coverages that Michael wouldn't pick up, but he did and very naturally," said Bratkowski. "He is a very good athlete."
Fastest man in camp
In his truncated football career at Arizona, Bates caught only 11 passes, but returned a kickoff 97 yards against Washington State and punted twice for a 48-yard average.
On the Seattle depth chart, he is listed behind Tommy Kane, Kelvin Martin and David Daniels. Martinwas the wide receiver and kick returner for the Dallas Cowboys whom the Seahawks signed as a free agent.
Bates' best chance to help the team this year is as a kickoff returner.
"If there is someone out there who can beat me up the field, it will make for an interesting battle," he said.
There is no one as fast as Michael Bates on the Seahawk roster. At Barcelona, only two people in the world were.
---------------------------------------------- Important Seahawk dates
-- Thursday: Veterans report; practice the following day.
-- Aug. 6: All drafted rookies who have not signed by this date cannot be traded to another team in 1993.
-- Aug. 24: Roster trimmed to 60 players.
-- Aug. 30: Roster trimmed to 47 players.
-- Aug. 31: Clubs may establish an inactive list of six additional players by either procedural recall or by signing free agents. Teams may dress 45 players and a third quarterback for each regular-season and postseason game.
-- Aug. 7: Indianapolis, 6 p.m.
-- Aug. 14: at Minnesota, 5 p.m.
-- Aug. 21: San Francisco, 7 p.m.
-- Aug. 28: at Houston, 5 p.m.
-- Sept. 5: at San Diego, 1 p.m.
-- Sept. 12: L.A. Raiders, 5 p.m.
-- Sept. 19: at New England, 10 a.m.
-- Sept. 26: at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
-- Oct. 3: San Diego, 1 p.m.
-- Oct. 10: Bye.
-- Oct. 17: at Detroit, 10 a.m.
-- Oct. 24: New England, 1 p.m.
-- Oct. 31: at Denver, 1 p.m.
-- Nov. 7: at Houston, 10 a.m.
-- Nov. 14: Cleveland, 1 p.m.
-- Nov. 21: Bye.
-- Nov. 28: Denver, 1 p.m.
-- Dec. 5: Kansas City, 1 p.m.
-- Dec. 12: at L.A. Raiders, 1 p.m.
-- Dec. 19: Phoenix, 1 p.m.
-- Dec. 26: Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
-- Jan. 2: at Kansas City, 10 a.m.