SAN DIEGO -- On Sunday morning, as NFL games played out on TVs in both clubhouses at PETCO Park, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson recalled his decision to choose baseball over football. "I think I can look back on that decision and say I made the right decision," Gibson said. "I probably would have had my neck surgery about 15 years earlier if I had stayed in the NFL." Gibson, who in the late 1970s was a fast and big receiver for Michigan State, said experts told him an NFL team would've drafted him among the top five players had he returned for his senior year.
Instead, he signed with the Detroit Tigers, who selected him 12th overall in 1978. It wasn't an easy decision for Gibson, who had visions of playing for the hometown Lions and admired NFL pass-catchers such as Boyd Dowler and Fred Biletnikoff. "Football was my love," he said. "It was my favorite, it was my dream." Baseball, however, offered him a better chance at a long career as a player. "I made a career decision," he said. "It was solely a career decision. True to the way I was brought up, you just embrace the opportunity, whatever it may be." Gibson gave baseball some of its most dramatic moments, such as when he homered off Padres closer Goose Gossage in the 1984 World Series, and off A's closer Dennis Eckersley in the '88 Fall Classic. For his part, Gibson enjoyed a long career as a player, despite several injuries. Not until after the 1995 season did he put away his bat and glove for good. And the good times have rolled on. His first full season as manager of the D-backs this year has coincided with one of baseball's better turnarounds. One year after losing 97 games, the D-backs lead the National League West, and Gibson is a candidate for Manager of the Year. Defensive backs in the NFL also benefited when Gibson opted to pursue a baseball career, despite having played only one season of baseball in college. As a receiver for the Spartans, Gibson created mismatches the moment he walked onto the field. "I was kind of a freak at the time," he said. "I was big, fast, mean, had good hands. I was 6-3, 230, and virtually the fastest guy on the field, or one of them. These defensive backs I was running against, most of them weren't 200 pounds, and most of them couldn't run with me." Gibson says he loved to catch passes over the middle, 15 to 20 yards down field, because that's where the big gains were to be had. "It's been great for baseball," Gibson said of his decision. "It's been a long playing career and I'm fortunate to do what I'm doing now."