Red Card Roberts
July 12, 2011
Football commentator and former player Joe Theismann once said: "Nobody in professional sports should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."
Having interviewed hundreds of players and coaches over the last decade, I agree with Joe (before he gets Albert and Norman confused). I’ve left numerous press conferences thinking to myself, "Dear God, if their brains were cotton, you couldn’t make a Q-tip out of the whole lot."
But Park City boasts two men in professional sports who defy this logic: Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis and Real Salt Lake defenseman Chris Wingert. Not only can they string together a grammatically correct sentence and provide more than "Um, yeah" as a response, they also didn’t need me to explain the title of this column: Red Card Roberts. (Although to be fair, they do have a slight advantage in that respect.)
Chris, who was named Scholar Athlete of the Year at St. John’s University, and Jason, who is a graduate of Duke University, are all about two things: soccer and Park City.
For Jason, the decision to live in Park City took nothing more than a drive up the canyon. "I was in Salt Lake for a press conference in 2005 and a friend offered to show me around Park City. Driving up from Salt Lake with him, I just remember coming over the hill and into the mountains. I knew there was something special about this town, and knew that’s where we were going to live."
Conveniently, Jason’s off-season is the town’s on-season, and he and his family are able to get out and enjoy the surrounding resorts. "It’s one benefit to being the coach. I’m not contractually obligated to not ski."
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For his favorite local hangout, he enjoys the No Name. "I’m the unofficial reigning shuffleboard champion there," he says. And for dining, Jason says, "It’s a tie between Shabu and Prime."
I kindly point out that the biggest reservation Americans seem to have about soccer is that, after 90 minutes of competition, the game can end in a tie. Perhaps he should actually pick a winner. But, true to his soccer roots, this one ends in a draw. "I can’t pick one over the other. They’re both great," he tells me.
When he is out and about in town, fans often recognize him; but unlike most professional coaches, Jason genuinely enjoys the interactions.
"I’m really grateful when fans come up to me in public. We’re still selling this game and we’re still trying to grab a loyal foothold in America. I want to continue promoting this game and, for that to happen, the fans need to know they’re truly appreciated."
Player Chris Wingert is a bit newer to town, but he’s equally as charmed by Park City. After having lived in the valley the past three-and-a-half years, he says Park City is a refreshing change of pace. "Park City is more my speed. There’s a greater mix of people and the attitude and lifestyle are a little different up here. And, when it’s blazing hot in Salt Lake, it’s so nice to drive up the canyon and come home to the cooler weather."
While the weather might be the best part of living here for him, the skiing is the hardest part. "Players are not allowed to ski; it’s too risky. And some days, it’s really hard not taking advantage of all the snow. I grew up skiing and sitting home on a powder day can be pretty heartbreaking."
But to keep his mind off that, Chris hits up his favorite local spots: Whole Foods, Easy Street, and Chimayo. He also enjoys going to The Downstairs but, he says, "I can’t go there that often because I have to stay in shape."
I tell him dancing is great cardiovascular exercise. But apparently his feet are only magic on a soccer field because he responds: "You’ve obviously never seen me dance if you’re encouraging this on any level."
Like most of us, Jason and Chris have fallen for Park City. And despite not knowing how long they’ll be here, they both intend to enjoy every day of it. Pretty smart guys indeed.
If you don’t bump into them locally, you can catch Jason and Chris in action at their next home game on July 23. For tickets visit: http://www.realsaltlake.com. If you have a story idea for Red Card Roberts, please e-mail her at email@example.com.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, public-relations guru and globe-trotting thrill seeker. In a former life she worked in TV news, both as a reporter and sports anchor. She has bagged peaks on six continents, kayaked the Zambezi and Nile rivers, swam with great white sharks in South Africa and tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She was once very nearly sold for 2,000 camels while traveling through Morocco.