David Beckham: world-class crosser of the soccer ball, wildly famous male human visible on billboards in his underwear, good bloke ...
So the first would be one of humanity's most-prized skills, the second would be a phenomenally long run of soaring fame and the third would be ...
The third would be crucial to the second and relevant to the first.
After all this time, and all this fame, Beckham retires at 38 without having become too tiresome to too many, still resonating something that peeks out from the glamour, something that tells you, That's a good guy right there.
Well, it's the best explanation I could concoct for his grocery-line longevity.
I used to stand in London grocery lines and marvel that yet again and yet again and yet again, he and wife Victoria would turn up on the covers of those magazines, even after David Beckham's imprint on soccer had ebbed. After a while I began purposely trying to gaze upward and away from the magazines just out of weariness. A while after that I envisioned walking out of the store and down the sidewalk, the magazines following me and howling.
Yet in a country with a rarefied sense of style and contemporariness, Beckham never seemed to fizzle too far out of style or contemporariness. Some of that surely owed to marrying the also-famous, but most of that owed, I suspect, to that's-a-good-guy-right-there. He always seemed like someone who would be a decent friend, a decent relative or, pertinently, a decent teammate, someone you might want to know.
It seemed to carry him well on past the nadir of that red card against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup in France -- when he earned pariah-hood but said earnestly, "I want every English supporter to know how deeply sorry I am" -- and well on through last decade once, image-wise, his global fame had deluged his excellent game.
By the time he reached one autumn night at Wembley Stadium in 2007, when other English stars had surpassed him but he came on as a substitute and sent an aria of a cross halfway across North London and onto the narrow chest of Peter Crouch toward a tying goal against Croatia, he counted as beloved and respected.
As he became the last player to depart the pitch from that 3-2 disaster that quashed the Euro 2008 qualifying bid, the lingering fans applauded him earnestly. He had untold style, sure, even giving sarongs a fresh turn of fame at one point, but beneath the glow he had fine bedrock.
He sustained this on through his stint with the Los Angeles Galaxy, a team English scribes would dismiss with the fabulous term "minnows."
Tellingly, while Beckham made crescendos earlier last decade, including the famous free-kick goal against Greece in the 93rd minute to send England to the World Cup, the tabloid Daily Star found a roofer who professed to have loathed Beckham after the red card but who then professed to love him, saying he felt like "a bit of a wally" for the bygone hate.
Yeah, the roofers respected him.
I once took a Beckham childhood tour, and please try to contain your gushing envy. It carried me way up to a northeast corner of London, to Leytonstone and Chingford, where Beckham had grown up as the second of the three children of a kitchen fitter and a hairdresser.
At the Leytonstone Tube station were murals honoring the films of one of the former locals, Alfred Hitchcock. I made prankish note of the Whipps Cross University Hospital with its unassuming maternity ward that never would have had a clue as it went about its business on May 2, 1975. A local government employee, Andy Strickland, had assembled a tour that once had hosted a bus of Japanese tourists, and he showed me fields where Beckham and his father used to have a kick, a school Beckham would have attended, the Walthamstow greyhound track.
At the Walthamstow greyhound track, Beckham worked as a teenaged busboy clearing patrons' glasses, sometimes more slowly than requested because of his distracting thoughts of football, football, football (soccer, soccer, soccer). In a letter to a friend that later sold for about $2,000, he wrote, "I got my first wage packet the other day and a bonus which came to 120 (pounds) so that went in my bank and I have got about 250 (pounds) in there now."
He has even more than that now.
My pop-psychology theory: Somehow, through the gaudiness of Manchester United and Real Madrid and Beverly Hills and Paris Saint-Germain, and through 115 closely monitored appearances for England including 58 as captain, he always retained some quality all people could grasp, some capacity to avoid becoming too much of a "Jack the Lad" (a conceited sort), in the parlance of some locals.
He still kept a bit of the guy who cleared glasses at the greyhound track, so that even as his game soared with its vision and its passing and its hell-bent free kicks, and even as he married a pop star and appeared on enough magazines to kill vast forests, you somehow couldn't begrudge him or tire of him.
That's a good guy right there.