You don’t need a canvas to make art

Sports are an art.

They really are.

Sometimes we lose sight of that, with our focus as fans going toward making the playoffs or qualifying for the national championship game. We forget why we were attracted to sports in the first place.

Artist in cleats · USC safety Taylor Mays left fans awestruck with his play last Saturday against Cal, columnist Pedro Moura writes. - Dieuwertje Kast | Daily Trojan

Artist in cleats · USC safety Taylor Mays left fans awestruck with his play last Saturday against Cal, columnist Pedro Moura writes. - Dieuwertje Kast | Daily Trojan

Plain and simple, it’s because the things athletes can do with their feet, their hands, their brains, are amazing.

And every once in a while you get a reminder that, wow, sports really are an art and athletes really are artists in their own right.

Take Saturday, for example.

There were two supreme examples of artistry.

Exhibit A: Taylor Mays sketched out the perfect interception.

Exhibit B: Damian Williams drew an awe-inspiring punt return.

In A, Cal was driving, splicing through the Trojan defense with no problems. Every USC fan surely had thoughts of, “This again?”

A Bear touchdown would have been killer. Then Mays — a guy who’s faced criticism for accumulating only four career interceptions to that point — stepped in front of Cal’s wide receiver Marvin Jones and made the leaping grab. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley was never the same, completing only 13-of-36 passes for 156 yards from that point on.

Talk about the right time to come up big. I cannot stress enough the importance of that interception.

After the game, linebacker Chris Galippo shook his head for a good five seconds when asked to explain how crucial the interception was.

He proceeded to utter a nicely balanced mix of superlatives — basically the professional way to say “wow.”

And Williams’ punt return — again, talk about having a sense for the right time to break one.

Cal’s Bryan Anger punted the ball seven times in the contest. Williams called for a fair catch on every single one — save for the touchdown of course. He knew just the right time to keep his hands down and catch the ball. Watching the play again, you see Williams look to the right and look to the left in the split-second before taking off to the left. You see him utilize blockers exactly the way your high school coaches told you to: juke twice and accelerate.

Quick interjection — Williams owes Cal’s D.J. Holt for how badly he abused Holt on that play.

No, seriously. Watch it again if you can. Holt is No. 3, the linebacker who looks like he doesn’t belong on the same playing field with USC’s No. 18.

But don’t tell me that Williams’ tiptoe down the ’SC sideline wasn’t an art form. It most certainly was.

As you can see, each step is clearly planned. Williams looks down at his feet every other step to make sure he’s staying inbounds, then leaps with an outstretched right arm — while the rest of his body is flailing out of play — to graze the pylon and score the touchdown.

Williams laughed when asked if his precise movements were intended. Of course they were, he said.

And you don’t have to look far to find other amazing plays.

Look at Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews’ strip against the Vikings on Monday. With his team trailing by a touchdown in their biggest game of the season to date, Matthews swoops in on the most dominating American football player in the world today — “Purple Jesus,” Adrian Peterson — and steals the ball from his grasp. He went on to run it back for a score, tying the game and quieting a raucous Metrodome crowd. The Packers still went on to lose, but don’t tell me that play wasn’t important.

And — just so you don’t think I’m a flaming USC supporter — I’ll give you an example of art on the other side of the spectrum.

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had been hyped like nobody’s business in the first three weeks of football this season.

His Jets were driving in the red zone, down only 3-0 at the start of the second quarter. Sanchez saw his tight end, Dustin Keller, break on a slant into the end zone. He delivered the pass, only to have veteran Saints safety Darren Sharper pick it off and return it 99 yards the other way for a score.

You could say that Sanchez was rattled from that point on — he posted a 27.0 QB rating. The Saints went on to win by a margin of 14 points — exactly what that interception was worth as it took away a potential Jets touchdown and created a Saints one.

Sharper told the Associated Press afterwards that he almost wanted to stop and watch the play unfold around him after he picked the ball off. Then he realized he had a touchdown — a piece of art, if you will — to complete.

And that’s why we watch sports.

“Looking Past the X’s & O’s” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit or email Pedro at