By ERIC FRANCIS
EDMONTON -- His wife may be Posh Spice and his babysitters may be Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, but David Beckham proved on Monday he's no Sidney Crosby.
Touching down for the first time in the city Wayne Gretzky made famous, the gathering of fans and curious media-types waiting at the airport paled in comparison to the throngs awaiting Crosby's first Western Canadian swing here five months back.
While 20 cameramen, several dozen reporters, hundreds of onlookers and a large security staff staked out the Westin's hotel lobby here in December for the Penguins captain, Becks and his L.A. Galaxy teammates strolled off their Air Canada Jazz flight to breeze past seven cameras, less than a dozen journalists and maybe three dozen fans.
That's including a gaggle of WestJet baggage handlers on break.
Having fulfilled his media duties two weeks earlier when he was made available in Los Angeles to discuss his parallels with Gretzky and Tuesday's friendly against Vancouver, the 33-year-old midfielder smiled as he bypassed a roped-off section of journalists, stopping only to sign a few autographs for fans.
After several scurrying photographers climbed on top of chairs to capture snapshots of what might just be the world's most famous athlete, the team bus pulled away minutes later and all that was left was a trembling 17-year-old explaining to interviewers how much it meant to have Becks sign her figurine.
"I've seen a lot more of a circus atmosphere than today," shrugged Halifax-born defender Ante Jazic, while one of his Galaxy teammates videotaped the lame scene.
"In Seoul, Korea, there were a lot more people than that -- over 1,000. People screaming and trying to get to him. He deals with it well, though.
"At first it was odd. We're used to it now."
To be fair, Beckham needn't say a word or address the media -- his mere presence in the lineup Tuesday is the only reason more than 30,000 tickets have been sold for Tuesday's match with the Whitecaps at Commonwealth Stadium.
While many will show up to see the former England captain display the healthy form that has seen him emerge as one of Major League's Soccer's early scoring leaders, just as many want to take in the spectacle that he has become.
Said one disappointed female after his brief showing yesterday: "He was wearing a shirt and he's not as tall as I thought."
The most Googled sports figure two years in a row, and likely the most photographed, Beckham's charisma, talent and looks give him the ability to sell anything he's associated with, which is why he's being paid a reported US$50 million a year to try rescuing soccer in North America.
Judging by yesterday's relatively tame arrival, he's got a long ways to go in a land where people outgrow soccer once they stop bringing oranges to their games.