When Toby Keith topped the country charts in 1993 with 'Should've Been a Cowboy,' it was uncertain whether the singer-songwriter was warbling about a missed opportunity on the range or on the gridiron.
"I love football," Keith said while calling from his home in Norman, Okla. "I've always been so into to the game."
It's not surprising. The grass is typically greener on the other side of the fence for entertainers. Many would give just about anything to become a professional athlete or to compete against an elite player.
Actor Charlie Sheen once told CNN that he would trade an Academy Award, well, if he had one, for one major league at bat. Country superstar Kenny Chesney routinely badgered former major league hurler Roy Halladay to pitch to him.
"I wanted him to go up against me and pretend like it was the seventh game of the World Series," Chesney said. "To go against the best pitcher in the game would have been amazing."
And then there's Keith. The country singer-songwriter, who will perform Saturday, July 26, at Hartford's Xfinity Theatre. Keith loves late July and not just since he's usually on the road.
"It means football training camp," Keith said. "I'm all about the football season starting."
Keith, 53, has been following the University of Oklahoma Sooners and Pittsburgh Steelers since he was a child walking on the red dirt of suburban Oklahoma City during the '70s. He was a gridiron standout in high school and he also played for the semi-pro team The Oklahoma City Drillers during the early '80s, when he wasn't performing in clubs.
Unlike many of his entertainer peers, who tend to be on the diminutive side, Keith is burly and tough as any roughneck who worked in oil fields, — a job he did before his music career took off.
"I loved playing football," Keith said. "But it didn't work out. However, I can't argue how it all turned out for me."
Keith has enjoyed immense success. The married father of three has sold more than 40 million albums, has appeared in a number of films, including 2008's 'Beer For My Horses,' which is based on the hit song he recorded in 2003 with Willie Nelson. He also is the CEO of the national chain of "I Love This Bar & Grille.''
"It's been an amazing ride," Keith said. "I love every day of my career. I've had a great deal of things go my way. But it all goes back to my music. If I didn't have this career, I'd be in an oil field or some place like that."
Keith has released 17 albums in 20 years. "That's because I write and I love what I do," Keith said. "I can't slow down. I have so much music flowing through me."
The laidback Keith is working on another album. "I always have songs to write," Keith said. "It just keeps on coming out of me."
Keith, who engaged in a public spat with the Dixie Chicks a decade ago after he wrote the anthemic flag-waver 'Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,' remains politically incorrect.
"I'm not trying to hurt people's feelings, but I'm going to say what I think and write songs the way I write songs," Keith said. "That's the way it'll always be for me."
Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, who will succeed David Letterman as the host of CBS's 'Late Show' next year, has had him on 'The Colbert Report' on numerous occasions and has given his Keith's tunes a five-star rating.
"Stephen is one of those guys that gets it," Keith said. "He has an open mind. I have an open mind. I can't be a Democrat or a Republican. I'm an independent thinker and I reflect that as a voter. I also hope my music reflects that as well. You've got to be open-minded or you're in trouble."
Keith's mind opens even wider when you talk football. Does the one-time defensive end regret not making it on the gridiron?
"No,'' Keith said. "I ended up where I needed to be. How can you top that?"
Perhaps by watching your daughter open your shows. Krystal Keith, who is touring behind her debut album, 'Whiskey & Lace,' is providing tour support for her father.
"It's amazing," Keith said. "She has a lot of talent. Wait until you see her. Having her out there makes this the best tour, really special."
TOBY KEITH appears Saturday, July 26, at Xfinity Theatre, 61 Savitt Way, Hartford. Krystal Keith and Colt Ford will open. Tickets are $24.75, $29.25, $49 and $49. Showtime is 7 p.m. For tickets: www.xfinitytheatre.net or call 860-548-7370.