On Sunday I made my way down to Lager’s Pub in Canton to take in the World Cup Match, Italy v. France. Admittedly I’m not the biggest soccer fan on the planet. Truth be told, I’m probably closer to being a non-fan than a fan.
However my entire life, I’ve been surrounded by soccer players. How could I not be having grown up on the east side of town – a hot bed for soccer? In high school, most believed I played soccer since many of my friends were soccer players. But soccer wasn’t happening for me. Football has always been my first love – American Football that is.
Yet over the past few weeks, I’ve given the World Cup a chance. In part I was open to it because the international organization that stages these games wisely scheduled them during the NFL’s “Dead Zone.” Otherwise, these games wouldn’t have had a chance with me.
They did do that intentionally, right?
And then there’s the Orioles annual June swoon which certainly helped to divert my attention as well – how else would I get my sports jones on now that the NBA Finals were over?
What sense of timing! Those FIFA World Cup folks certainly have their act together!
And the participants certainly can act.
As I tried to understand the nuances of the game better and appreciate my friends telling me that scoring isn’t everything and that soccer is similar to a chess match, I found myself annoyed by the constant flopping of the players. Not only do these players have outstanding athletic skills, they also possess a tremendous flair for the dramatic. It seems to me that being a drama queen is every bit as important as speed, agility, quickness and change of direction skills.
Earlier on during the tournament, I was amused by the many players carted off the field on stretchers only to see the same player return to the game seemingly seconds later. Could you see that happening in the NFL? Imagine the game announcer saying:
“There goes Ed Reed off the field on the cart…it doesn’t look good folks and as the medical staff takes away Reed, with it they may be taking the hopes of Ravens fans in 2006.”
Then miraculously 30 seconds later, there goes Ed Reed sprinting back out on to the field. Did he jump in a phone booth and become Superman? Or maybe Barry Bonds was waiting for him in the trainer’s room with his bag of “mojo”?
Surely I jest but the point is, the drama – the acting ruins the sport for me. It’s a great game and the athletes are gifted but the officiating is just too big a part of the sport for me and their influence on the game is assured by the acting on the field. One of my diehard soccer buddies sheepishly shared with me some ridiculous statistic that states that 98% of international soccer players taken off the field on a stretcher return to the game within 2 minutes!
I hope he was kidding…
I did find myself enjoying the efforts of Italy’s Luca Toni. Luca Toni! Sounds like something that Lager’s should put on their menu to me. Yet he is one tough guy and apparently Toni didn’t study drama in college. He shakes off the tough hits, gets up and plays. I like that No. 9 in blue. Maybe that No. 9 is a good number. Someone else important around here wears that digit.
Back to the flopping for a moment…
One of the only legitimate flops I saw was when France’s Zinedine Zidane head butted Italy defender Marco Materazzi after Materazzi punked the French superstar much like the way Hines Ward annually punks Chris McAlister. Materazzi dropped like a rock! I guess you could say that Zidane, the recipient of the Golden Ball for being the tourney’s most outstanding player blew his ZZ top.
Anyway, I did enjoy the camaraderie afforded by the World Cup. Any time I get a chance to share some cheer and laughter with a few friends that have forgotten more about the game of soccer than I’ll ever know, well, that’s alright with me. And given my heritage, I was proud to see Italy win the World Cup, although in my opinion, deciding the game with penalty kicks after 120 minutes of an all out struggle is the equivalent of deciding the Super Bowl by having the quarterbacks from each team attempt to throw footballs through a hanging tire.
But the penalty kick decision didn’t seem to spoil it for the large gathering of soccer aficionados at Lager’s. The atmosphere was that of a Ravens playoff game and not one person was cheering for France. Not one. When Italy won, jubilation ensued and hugs and kisses and tears of joy were bountiful.
And while I was happy with the outcome, I can’t say that I was any more moved by it than a Ravens win over the Houston Texans. Oh, I can hear my friend Bully now, “You don’t get it do you?!?”
Perhaps he’s right but from where I come from, no futbol can replace football in my heart. To me there’s just no comparison.
15 days and counting…