The 2006 World Cup
Radio and television outlets advertise their schedules, animated announcers with European accents promise blow-by-blow analysis, and we here in America are giddy with expectation. Or maybe we're just giddy. Because we're laughing. At everyone else. Because most of us could pretty much care less about the whole freaking thing.
So where was I when the World Cub began? While it was going on? When it ended? Sorry. I got nothin'. And something tells me that I'm not alone. Now, don't get me wrong. It's not that we Americans have no regard for football (or, as we prefer to call it: "soccer"). On the contrary, we have entire classes of people (we call them "soccer moms") who shuttle their children off to leagues to learn to play the sport. They learn about competition. And about team spirit. And about how to bounce a medium-sized white ball on their heads. These kids, I'm sure, have a real love for the game - and many of them will probably grow up to be the type of World Cup fans that will do America proud. But most of us weren't raised by soccer moms. No. When we were growing up, the game was baseball - and in those years, parents patted their kids on the head and sent them off to play Little League, or T-ball, or softball, or some other such variant. Baseball, after all, was the great American past-time, and parents wanted to make sure that their kids weren't passing their time with any penny ante sport that involved precious little upper body participation.
And then there was football. True football. The kind of football where large men with great wads of padding try valiantly to injure each other while running a smallish oblong ball up and down a field. The kind of football where, on very special occasions during a game, the large padded men kick the living stuffing out of the oblong ball. Either way, the game has historically had all the elements that Americans love: gladiator-style combat on a bright, sometimes-indoors field (we like it better when its indoors. We don't like getting chilled), the occasional concussion-followed-by-removal-from-the-field, and - if you're lucky - a coach-thrown trantrum on the sidelines. Let's face it, it's macho to the max: No goal guarded by a single overwhelmed goalie in this game. Kidding, right? Real football goals are guarded by entire defensive lines. And when the goals are breached, there is no girlie netting to constrain jubilant, in-your-face, dancing displays of superiority (although those were constrained by P.C. fiat decree. Also very American). Yup. Along with baseball, we were raised on football. Practically weaned on it. This, despite the fact that many a skittish mother has refused to allow her young son to play the game for fear of the inflict of permanent damage to his un-scarred face - or legs, or arms, or what-have-you. Multitudes of American sons, however, have defied their nervous mothers and entered the game - sustaining time-honored injuries in the process. That's also very American.
So given our history of a love for Sports Americana, where does this whole "soccer" thing fit in? Will we one day bow our heads in obeisance because the rest of the world chides our current lack of interest? Will our streets - as those in Europe - one day be deserted in broad daylight because "the soccer game is on"? Well, consider this: It wasn't that long ago that Brandi Chastain became a national hero after the US team took the Women's World Cup in 1999. But it also wasn't that long ago that a resulting fledgling women's league (WUSA) flamed out due at least partially to lack of subsequent American interest. We're fickle that way. That's also very American. So it remains a valid question: Will we one day join the rest of the World and embrace the game of socc...uh...football? Oh, who knows? Yeah, maybe one day some athletic soccer czar will supplant Jeff Gordon on tomorrow's Wheaties box (okay, it was a Mini-Wheats box. Whatever). But don't bet on it. Jeff's got 800 horsepower. And in America, that'll get you a whole lot farther than a little fancy footwork.
So what about you? Do you share my rabid apathy for all things soccer? Were you into the World Cup this year? (oh, and it's an overt foul to say that you were into the head-butt. We were all into the head-butt). Send us your thoughts. We'll keep you posted.