Saturday, May 29, 2010

Be Honest...Do You REALLY Love the World Cup?

The World Cup is coming soon. The "Greatest Sporting Event on Earth". If you somehow didn't know that already, pick up a sports magazine: They'll be at least three articles reminding you. We should love the World Cup, the argument goes, because the rest of the world does.

Well the rest of the world also loves a good halibut.  Doesn't mean I do.

I'm not saying I don't love the World Cup.  Well, I guess that's sort of what I'm saying.  OK that is what I'm saying.  I really like the World Cup, and I promise when the time comes, I have every intention of joining the bandwagon.  But love? FVG doesn't just throw that word around. When an event's best form of seduction is, "Look how much EVERYONE ELSE loves it", it might get my attention, but it won't make me weak in the knees.

Since the original Tea Party -- and to some extent, the one of today -- we Americans make it clear that we're not to be told how to live and what to be excited about.  So while many of us will tune in June 11th (Mexico vs. the hosting South Africans) and June 12th (U.S. vs. England), once it's 87 minutes in and nobody's scored yet, we'll all quickly remember why we spend the other three years and eleven months watching something else.

This is the classic theory why Americans don't love soccer: We think it's boring. We're too addicted to super-sizing and instant gratification to appreciate what a "beautiful" game it is. And maybe we are.  After all, if a game ends up 0-0, it doesn't matter what happened.  Nothing happened.

But I also don't think this tells the whole story. Americans aren't the only ones with short attention spans. The biggest reason Americans don't love soccer isn't because it's unexciting, it's because it's unfair.

The less scoring there is in a sport, the better the chances that the team that deserves to win doesn't. If this "beautiful" game is as "important" as the rest of the world says it is, how can they possibly be alright with their team dominating a game and losing on one fluke play? 

And what about the red cards?  There's no sillier rule in sports: When a player gets ejected for a red card (which is usually thanks to the ridiculously prevalent yet somehow condoned injury-faking), he can't be replaced for the rest of the game, even if it just started! This kept the U.S. from having ANY chance of beating Italy (and advancing past Round 1) in 2006, and considering we're not exactly the world's most popular country, I expect it to happen again in 2010. Can you imagine Rasheed Wallace getting his 2nd tech toward the end of the first half and the Celtics having to play 4 on 5 the rest of the way? The "beautiful" game comes down to who does a better job faking injuries and insulting his opponent's mother/sister to the point of getting head-butted. This isn't a stretch.  This really decided the last World Cup.

Another injustice: No game played that hard for that long with that much on the line (remember: people in other countries KILL over this) should so frequently come down to penalty kicks.  Regular season, fine. But not the World Cup. Hockey playoffs? They play it out. Fifth set of Wimbledon? Play 'til ya can't anymore. Even NFL overtimes (which I can't believe I'm defending) make you score against a defense. 

And what's the most important skill needed to win one of these shootouts?  Guessing!  The shooters kick from way too close for goalies to be able to react, so they're left to make the split-second, gun-to-your-head choice between diving to their right and diving to their left. And then praying. At what point did someone decide this was an appropriate way to end anything, let alone the "Greatest Sporting Event in the World"?

One thing the World Cup does have going for it though, is timing. The NBA Finals end the second week in June, precisely when the Cup starts. Coincidence? Yes, but I'll take it. The World Cup is a just as boring yet way more globally relevant (and therefore, indirectly interesting) alternative to baseball, and keeps us that much more entertained until July 11th.

Just about the time we can start talking fantasy football.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why She's Probably Rooting Against You

In the beginning of Major League, Indians’ General Manager Charlie Donovan meets with new owner Rachel Phelps to hear her vision for the team.  As he tries to wrap his head around her outrageous plan to decrease attendance to the point where she could opt out of her lease and relocate the team to Miami, it hits the heart-broken Donovan like a 95-mph fastball to the ribs.

“What are you saying? You want us to lose?”

Phelps isn’t the first woman to secretly root against the team she’s supposed to love.  And she won’t be the last.  After all, it’s sound strategy for girlfriends who – let’s be honest – can only take so much baseball.  Losing leads to sadness, and sadness leads to disinterest.   

And disinterest leads to her getting the clicker.

On a night the Mets win, I excitedly stay tuned for the postgame, pore over the box score, and even tolerate Baseball Tonight

But on nights they lose, I check out completely.  “Sure, babe, turn on Anthony Bourdain.  Heck, turn on Real Housewives.  It’s fine.  I’ll read the paper.”

The game doesn’t even need to be over for our interest to wane.  My friend Chad has what he calls “the 3-run rule”: He stops watching the Red Sox if they fall behind 3 runs or more.  “It’s just not enjoyable,” he says.  My threshold’s slightly higher than that, but still, other than hearing Keith, Ron, and Gary take calls from Jimmy in Long Island and Seth in White Plains, there’s not much to love about games the Mets are getting pummeled.

(Does this make us fair-weather fans, by the way?  I don’t think so.  It's like when your dog cuts himself and has to wear a lampshade on his head so he won’t lick the wound.  You still love him – you’d just prefer not to see him that way.) 

In the end, of course, the too-heartwarming-to-fail Indians turn things around, fans come out in droves, and Phelps’ devious plan is foiled.  But the average girlfriend isn’t thinking so big.  She doesn’t want to steal your team.  She doesn’t even want you to be sad.  All she wants is a night without baseball.

Can you really blame her for that?