Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some thoughts on "the Beautiful Game"...and America

The '94 World Cup that is...

I've been looking for this piece written for the World Cup the U.S. hosted in 1994. More15 years later (especially after watching the final match on Sunday), the op-ed seems to have stood the test of time...
June 30, 1994

Why Americans Will Never Love Soccer

By Jeff Bliss

THE TRUTH IS, we Americans will never go crazy about the game of soccer. And without sounding too much like Joe McCarthy, I have to say soccer is un-American.

Let me explain. Soccer is not about anything Americans appreciate. The very fact that it's called football elsewhere enrages enough red meat gridiron fans to keep soccer from ever being popular here.

First, real football players must weigh as much as an Army tank and wear twice as much protective armor. Soccer players run around in little more than their underwear. Americans like equipment: first-baseman's mitts, helmets, Kareem's eye goggles. Soccer has precious little of this.

Second, we didn't invent the game. OK, you think you're smart because you know about baseball's ties to cricket and American football's ties to rugby. The truth is we took these games and improved upon them. Soccer, on the other hand, belongs to the world (like the metric system).

Suggestions from the United States to modify soccer, such as allowing eye gouging and body slams, have been largely ignored. If it ain't ours and if it can't hurt you, we don't want it. (Suggestions to return the game to its pre-Columbian roots, with the losing team facing execution, have also been dismissed.)

Third, and most importantly, sports symbolize a people. As an example, let us compare baseball and soccer. Soccer is the perfect metaphor for the rest of the world. Now forget about calling me on my xenophobia. Baseball, our national pastime, is the story of individuals banding together for a common goal. Everyone has the same chance to be a hero or a goat, and every player has a specialized skill used for the good of the team. The examples, like baseball statistics, go on ad nauseam. Believe me.

Soccer, on the other hand, is about a bunch of guys who wander around a field chasing a ball. It is a game of turnovers. I've got the ball. No, now you've got the ball. No, I have the ball. No, you have . . . well, you get the idea. We don't like that in a sport or anything else in our lives. We want stability.

The rest of the world, however, thrives on guessing games. Three past winners of the World Cup -- Italy, Germany and Argentina -- are good examples of this. Since World War II, Italy has had how many governments? A bizillion? (I may be undershooting.) Germany can't decide if it loves or hates itself, and Argentina's national sport, after futbol (as they call it), is the coup d'etat.

One more thing. Soccer, played on a field only slightly smaller than the continent of Asia, is ridiculously low scoring, and tie games are not unusual (I bet those guys would hustle a little more if their necks were really on the line). We like scoring. We like it so much, we made touchdowns worth six points! A total of six points in a soccer game is usually regarded as scandalous (no one ever worries about a juiced-up ball in soccer). I know what I'm talking about. During my short-lived career as a high school and college soccer player, I scored a total of one goal -- just a few short of what most pro players score during their entire careers. (OK, so it was against my own team . . .)

And please don't mention youth soccer. I know all about its overwhelming popularity -- I played it. But the secret is that youth soccer is a conspiracy of parents across the nation. Get those youngsters out there running their heads off for an hour or more on Saturday mornings and they're less likely to raise hell around the house on Saturday afternoons. I know all about it -- I'm going to make my kids play it.

All kidding aside, soccer is a great game.

It's just not our game.

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