In the US, when you say the word football, one immediately thinks of cheerleaders, or possibly Brett Favre (NTTAWWT). Another image that leaps to mind is of large, very large men (I hesitate to use the word 'obese' for reasons of cowardice) waddling around on a field. Once they manage to jostle one another into position along the line of scrimmage, they pause to catch their breath. Then the smallest of them (a svelte 250lb-er), protected by a core of the largest, yells something akin to the Navajo code, and all hell breaks loose as opposing weebles wobble about attempting to move an oblong ball toward the end-zone. I point out here that, to my knowledge, none of my readers are professional football players, so I can say these kinds of things without fear of receiving the ass-kicking that even I know I deserve.
As some may know, I am a citizen of the world... well, of both the US and the UK (but that's most of it, right?). Since I am not really a fan of our native sport of football, I thought I'd look into our native sport of football. And what lucky timing! FIFA's1 2010 World Cup had just started. To that end, I accepted an invitation to watch the US and England play games simultaneously, yet not against one another. For my first football match I didn't want to be conflicted, and this presented the perfect opportunity. I could route for both teams, and as it turned out, both had to win in order to advance in the tournament.
Armed with my usual zeal for any wacky new idea that occurs to me, I spent two days in the office preparing for the big day. I engaged people in conversations that went far beyond my depth of knowledge immediately after my opening salvo of "so how about those crazy world cup umpires, huh?" A co-worker from El Salvador patiently attempted to explain the Group round to me. I admit I may have zoned out here and there. It seems that my American sensibilities could not wrap themselves around the concept of a draw. What the hell is that for an outcome, anyway? There's no closure. He went on to explain the complex(-ish) mathematics of the Group round scoring that dictate which clubs move on to the next round. I zoned out again, privately coming to the conclusion that perhaps it's not that our American sensibilities demand a decisive outcome, it's that we're too dumb to utilize a more complex system2. Yikes. Thanks a lot Will!
Never one to let a mere lack of information or understanding keep me from soldiering on, Wednesday, June 23rd found me walking up Dean Street in Brooklyn toward a bar at 9:35 in the morning. It was already sweltering. I dearly hoped there would be no more math involved. (Unfortunately, there was; when I returned home later that afternoon, my wife asked me how much I'd had to drink.) Captain3 was already inside muscling his way to the bar which was no mean feat considering that there was what I'm sure was a fire code-breaking number of people packed into the premises. Bloody Marys in hand, we ultimately made our way halfway down the bar where luck would have it, two large flat-screen televisions hung. We were in position to watch both matches, and though three people deep from the bar, it was still with arm's reach. You might say it was cozy in there, and I'm pretty sure I owe more than one girl an apology (or a tip).
I admit that my understanding of the rules is a touch lacking. When people around me began to periodically yell "Off sides!", I was uncertain whether it was a legitimate complaint at poor refereeing or if it was merely a manifestation of that ever-present hipster douchebaggery which attempts to pass for wit. And fails. At any rate, I get the gist of the game: don't use your hands (except if you're a very tall man who is forced to spend the game in a fish-net lean-to), put the ball into the other team's lean-to in any other way you can, and if you're Italian roll around on the ground if anyone comes near you.
I had always thought that football was a boring sport. The field is huge, and the games usually low scoring. I may have come too hastily to that conclusion. A week later my neck is still a bit sore from looking back and forth between the games (now I know how your mom feels). When Clint Dempsey scored the first US goal, the bar erupted and I too found myself screaming with glee. For a second anyway. That goal was discounted, ruled offsides. Interestingly, in the Group round the US had one goal discounted in each game they'd played. And I thought Obama was popular over-seas! Not one minute later, however, England scored what would be their only goal. It would be all they needed. It was rather nice of them to let the US score first though, and England's goal arrived just in time to relieve my disappointment at the offsides ruling. The rest of the first halves was uneventful, and my brother finally managed to wriggle his way into the bar at the break after standing outside, watching the games through the window for the better part of an hour.
Ultimately, England won ensuring them a berth in the next round of the tournament. The US game was still going when England strode off the pitch, heads high. As the play clock steadily, inexorably wound down, the bar became quiet, the mood darkened. If the US were to tie, the World Cup would be over for the Yanks; they had to win in order to advance. With regular play ended, there was just four minutes of injury time left on the clock. It happened so quickly, that had anyone present been capable of blinking, that person would have missed it. Dempsey's shot had been deflected. The ball was slowly rolling away from the goal when from out of nowhere, Landon Donovan swooped in to knock it home in the ninety-first minute of the game. The air went out of the room, it was the lightening before the thunder, the calm before the storm. The crowd collectively waited for the referee to take this one away too. That call never came. The remaining three minutes of play passed uneventfully and for the most part, unnoticed. The US had won, as usual, in dramatic fashion. We finished our drinks and ordered another celebratory round. It's safe to say everyone in the bar was exhausted both emotionally and physically from having to endure the heat - a combination of the high temperature, a lack of adequate AC, and the number of bodies in the crowded bar. We consumed our drinks quietly in blissful afterglow. It was almost noon. Bleary-eyed we stumbled out into humid, sunny Brooklyn, victorious.
The weekend following my deceptively successful initiation into the world of football was one of devastation offset only by the elation experienced earlier in the week. On Saturday, the US fell to Ghana, then Sunday morning saw Germany's decisive victory of the English team.
With the US and the UK out of the picture I took a little time to choose which teams I would be routing for in the upcoming matches. Here goes:
I took Chile over Brazil because chili is tasty. I already knew that the Netherlands won their first round match. In the next round I had Chile over Netherlands because I really like chili. I had Uruguay over Ghana because Ghana beat the US, so they suck; however that's where Uruguay stops because, and I can not stress this enough: I like chili. So there you have it Chile all the way to the final. On the other hand I have Argentina over Germany because Germany OWNED the UK and Eva Peron cuts a more dramatic figure on a balcony. In the final block of the Sweet 16 I took Japan over Paraguay because they know kung-fu and can probably kick pretty well. Then I took Spain over Portugal because I prefer the ñ to the ç. From there Spain goes on to defeat Japan to face Argentina in the semi. Finally we have Argentina versus Chile in the final to keep it in our hemisphere with the Argentines taking home the cup mainly because Chile isn't spelled chili. For the third place game, I'm going to throw Europe a bone and call that one for Spain.
1 - FIFA stands for Football Isn't For Americans, obviously taking the view that all Americans live in the US. Which is weird for an international sports governing body based in Switzerland. They even took the time to make their acronym in English, just so we'd understand. Who knew they were such haters! Though I'm sure it will piss off Arizona, Nebraska, Michigan and parts of Upstate New York, I'd like to point out that Canadians and Mexicans are also American. Yes, Brazilians too! And they're actually pretty good at the sport. Perhaps it's due to Switzerland's neutrality and lack of a single standard language that they seem oblivious to the finer gradations of national identity.
2 - This may also be related to how "fear of change" defeats "ease of use" when questioning an American refusal to convert to the metric system. I mean we don't even measure gravity the same way, and I feel that gravity is kind of important.
3 - I've known Jim for quite a while, and I knew him as Captain long before I finally learned his real name. No one could ever adequately explain to me why he was called Captain (a.k.a. The Captain or Cap). I suspect the truth of it is far less entertaining than the "Spiced Rum fueled Star Trek reenactment ending in a brief visit to the emergency room" that I envision.
UPDATE: While drafting this Chile proved that phonetic similarity to a favorite food is no way to go about picking a team. In fact, it appears now that the best way to choose a team to route for, is to wait for me to make my choice, then go against me.
The views and opinions expressed in O'Keefe's Briefs(tm) are not necessarily those of The Management. In fact, they are very likely not even the views and opinions of the writer, the typeface designer, god or the President of the United States. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who shares the extraordinary worldview expressed below, and should you, run. Far and fast. The Management would also like to point out that any references or similarities to any persons living, dead, or undead are entirely coincidental since we all know there are no such things as zombies anyhow.