World Cup Fever
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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Now that World Cup immersion is nearing the end of its month-long, world-wide fever, with the France/Italy final to be played this Sunday, let's talk about just how hot the fever boiled here in the U.S. over the month of the tournament.
To consider the American reception of the game, we first have to analyze the Cup from the athletes' point of view. Emotions have never run that high in this country on any playing field, at any time, in any sport. We've witnessed players in the losing dugout at the last out of the World Series, their hands covering their faces in despair. We've seen golfers, aka Phil Mickelson just weeks ago at the U.S. Open, despondent over missed shots that made the difference between history and second place. But when the World Cup teams go down, there's a tragic dimension. And you might say, well, you're talking about the passion of the Latins. For the hot-blooded Brazilians to lose at the game they live for, that is tragedy. But what about the stoick Brits? When England lost to Portugal, they boarded the team bus after an hour of gut-wrenching crying, their eyes swollen with glaring red circles. The team bus had these words emblazoned on the side. "One Team. One Trophy. 11 Lions." It was if that team would head back across the English Channel with the weight of centuries of fallen English pride on their shoulders, the pride they were supposed to uphold in the name of Richard the Lionhearted. They were nonverbal, absolutely inconsolable.
So here's the rhetorical question: How can we, as American sports fans, feel intense passion for the World Cup when we have no experience of similar passion for our own traditional sports? I've known Yankee fans to lose their senses of humor, Raiders fans to take a loss so hard that they will sulk for days. But I've never known an American to sob uncontrollably as foreign soccer fans do over both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
And, yes, there are the repeated complaints on our part of low-to-no scoring. I happened to watch the 6th and final game of the NBA Championships a couple of weeks ago with Magic Johnson and baseball great Dave Winfield. We yacked about all kinds of sports stuff during commercials and time-outs and we got talking about the World Cup. They felt the way I do, along with evidently many Americans. They had the most sincere intentions of drumming up enthusiasm for the World Cup. They love the international aspect of the game, the game of the citizens of the world. They are taken with the passion of both the players and their fans. But, try as they may, they just can't sit through two hours plus of running, running, running without ever scoring.
I suppose we need more education as to what's happening on the field away from the ball to appreciate the low-to-no scoring aspect, but the vague game clock is a major glitch of the sport and simply has to go. In every game we play, there's a finite time to the game. The clock runs down and there's a definitive moment when the players, the refs, the fans, the television crews, everybody knows the game's over at that very moment. But soccer? The time remaining is a mystery! The refs somehow add on a few seconds here, a few seconds there, as penalties occur throughout the 90 minutes, and that time is added on after regulation. The problem is nobody knows precisely how much time that is. The announcers are always saying: "There are about three minutes to go". About three minutes? In an NBA game, .4 seconds left on the clock can turn a win or a loss. In soccer, the head ref waves his hands at some point and signals that that's enough. It's just somehow enough and the game's over. Come on, put a precise clock on the game. The ref seemingly arbitrarily waving That's Enough is way too existential for the American sports fan.
World Cup stature grew here in the U.S. this time around, but our fever for the game? I'd give it luke-warm, at best.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
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