19 November 2006

Bad Sports

For many years the only sport I've followed faithfully has been English football - soccer to my American readers. True, I was enough of a glory hunter to watch and enthuse about England winning the rugby World Cup. And, after a decade of professing blank incomprehension and/or annoyance at the very existence of the game of cricket, England's triumph over Australia in the most recent Ashes series finally inspired me to figure out not only how the sport worked, but also to acquire a real appreciation for its nearly infinite nuances and subtleties (not necessarily enough, however, to sit through a typical five-day, 40-hour test match, but perhaps as I get older I'll be blessed with more patience or at least a suitably lethargic disposition).

But leaving England would, I feared, put a real damper on my sporting life. Once I've settled into someplace semi-permanent in America, I can always get digital TV and watch more English Premier League matches than I typically saw back in London, provided I'm willing to get up at ungodly hours to do so, but it's not quite the same when you're surrounded by people who are similarly obsessed. If you're ever at a loss for conversation with another English male, there's a considerably better than 50-50 chance that asking, "Did you watch the football yesterday?" will do the trick. Often you don't even need to specify which particular football, because he'll immediately go off ranting or gushing about whatever match seemed of all-consuming importance to him.

But even if living in America was to put a damper on my enthusiasm for English football, I didn't expect was to re-acquire an interest in American sports. I was pretty keen on baseball and (American) football as a boy, and though I'm not sure hockey technically counts as American, I worshiped the Detroit Red Wings during the days of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio. So I surprised when I found myself getting a bit emotional about the Detroit Tigers having a go at the World Series. I was a big Tiger fan all through the 50s and early 60s, and it was only when I'd moved away to California and finally given up hope on them that they finally won a Series in 1968. This year would have been my first opportunity ever to actually watch them win it all, but naturally they stuffed it up, much like the Tigers of old.

And I really didn't expect to watch American football again, with its maddening stop-start routine and commercial breaks that take up more time than the actual playing of the game. But today I had the chance to watch two of my old favorites, Michigan, who I followed as a boy and have always had a soft spot for, and California, my beloved alma mater. Never mind that I haven't set foot in Michigan Stadium since 1979, and Cal's Memorial Stadium since approximately the same era, they both wear blue and gold (also the colors of my other alma mater, Cabrini High School) and carry a certain resonance with my past, and that's good enough for me.

Yes, they both lost, Michigan bravely and Cal humiliatingly, and yes, I'm a sucker for caring. Wasn't I just the other day arguing with someone that American football was infinitely inferior to the English variety anyway? No comfort there today, however; Fulham, the team I followed at the cost of great financial outlays and considerable emotional damage throughout my time in London, were at the wrong end of a 3-1 drubbing by Man City (which, as Mr. P. Hynes wittily remarked at last night's dinner, would be a great name for a gay football team).

In fact, the only bright spot in this dismal sporting weekend, nay, month, has been the sterling performance put in by my nephew Jackson's Hurricanes in the El Cerrito Youth Soccer League's under-12 tournament. The Hurricanes breezed through this morning's game 5-1, and had to struggle a bit more against determined opposition to squeeze out a 1-0 victory in the afternoon match (and how many Premiership sides do you suppose could pull off two championship matches in a single day?). Tomorrow they go for it all, and if today's gutsy performances were any indication, they'll be bringing home some of the first silverware ever to adorn the family trophy cabinet.

Well, there was another family member who lifted a few trophies in his time, my second cousin once removed, Joe Montana, who used to play for another local team. Second cousin or not, I only got to see him play in person once, as my dad put the kibosh on calling in favors - like season tickets, for example - from the relatives. The year Joe came to play for the 49ers, his grandma - my dad's first cousin - sent us a Christmas card urging us to get in touch with Joe "now that he's got a job out there in California near you." She thoughtfully included the address and phone number, but my dad confiscated the card before I could say, "Yo, cousin Joe, hit us up with some tickets!" "It wouldn't be right," Dad insisted, "it would look tacky. He must have relatives coming out of the woodwork right about now." "Well, then what difference would a couple more make?" I protested, but as always, Father knew best, and I was consigned to watching the 49ers' glory years on TV, just like millions of ordinary Northern Californians.

And there you go. I've gotten sidetracked as usual, since my original intention was to point out that it was obviously best if I didn't watch my favorite teams play at all, since they'd inevitably lose. Only to prove in the course of writing this that I was actually rather wrong. Not the first time that's happened, either.


Crumbly said...

You should watch soccer on the Spanish channel. That's what we do. The commentary is very exciting (even if you don't know what's being said. Pat's brushing up on his Spanish. Me - not so much). But there is no mistaking when there's a Gol!!!!!!

JAB Seattle said...

"Another local team"

I can only guess whom that was directed toward.

I'm at "local team" vs USC this upcoming weekend. Hopefully we play better than Cal but I doubt it.

Ted said...

I didn't know about the Montana connection in your family.

I did get a stronger sense of the "maddening stop/start/commercial break" atmosphere of watching American college football this fall after viewing some matches of the World Cup last summer.

Anyway, last summer you wrote a statment which perfectly articulates the feelings of really following a particular sports team at game time:

"Even the crappy games - and being a Fulham fan, I've seen plenty - produce such an array of emotions that it's like living a mini-lifetime in 90 minutes."

It will be like this for me as I pull for Montana's Alma mater--Notre Dame against their rivals USC this Saturday.