Dear Soccer Fan: I apologize

I hate bandwagons.  LOATHE them.  Even more, I despise those individuals who jump on and off said bandwagons.  For those of you who have YOUR teams, and have been followers over peaks of success and through valleys of despair, I’m sure you can relate.

When the Colorado Rockies made their miraculous run at the end of the 2007 season all the way to the World Series, it was a long time coming for myself and other TRUE Rockies fans who had endured over a decade of abysmal baseball from their beloved Rox.  However, as overjoyed as I was for the re-invented Blake Street Bombers, I could not get past the fact that everyone was suddenly bursting with Rockies pride.  Some of my closest friends (who will not be named) made my stomach turn.  Suddenly, these so-called “fans” felt justified just because they could rattle off some arbitrary statistic about Matt Holidays OPS or Todd Helton’s facial hair.

Todd Helton aint got shit on Mr. Ambrose E. Burnside

While I could continue formulating foul-mouthed phrases to describe these “bandwagoneers” I must get to the point.

I am in denial.  For over a month I have been riding the FIFA/Team USA bandwagon.  As I have come to this realization, I know that admitting I have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery (or so I’ve been told by countless clichés about getting over problems).

Now, if I had simply cheered for Team USA, and hoped for success, I would not be making this confession.  Nearly every person with even an ounce of patriotism was pulling for boys.  Unfortunately for me, Team USA is no longer competing, which makes my blatant “bandwagoneering” that much more obvious.

As a connoisseur of sports (and sports hype), I was completely consumed by the World Cup long before it started (thanks in part to some catchy marketing). I watched the World Cup concert before soccer had even begun.  I watched every second of South Africa’s 1-1 draw with Mexico.  And then it got bad.  I started watching ALL the games.  I would watch the pre-match shows.  I began referring to Alexi Lalas and Steve McManaman as if we shared nightly pints at Fado’s (“you know, Alexi was telling me that much of Germany’s success lies directly on the feet of Podolski and Klose.”)  Even worse, I began doing something that irritates the sports fan in me more than ANYTHING.  While watching a match, I’d spout off some phrase I had heard on the pre-show (i.e. “England needs to continue to play the long ball”) in an attempt to sound like I know something about soccer, when in reality I couldn’t differentiate between a front tackle and a frozen pizza.

Alexi Lalas is my Homeboy

I didn’t grow up with soccer in any way, shape or form.  In the small Wyoming town where I was raised, kids played little league. Period.  During my elementary years, little league flourished with multiple T-ball, pitching machine, Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth teams, all in a town of less than 2,000 people.  Then, during one fateful summer, soccer was brought to Saratoga (by missionaries, or aliens perhaps).  Immediately, kids began dropping from little league left and right.  It was a plague, a pandemic that slowly began killing baseball in my hometown.  By the time I was 15, our Babe Ruth team was the only team remaining.  The following summer, baseball was officially extinct in Saratoga.

Needless to say, I carried a deep seeded hatred for soccer throughout my adolescence.  To me, soccer was nothing more than organized keep away, an escape for those kids who didn’t have the coordination or guts to play REAL sports.

I finally gained a sliver of appreciation for soccer during my freshman year of high school, because it made a damn fine video game.  FIFA ’03 by EA Sports change soccer for me.  During the state basketball tournament, my friend Earl and I warmed the last two seats on the bench.  For us, the state tournament was nothing more than a glorified Play Station 2 compendium interrupted by minor inconveniences, primarily the basketball itself (and golden corral).  With absolutely no hope or care of playing, our focus during that early weekend in March was directly on FIFA ’03.  With each win, we were guaranteed another sleepless night of FIFA.  And with each loss, we knew our FIFA days we’re numbered.  With that, “MORE FIFA!” became our battle cry from the end of the bench.  But for some reason, FIFA ‘03 never seemed the same after that weekend, and I quickly reverted to my original stance on soccer.

During my sophomore year of college, Italy won the 2006 World Cup.  At the time, I lived with a guy who was full-blooded Italian, donning his Italian flag every day of the year.  Needless to say, for him, the World Cup was a big deal.  He would watch every one of Italy’s matches without blinking.  I’d watch a little in passing, and then snicker about how pointless it all seemed.  Finally, when Italy reached the World Cup final, I agreed to watch the entire match.  On that day, my opinion about soccer changed, forever.  In one of the most heart-stopping sporting events I have ever witnessed, Italy defeated France 5-3 in a penalty shootout.   Boisterous celebration and excessive drinking ensued.  I was convinced that soccer was, in fact, a REAL sport.

I can admit, since then, I have only watched a handful of soccer matches, almost all in a different country.  And after the World Cup is over, I can’t promise that I will order the MLS package on Direct TV.  I can, however, say that I have a newfound respect for the game.  After nearly two decades of distaste and disdain, I LIKE soccer.

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