Sorry World, Soccer Still Tough to Watch
It was the UEFA Champions League final. That's a soccer match, which means this is a soccer column.
The only thing Americans hate more than watching a soccer match is having to read about it afterward. So now I know how soccer fans feel.
They just want you to give their sport a fair hearing. What better time than when the greatest, most-anticipated match in soccer history is on?
If ugly Americans can't get into Manchester United vs. FC Barcelona, soccer might as well give up all hope of becoming the 18th most popular sport in the United States, right behind Midget Mixed Martial Arts.
And I swear that will be the last sarcastic comment I'll make about soccer.
Seriously, I want to like the sport. I'm tired of looking at the "beautiful game" and seeing Howard Stern. I'm even more tired of soccer fans getting all defensive when anybody says the game is boring.
You know the drill. They point out that 7 billion people worldwide would rather watch a soccer game than marry Giselle Bundchen. They question the intellect of anyone who doesn't see the beauty.
Frankly, I don't like it when Paraguayans look down at me. So I got excited Wednesday when I got up and heard the guy on ESPN say "just watch it for 10 minutes and you'll see."
Actually, I went back to bed because I didn't want to be drowsy going into kickoff, or whatever they call the opening play.
One thing I know is that the ESPN announcers didn't need naps before the game. They needed tranquilizer darts.
"Barcelona and Manchester come to Rome joyous, fearless but not yet fulfilled," the guy said.
I was too lazy to write down the announcers' names, so based on their accents I'll just call them Winston and Clive. You certainly didn't have to be a hooligan to feel their excitement.
This wasn't just a championship showdown between two of the most storied franchises in soccer history. It also matched Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo, a.k.a. Kobe and LeBron.
I'm not sure which one would be Kobe and which is LeBron, but I'm sure 7 billion people could breathlessly tell you.
"The dream final. The perfect final," Clive said. "Two teams crammed with football icons."
There's that word. Football. It's always rankled me how the rest of the world stole the name of our real national pastime. So what if people were calling it that before George Halas was born. You don't hear us calling our football "soccer" do you?
You also don't hear us calling the Super Bowl the UEFA Champions League final of football. Most stories I read had the requisite Super Bowl reference, but it didn't really fit.
For one thing, the pregame show didn't begin last Friday. Advantage: soccer.
There wasn't even a circus tent, a lip-synched national anthem or 294 honorary captains at midfield for the coin toss. It's obvious we should put the UEFA people in charge of Super Bowl activities. At least every activity except the actual game.
Everything was electric until the ball was put in play, then the UEFA Champions League final suddenly looked like every other soccer game I've ever seen. A lot of guys running around, a lot of ball kicking, not much to show for it.
"Open mind! Open mind!" I told myself. "Don't let those Paraguayans think you're a rube."
There were some interesting moments, or seconds. Ronaldo peppered a few shots toward the goal. From what I could tell, Manchester United was the Pittsburgh Steelers early on. Then it turned into the Pittsburgh Pirates after the one and only Samuel Eto'o scored for Barcelona.
"The best pure finisher in the world!" Winston said. "One -- nil!"
It was Eto'o's 129th career goal, meaning he's probably been playing 127 years.
I know I promised no more soccer cheap shots, but we'd reached the 10-minute mark and soccer's magic hadn't quite engulfed my senses.
I started jotting down what I liked and didn't like about the game, and the list was surprisingly one-sided. Like:
The clock that doesn't stop for timeouts, Craig Sager interviews or A-Rod to readjust his batting gloves 13 times.
The managers. How can you not be impressed by Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson? Is any NFL coach called "Sir," even by his players? Sir Wade Phillips just doesn't sound right.
The players. They look like regular guys. Actually, Messi looks like the kid who bags my groceries, only dorkier.
The fans. Soccer crowds have a bad reputation, probably because the Hell's Angels are scared to buy tickets to the average European tilt. All I heard Wednesday was a lot of singing, chanting, passion and not a single gunshot.
The announcers. It's not just what they say but how they say it. ESPN ought to let them do NASCAR just to see the look on Elliott Sadler's face when Clive asks him about his chassis.
I could go on, but I hope by now you realize I really, really tried to keep an open mind. Which brings me to the Don't Like list:
Scoring, or the lack of it.
I know I sound like every other ignoramus American, but sheesh. A one-goal lead shouldn't qualify as a blowout.
"Almost 70 minutes into the game and a very unlikely score," Winston said.
What sport has he been watching. Every soccer game is likely to be 1-nil, or nil-nil. This one became 2-0 about 15 seconds later when Messi/Kobe headed one in. Ronaldo/LeBron took it hard.
"You can tell by his body language he's getting frustrated," Clive said.
You could tell by my body language I was getting bored or really needed to use the bathroom. Part of it was just frustration.
I couldn't see the beauty in the game. That would probably take study and learning my midfielder from my right-winger. But shouldn't a beauty this mesmerizing be irresistible? Do you have to force yourself into thinking your wife is smokin'?
OK, don't answer that.
The only conclusion I can make is that 7 billion people aren't wrong, but neither are the rest of us. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.
If you think soccer is hot, I'm not going to say you're blind. Just don't look down on me for not seeing things your way.
Try as I might, the chances of that are pretty much nil.