Monday, June 12, 2006

"And Now There's a Beach Ball on the Field, and the Ball Boys Are Arguing About Who's Gonna Go Get It"

Well, I realize that the aftermath of a 3-0 depantsing of the U.S. at the hands of the Czech Republic is probably not the best time for this post, but what the hell. Here goes.

For those of you in a coma or, worse, the Republican Party, the greatest sporting event on the planet is now underway -- the FIFA World Cup. Now, while I love the game tremendously, I realize that many of my fellow countrymen tend to view soccer as something that's as gripping and enjoyable as a John Tesh concert.

The chief excuse for American apathy about the game is, quite simply, "it's boring." This is such a classic, lazy complaint. And, to some extent, hypocritical. The same sports fans who can rhapsodize about a "pitcher's duel" in baseball or a "defensive showdown" in football are generally the same ones who tend to whine about how soccer's boring.

I mean, baseball's so boring they actually give the fans a break late in the game. I'm pretty sure it's part of the Geneva Conventions that crowds can only be forced to watch Chipper Jones scratch himself like a bassett hound for two hours in a row without reprieve. There's a reason so much beer is on sale at the stadiums.

And as much as I love pro football, it's a game of constant interruptions, timeouts, measurements, instant replays, and huddles. DirecTV's NFL package has a function where they they edit the games, cutting out all the stoppages and showing every single play, hike to whistle. Without fail, they manage to trim the three-hour NFL broadcasts down to 20-30 minutes. No offense, but if you can trim 5/6 of the telecast away and still preserve every single play, then maybe it's this country that has the boring variety of football.

And that's not even mentioning some of the other things that some Americans consider a non-boring sport. NASCAR is essentially rednecks making left turns for three straight hours. World's Fastest Oil Change is a pathetic entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, not something for onlookers to cheer for. Golf? Christ, even the announcers are talking in a hushed voice. It’s got all the fun and spontaneity of the Brezhnev funeral, with the fashion sense of the snob frat from "Animal House." My God, we have people who consider bowling and billiards and bass fishing to be gripping sports, but soccer? Oh no.

I think most Americans just haven't been exposed to the game at its highest form. The prevalence of youth soccer in this country might actually work against its spread, as most suburban parents have now associated the sport with the image of a pack of 9-year-olds playing in the dirt and mobbing the ball. Yeah, if I'd grown up only watching Pop Warner Football, I'd probably not want to watch the pro game either.

Other people complain about low-scoring games. (Maybe if we scored in base seven like American football, it would seem more important. You know, 14-7 instead of 2-1?) What these people miss is the fact that a low score is also a close score. A team down 1-0 has a shot to come back and win or tie. Hell, just this morning, Australia was down 1-0 for the first eighty minutes of the game, and then rocketed in goals -- not once, not twice, but thrice! -- against Japan for a 3-1 smackdown in the last ten.

Again, compare that to U.S. sports. I can't count the number of Monday Night Football games where Al Michaels has had to joke about how only the gamblers are still watching because the Colts ran up the score 28-0 in the first half, the starters were rested midway through the 4th Q, and it's all over but the crying.

I think the boredom complaints come from the fact that so many Americans don't understand that there's actually much more to the game than the goals. So much of the play rests on innovation and spur-of-the-moment adjustments. It's a game that requires, from players and fans alike, attentiveness and an appreciation for small details -- passes, assists, even single touches -- that may not exactly work in a country known for its short attention sp... Hey, what's that?

Think soccer's boring? Watch the Brazil game tomorrow. Or hell, just stick with your original plan to watch an Ernest movie on the SuperStation and then look for sparkly stuff in the parking lot. Your loss.

Update: For reasons that should be obvious to those of you with reading comprehension skills, I changed the title from a soccer-mocking Simpsons quote to a baseball-mocking Simpsons quote.

Update 2.0: Apparently, I got the math in the "base seven" joke wrong. I'm not going to fix it in the text because, frankly, I don't want to stick the landing on that kind of joke. Fumbling that reference is like being a little too tall for the nerd ride.


Tokyo Joe said...

Actually, I've always believed that the lack of american enthusiasm for soccer was the lack of commercial breaks. Think about it - there is no place to slide in 30 sec to a minute break without running the risk of missing the best play in the game. that means that people actually have to pay attention to the whole thing nonstop and I just don't believe we have that type of attention span anymore. On top of that, lack of commercials means a huge lack of corporate sponsors and thus no bling-bling over paid super stars.

BTW - screw the Aussies! my money is still on Japan to go all the way.

Otto Man said...

Good point, Joe. For a nation accustomed to "TV timeouts" the unbroken 45-minute halves must seem like an eternity.

But the corporate sponsorship comes in other ways -- sponsoring airtime, stadium ads, and huge corporate sponsorships. Nike's biggest money makers aren't on the NBA.

Japan could make a run, but that's a tough task. Brazil's going to take one group spot, and now Australia has a huge lead for the race for the other and, even if Japan can tie their record, the Aussies have the head-to-head tiebreaker.

But hey, I'm a US fan still hoping for recovery. Keep hope alive!

Norbizness said...

Holy shit... they're starting to play Ernest movies on the SuperStation again? Badass!

Ra_wiggum said...

Otto, if they adjusted the score to base 7, it would still read 2-1. I suggest the language of computers - base 2. In that case a 2-1 score would read 10 - 1. High scoring indeed!!!

(Yes, I realize you didn't literally mean base 7 in the mathematical sense, but remember - I'm a geek)

Otto Man said...

That was such a tragic self-outing of a geek. I think from here on out, I'm going to read your comments here in the voice of Prof. John Frink.


Thrillhous said...

Lordy, wiggum, that was indeed some hard core geekage there. I feel for you.

How do folks in soccer-crazy countries watch games? I know they're downing beers like crazy, but do they just hold it until half time?

My beef with soccer is that there aren't any cheerleaders. Also, there's not a single country song dedicated to soccer.

Otto Man said...

I can't help you with the country song about soccer -- though I'd recommend the reggae tune "Pam Pam Cameroon."

As far as the lack of cheerleaders goes, you can keep your fully-clothed, overly-made-up, plastic women down on the field. I'd go with the scantily-clad, samba-dancing, real-life hotties right there in the stands at the World Cup.

(Don't believe me? Check out this link, not safe for work.

Yossarian said...

Here are the real uniforms that would get "Real men" all over the World Cup (really NOT safe for work)

BTW - The Cup belongs to England. They will have no problem with their Group (Paraguay - ha). Only Brazil will slow them down.

Otto Man said...

That site gives new meaning to "not safe for work," Yos.

Now my pants are chafing me.

Pooh said...

My beef with soccer is that there aren't any cheerleaders. Also, there's not a single country song dedicated to soccer.

A) If we could just get the BBC and ITV feeds - they do awesome things at halftime, the producers have gotten very good at "spot the hottie"

B) There may not be country songs, but many of them are still pretty crap.

bill said...

Worst defense of soccer, ever!

Otto Man said...

Well, Bill. Touché.

I'm still waiting for Thrillhous to come to the defense of his beloved NASCAR. What's the matter, Colonel Sanders? Chicken?

sideshow bob said...

I thin kpart of soccer's lack of success in America has to do with how much we suck at it.

Kind of like how the rest of the world was a little slow to warm to basketball because we always mopped the floor with them; at least we did until we became all fat, lazy and shiftless.

Speaking of NASCAR, I have a great idea to propel the sport into the next word: clockwise!

Otto Man said...

I'd watch NASCAR if they were racing in both directions at once. Two lanes, divided by a thin yellow line. Works on the highway, why not?

Pooh said...

Or at least a figure 8 in the middle...

vw: enlon

The Analyzer said...

NFL football will always be my favorite sport. It's so much more of a strategic game than baseball or soccer. I'm not saying these games aren't strategic but not as much as American Football. The interuptions aren't really that bad and a lot of commercials played during NFL games are more entertaining than comedy TV shows.

Otto Man said...

Sure, the NFL will always have top honors in my heart, Analyzer. I'm the kind of guy who runs three fantasy leagues and watches preseason games all the way to the third-string end.

The NFL clearly has impressive strategies, but so does soccer. But with the exception of set pieces (like corners or penalty kicks), soccer doesn't script them for the short orchestrated bursts that football does. Instead of one guy calling the shots, you've got a team applying strategic strikes on the fly. There's a lot more innovation and improvisation, and a lot less of a script.

As far as the interruptions go, I never really minded them so much until I started watching the DirecTV Short Cuts. Seriously, with all the chaff sorted out, the games are much more exciting. Soccer just does that from the beginning.

Finally, I'm afraid that, as a lifelong Chiefs fan, I am legally obligated to tell you that the Raiders suck.

Paul Rupp said...

Well done, Otto Man.. it's interesting to see "America's sports" put through the same criticism that soccer always faces (and very eye-opening to see that baseball and football do not measure up when put in this perspective). I think the reason that so many people find soccer boring is because to the untrained eye, the game of soccer lacks strategy (as Analyzer pointed out). It's not that soccer actually lacks strategy, it's just that people who don't understand soccer don't know where to look for it.

In football, the objectives are clear; get to that little yellow line that runs across the TV screen, and keep doing that until you get to the end zone. There are 30 second breaks between plays, which is where all the strategy comes from. This gives the fans a chance to catch up to the game and anticipate what is coming next. It gives the coaches a chance to observe the outcome of one play, analyze their situation, and decide on the next play.

Can you imagine if, during a soccer game, everyone froze for 30 seconds after every pass so that the recipient of the ball could take time and choose his next move? It would be ridiculous. However, as Americans, we've grown up with football and baseball, and we've become immune to the boring breaks in the action.