Bouncing ball off head: The indignity of soccer

June 27, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

"If I don't get excited about this soccer stuff," Slats said, "does that mean I ain't a good patriotic Chicagoan?"

Well, this is a unique event for our city and the nation. The World Cup is the biggest sports event on the planet. Billions of soccer-loving foreigners will watch the contests on TV -- everybody from the Armenians to the Zulus.

"So what? All that proves is that most of the world is too poor to build bowling alleys, golf courses, tennis courts or baseball fields. That's their tough luck. There's hunnerts of millions of people still ain't got indoor plumbing, but that don't mean there's something great about an outhouse. And there's hunnerts of millions who ain't got no teeth, so is there something popular about gumming your food? Besides, soccer is so boring. I never seen a more boring sport except old geezers taking heel-and-toe health walks."

That's because you don't understand the game and its many nuances and subtleties.

"What's to understand? A lot of guys named Pedro and Boris and Hwana run around in short pants playing toesy with a ball for half the day until somebody wins by a scrawny score of 1-0. Then the exciting part starts when the spectators go goofy and have a riot and trample each other. If they want good TV ratings, what they ought to do is skip the game and just have the riot. Besides, in soccer they don't have no time-outs, which is crazy. Every game should have time-outs or innings or halftimes or something where you get to take a break."

Why are time-outs needed?

"So people can go to the john or get a beer. I guess in a lot of those foreign countries they don't have indoor plumbing or drink beer, so they don't need time to go to the john. Or maybe that's why they trample each other after the game -- all 90,000 of them are trying to get to the john at once."

Like many older Americans, you don't seem to be aware that among young people in this country soccer has become the second-biggest participation sport, ranking only behind basketball. It has become bigger than baseball and football.

"Sure, I read that. But they never tell you why."

I suppose you have a theory.

"Sure. Bum knees is one reason."

Bum knees?

"Yeah. See, a lot of these suburban parents wised up. They look at football and what do they see? They see high school kids who weigh 260 pounds, and it's all muscle. There are some high school teams today that are bigger than the old-time pro teams. So these parents don't want their normal-sized kids stomped by these big galoots and end up gimping around on plastic knees. But they want their kids running around and doing something sweaty instead of sitting home playing Nintendo, so they enroll them in soccer."

So soccer is an alternative?

"Sure. And you don't have to be real big like in football or real tall like in basketball."

But why is it more popular among young people than baseball, which is supposed to be our national pastime?

"Because it's easier than baseball. It's easier to kick a big, round ball that's sitting on the ground than to hit a fastball with a bat or to scoop up a ground ball and make a good throw to first. I mean, would Babe Ruth have been an American hero if he shuffled around in short pants and let a big ball bounce off his head?"

No, I suppose he would have looked foolish.

"That's right. And that's why soccer will never be a really popular TV sport in this country."

Why?

"Because in soccer they bounce the ball off their heads, and to Americans, it is undignified to bounce a ball off your head unless you are having a boozy backyard party. Name me one other sport where you bounce the ball off your head."

Now that you mention it, I can't think of one.

"See? What happens if a football player is waiting to catch a punt or a pass and it bounces off his helmet?"

The fans would hoot and jeer and shout that he is incompetent.

"And what happens if a baseball player is waiting for a fly ball and it bounces off his head?"

No doubt, the scene would be shown on every network's sports highlights and the player would forever be held up to ridicule.

"Absolutely. In the movies, if they want to get a laugh they have something bounce off a head. In the Three Stooges, it was always boink, boink off Curley's head. So bouncing a ball off your head is un-American. Besides, it makes people shorter."

It does?

"Sure. That's why most foreigners are shorter than Americans. All those balls bouncing off their heads compress their necks and spines. And that worries me."

Why?

"Because if American kids keep playing soccer, they're going to get shorter and shorter. In a hunnert years, this could be a nation of flat-headed dwarfs."

I don't think there is any cause for alarm.

"I hope not, because they couldn't all become Chicago aldermen."

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