Americans love football, just not the soccer kind

July 12, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Now that the World Cup for 2006 is finally over, the hump-busting can subside, at least until 2010.

And you know the hump-busting I'm talking about - those pests who, every four years, take Americans to task for not liking soccer more. The rest of the world is crazy about the World Cup tournament, they scold, so why aren't Americans?

I got answers for these folks. I just don't know how much time they have.

But first let me clear up one thing: I am a fan of the World Cup. I've watched it since at least 1998, when my "peeps," the French, won it. (The French are at least partially my "peeps," courtesy of a French great-great-great-grandmother.)

So I rooted for France in 1998. This year, I rooted for Ghana before the team lost to Brazil. (I was either rooting for the underdog or channeling my inner Pan-Africanist; take your pick.) This year's final pitted my "peeps" - the French - against my adopted "peeps" - the Italians. (Courtesy of an Order Sons of Italy watch bestowed on me by the Baltimore chapter.) I would have had trouble picking which team to root for if my grandson Spencer hadn't stepped in to unwittingly solve the problem.

Spence wanted to stay at my house and watch the Cartoon Network. I insisted on the World Cup, even trying to con Spence into thinking the remote was stuck on Channel 2.

He didn't go for it. We "compromised" when I took him, his brother and sister to Lake Waterford Park in Pasadena, although it wasn't much of a compromise, since I never got to see the Cup.

The bottom line is, I'm a soccer fan. Most Americans aren't, and for good reason. Make that reasons.

Reason number one: pro football, American style. It became a national mania after the Baltimore Colts-New York Giants championship game of 1958, which has been called "the greatest game ever played." Several Colts players from that team said it was far from the greatest game they played, but it got the ball rolling in the passion Americans have for pro football. Several other games sealed the deal.

1. The 1967 National Football League championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers in subzero temperatures at Lambeau Field: Can anyone who watched that game forget how the Packers' offense sucked it up on that final touchdown drive in the fourth quarter after getting smacked around by the Cowboys' defense for much of the second half? Can we forget Jerry Kramer's block on Jethro Pugh that allowed quarterback Bart Starr to sneak in for the winning touchdown?

OK, so it's been established that Kramer moved before the snap. But let's cut the officials a break on this one. Kramer was only a little early. And it was 16 below with a wind chill of 60 below. The officials were thinking: "There are parts of our bodies freezing we didn't know existed. Game over. We're outta here."

2. The 1968 "Heidi Game" between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets: With the Jets leading by three points near the end of the game, Oakland scored a touchdown to take the lead. The Raiders scored another touchdown when the Jets fumbled on the ensuing kickoff. Fans watching the game at home never got to see the ending. NBC switched to its broadcast of Heidi exactly at 7 p.m. Calls from disgruntled pro football fans flooded NBC headquarters.

"You pre-empted what? To show what?"

3. The 1965 Western Conference playoff game that pitted the Packers against the Colts." This game ended in a 10-10 tie in regulation and went into overtime, when the Packers won on a field goal. The Colts were without starting quarterback John Unitas and backup Gary Cuozzo. Tom Matte, the Colts' halfback, had to be drafted as a quarterback and read plays from a wristband that is now in the National Football League Hall of Fame.

This game is never featured on the NFL channel as one of the best in league history. But it should be.

Want other reasons? How about baseball? Exhibit A is the 1975 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. Enough said.

Then there's basketball, an exciting team sport that is originally American. We also have lacrosse, courtesy of indigenous Americans. We have ice hockey and NASCAR, reputed to be the most popular spectator sport in the country. (Which, according to the History Channel, comes to us courtesy of another cherished American pastime: moonshining.)

In short, soccer in America has too much competition. Way too much for a sport in which a score of 2-0 is a rout, a score of 3-0 is a blowout and the 1-1 tie is a barn-burner.

The scolders won't accept that, of course. In another four years, they'll be busting the hump of America's non-soccer fans yet again.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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