America catches World Cup fever — sort of

U.S draw with powerful England has some jumping on soccer bandwagon again

June 13, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

No one jumps on and off the soccer bandwagon like the American sports fan.

And right now, we're on again, baby.

Oh, yeah, we're troweling on the red, white and blue face paint, waving the American flag, breaking out our Uncle Sam hats and Lady Liberty earrings.

We've got World Cup fever — although how big a case is still a matter of debate.

And we owe it all — well, a lot of it, anyway — to a goalkeeper named Robert Green, who pulled a Bill Buckner and let an easy bouncing ball get by him for a goal that helped the U.S. to a 1-1 draw with England in the opening match for both teams Saturday.

Now we'll see how long the bandwagon stays crowded.

If the U.S. gets waxed by Slovenia in its next match Friday, I look for so many people to jump off that it'll look like the shuttle for the BP "Humanitarian of the Year" award.

In the meantime, though, the World Cup has been a great diversion, especially in this town, where the Orioles stagger aimlessly through another long, hot, lost summer.

I watched the U.S.-England match with hundreds of others at the big soccer festival in Towson sponsored by radio station WNST (AM 1570).

On a huge 9-foot-by-16-foot screen set up in Patriots Square, the match was riveting — at least if you're not hung up on seeing a lot of scoring.

(Before we go any further, a note about the buzzing noise made by the vuvuzelas, those annoying plastic horns blown by soccer fans in South Africa. In Towson, with the volume cranked up, it felt like we were watching soccer while someone was pressure-washing his deck next door. And the fans in Royal Bafokeng Stadium never stopped blowing the stupid things. You wanted to scream: "Please, take a break! Go get a soda or a hot dog! I'll buy!" But they just kept blowing, blowing, blowing.)

A 48-year-old man named John Seabrook caught my eye when he unfurled the Union Jack seconds after Steven Gerrard scored to put England ahead 1-0 in the fourth minute.

It turned out that Seabrook, who lives in Mount Washington, hails from Cambridge, England.

"I'm a U.S. citizen, but I'm still a Brit at heart," he said of his impromptu flag-waving.

Seabrook also turned out to be a total sports nut.

At 6 that morning, he had arrived at Slainte, a pub in Fells Point, to watch the England-Australia rugby match on TV.

After that, he had watched some of the South Korea-Greece World Cup soccer game before getting in the car to drive to Towson to catch the U.S.-England match.

At this point, I was about to inquire into the state of Seabrook's marriage, even though it was none of my business.

But before I could do that, he cheerfully laid out his plans for that evening, after the day's World Cup matches were concluded.

"Sitting on the deck, spending some time with my wife," he said. "Maybe we'll do some barbecuing."

Good save, I thought, and I hoped Mrs. Seabrook felt the same way.

In the 40th minute, Patriot Square erupted with cheering when the U.S. tied the match at 1 on Clint Dempsey's goal.

It came on a ball struck from 25 yards that bounced innocently toward Robert Green, the English keeper.

He prepared to gather it in the way Buckner did on Mookie Wilson's soft grounder to first base in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox.

As every baseball fan knows, Buckner let that ball roll under his glove and between his legs. And he was haunted for years after the Mets went on to win the Series.

Green, the English keeper, watched in horror as Clint Dempsey's shot skidded off his right hand and rolled slowly, slowly, slowly over the goal line.

"A very weak goal," Seabrook said, still looking minutes later like a man who had just witnessed a terrible traffic accident. "Total goalkeeper error. I wouldn't want to be that goalkeeper right now."

Will Robert Green be as haunted by his blunder as Bill Buckner was?

Who knows? Buckner received death threats and was heckled and jeered by baseball fans for years.

But Green's gaffe will live in infamy in English World Cup lore, that's for sure. And because of it, the U.S. earned a draw — and a crucial point — in its opener.

At least for now, America is paying attention to the biggest sporting event on the planet.

And the soccer bandwagon rolls on, hoping it doesn't hit a ditch Friday against Slovenia.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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