Conversion by Immersion
My name is Bryan, and I’m about to end a 41-year old personal drought of ignoring soccer.
Make no mistake, I’m a huge sports fan. I spent the first 21 years of my life becoming a man in Massachusetts, where everyone – including aunts, grandmothers, and your middle school paperboy – can tell you the weakest spot in the Red Sox lineup at any point in July.
The same goes for Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I’ve lived for the past 20 years after chasing my wife here (I caught her). I’m in Eagles country, and the fact that I didn’t just refer to them as the “Super Bowl LII Champion Philadelphia Eagles” probably just pissed off half of my wife’s side of the family. Eagles fans, so annoying, amirite?
Most of you reading this in the United States have a similar story. I’m not sure if a $69 test from Ancestry.com would confirm it or not, but fandom for specific teams is just in our blood. From the Trailblazers in Portland to the Cardinals in St. Louis to the Cowboys in Dallas, it’s an unassailable feature of American culture.
And with the 21st World Cup starting up this week, I’m also well aware that this is how most of the world feels about the game of soccer.
I, certainly, do not.
I know enough about soccer. I understand an offsides trap. I know it’s called a “Table” and not “Standings,” and that being in the bottom 3 of the Premier League gets you relegated. I know Salah might be better than Messi right now (though I couldn’t tell you why). I know that most experts think only six or seven teams have an actual shot at winning the World Cup.
I also know that the U.S. is not in the competition this year, which is why I wasn’t planning on watching a single minute of it until a few days ago.
I mean, why would I ever want to watch a soccer tournament that my country wasn’t a part of? There are literally 517 better things to do with my time. Oh, you’re going to make me list a few? Okay.
Thing #1– The U.S. Open, our country’s finest golf championship, starts the same day as the World Cup. (Golf, the REAL beautiful game.) FOX is airing 45 hours of coverage from Shinnecock Hills on Thursday through Sunday. Yes, please.
Thing #78 – Trim the shrubs in front of our house. I listed this 78th because that is the same number of times my wife Erica has said, “The shrubs in front of the house really need to be trimmed.” 78 is also the number of times I have ignored said statement. Think of what could happen if I eschewed the World Cup for yard work? My wife would be thrilled, we’d probably make out a little bit more, and all would be right with the world.
Thing #214 – Back to golf, this is the best time of year to get out and walk 18 holes. The days are long and the oppressive summer heat hasn’t yet arrived. It’s going to be partly sunny and 82 degrees on Saturday. Who in their right mind, would pass THAT up for sitting on the couch to catch four (YES FOUR!) World Cup games featuring countries we all know and love like Peru, Nigeria, and Iceland? (Apparently I would, but we’ll get to that in a second.)
Thing #483 – learn how to do The Floss. My kids (both in high school) can do it. My friends’ kids can do it. I cannot do it, and frankly I don’t want to know how to do it. BUT, it seems like a better use of time than watching Panama and Tunisia kick a ball around.
Despite the above reasons (and the other 513 not listed), I’m going against my better judgement and am going all in on this World Cup. I’m gonna fake being a soccer fan until I make it…or until I take it…and throw it out of my basement window along with my 56” Vizio because if I see one more player flop from a phantom elbow on a header attempt so help me I will bicycle kick Ronaldo in his six-pack abs.
If you’re a soccer lover, you’re probably reading this and shaking your head in disgust. You’ve been looking forward to these next 30 days ever since Germany hoisted the cup in 2014. (I had to google that.) What I’m absolutely dreading, you’re completely delighting in. I get it.
But do me a favor and stick with me for this. Because there’s a chance I might actually turn out like you. I might fall in love with this beautiful game and never look back.
Or not. It seems just as likely that I’ll regret this entire experience, and you’ll get the pleasure of snarling at me as I suffer through 64 games that might all end in a 0-0 draw.
Either way, it’s too late now. I’ve committed to doing this, so I’m doing this.
I’m putting away my golf clubs for (most of) the month.
I’m ignoring the shrubs (sorry, Erica).
I’m immersing myself in the OTHER beautiful game, and who knows, I just might end up loving it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to change the channel. It’s 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time and even though Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Phil Mickelson are a combined 15-over par right now in the first round of the U.S. Open (15-OVER!!!), the World Cup is about to kick off.
Here I go.
“Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”