All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Archive for the ‘general’ Category

Hala Madrid!

Posted by hiphopmama on March 2, 2009

Lots of busy-ness going on in my world, revolving around the potential purchase of a house, so I’m falling behind on my game watching and blog writing. I am aware of all the goings on, from the Lakers’ second consecutive loss to Real Madrid’s closing in on Barcelona, but I haven’t been able to watch all the happenings or write them up yet. GolTV isn’t helping either, as they keep screwing up their scheduled broadcasts of the Real Madrid-Espanyol game so I can’t watch it. During the live broadcast, it randomly switched to a different show just before halftime. Then at the next replay I could find, they showed the Sevilla game instead. So now I’m waiting another 24 hours to catch the NEXT replay which I’m praying they actually play in its entirety. Is it too much to hope?

So bear with me as I get back around to my regularly scheduled writing program and keep your fingers crossed for my housing situation. If GolTV cooperates, I’ll get up the Primera Liga and NBA stuff by tonight, tomorrow at the latest.

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Dereliction of Duty

Posted by hiphopmama on January 22, 2009

jurassicpark

I know I promised to be fully back on the bandwagon and have my regular postgame update this evening, but the call of Throwback Thursday at the local theater was too strong and Jurassic Park won out. It may be just your average nostalgic picture for the rest of you, but this movie meant a lot more to me and my brother and sister. When we left LA for the hinterlands of Fresno in September of 1994, we felt like we had been given a death sentence, banished to the furthest reaches of civilization (within California, that is, which is as far as civilization extended in my mind). We had no friends, family, or even acquaintances within a couple hundred miles, and I in particular was homesick as all hell. One of our first excursions around the neighborhood led us to McDonald’s and then to the nearby video rental place (Valley Video – *tear*), where my normally tightwad dad was kind enough to buy, for $19.99, the JP video for us. We took our cardboard burgers home, and I can still remember excitedly setting up shop in front of the newly installed TV to load up the treasure.

And everything just took off from there. I was eleven, my sister was six, and my brother was two, and we all fell in love with that movie. I had already seen it on the big screen, but it became a collective experience for us as we waited for dark, stormy evenings to watch it and try to spook ourselves; counted how many times Hammond said “spared no expense” or Mr. Snakes On A Plane muttered “hold onto your butts”; and acted out various scenes together, specifically the one where the well muscled raptor guy gets eaten by his favorite beast. Between the three of us, we could probably quote the whole movie – no joke – with sound effects thrown in too. Ridiculous, you say? Indicative of a painful lack of social life? Definitely, but we loved it all the same and watched it upwards of 50 times that year, especially my brother, who became obsessed with dinosaurs and developed his own version of the T-rex walk. 

So that, my friends, is my long-winded explanation for my failure to blog it out tonight. I see that we won, as well we should have, and by 20 points no less. I will watch the game tomorrow and have my thoughts and astute analysis available for you soon thereafter. In the meantime, I’m off to dream of dinos and simpler times in the Central Valley. Maybe I’ll change my blogger name to Clever Girl…

And, for sheer nerdiness sake, I present the following. It would be sad if it didn’t hit so close to home. Or maybe it’s sad because it does…

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Barça Alone At The Top

Posted by hiphopmama on December 7, 2008

Barcelona 4-0 Valencia

  • 1-0 Thierry Henry, 20′
  • 2-0 Thierry Henry, 28′
  • 3-0 Dani Alves, 46′
  • 4-0 Thierry Henry, 79′

The title of this post doesn’t just refer to their place in La Liga, which is nothing new; it’s about Barcelona’s utter superiority to every other team in Europe at the moment. I suppose there is a case to be made for Inter and even Chelsea until a few weeks ago, but I don’t think either of those teams or any other can hold a candle to what Barcelona is doing. They haven’t lost a game since August, and since then they have 17 wins and just 3 draws, including some mind-blowingly good showings against a range of opposition. There was the 6-1 pounding of Sporting Gijon, 6-1 over Atletico Madrid, 5-0 over Almeria, 4-1 over Malaga, and 6-0 over Valladolid. Their most impressive victories, however, have been the last two, when they absolutely dismantled a pair of top five teams in Primera Liga play. Last week, they demoralized a surging Sevilla side 4-0 on the road, and just this weekend they spanked Valencia 4-0 at home. While the goal totals have been impressive, even more notable is the number of clean sheets the team has kept. Sevilla isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse but they do have some serious attacking threats, including Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, who had just netted a hat trick for Brazil in international play. They got under Fabiano’s skin so much – not a difficult task – that he earned himself a red card and an early exit. The Valencia scoreline was even more surprising for the way they kept one of the hottest strikers on the planet, David Villa, off the score sheet. Villa undoubtedly misses his attacking partner David Silva who has been out injured for a while, but that hadn’t prevented him from scoring 12 goals in 13 league games coming into the Barcelona match-up. Yet the Barcelona defense held firm and stubbornly denied Villa and his teammates so much as a consolation goal.

The element that makes Barça stand out from the pack the most is their complete play as a team. In top flight European football, everyone has a stacked line-up. Barcelona’s is no different, with Eto’o, Henry, Messi, and Bojan up front; Xavi, Iniesta (currently injured), Hleb, Yaya, and Keita fortifying the midfield; and Puyol, Marquez, Alves, Abidal, Pique, and Milito (also injured) manning the back line; plus Valdes between the sticks, just to name a few. The all-star squad doesn’t capture or explain their dominance, though. The complete cohesion does, and new coach Pep Guardiola has to be credited for that. With such an array of talent at his disposal, it’s quite a feat to successfully manage the egos involved and know how and when to shuffle the deck to get the best performance out of your team. Guardiola has done that almost to perfection this year, involving everyone to an extent and picking the right squads to get the job done week in and week out. His substitutions have been equally flawless, although the number of blowouts Barça has inflicted has made it unnecessary for him to perform much magic from the sidelines. 

For all their attacking prowess, the strength of the midfield and back line has been their anchor this year, allowing the wing players to storm forward and facilitate the offense. Xavi has once again been masterful in his role as the team’s ultimate orchestrator, pulling every string at precisely the right moment. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Yaya, who has been a rock in midfield, winning a gazillion tackles and completing damn near every pass he attempts. His immaculate play has been absolutely central to the team’s success, and they would be foolish to leave him out of their plans, either by allowing him to languish on the bench amidst so much talent or by letting him make his way out of Barcelona. He has been repeatedly linked to his brother’s team of Arsenal – a scenario I thoroughly endorse as a Gunners fan – but I don’t see that coming to fruition. He fits with the Blaugrana and deserves to have his place with them cemented, at least for the rest of this season.

If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am. When I first started paying attention to the Primera Liga, I was a Real Madrid fan, largely because Barcelona’s performances were generally uninspiring with an uncommitted Ronaldinho leading the way and a failure to achieve what they could have. With all the typical strong-arm wrangling going on in Madrid and the ever obnoxious Ramon Calderon making his team difficult to like (to put it mildly), I have seen my allegiances shift somewhat. I’m not an out and out Barcelona fan – in fact, I’m not a committed ANYBODY fan really, since I have only been seriously watching for a few years. Instead, I just enjoy watching great football and I appreciate the teams whose style and ethic fit in with my own. Arsenal has emerged as my favorite side in English football, but I have been more equivocal in rooting for teams from Spain and Italy. This season has made my allegiances even more tenuous, and Barcelona’s team mentality and outstanding play make it difficult not to pull for them. If they keep up with this pace, I might be the latest in what is assuredly a large group of converts.

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I <3 Stu Lantz

Posted by hiphopmama on December 7, 2008

stu lantz

I’m not a fan of sports announcers. It’s a thankless job, I know, because you’re only really noticed when you’re bad, but I still detest the majority of them. Bill Walton tops my shit list for sheer ridiculousness. A friend and I once listened to him gush all game about David Robinson, and we joked that he was going to call him the most perfect human being in history. Shortly thereafter, Bill went on to declare, “When Michaelangelo sat back and pondered the perfect man to sculpt, that man was David Robinson.” Or something like that – you get the gist. Jeff Van Gundy is an irritating little twat as well, although it’s his demeanor more than what he says that gets under my skin. And don’t even get me started on NFL announcers.

So when I find one that I like, it’s quite an endorsement and probably means they are exceptional at what they do. That said, Stu Lantz is, far and away, the best sports announcer that I have ever listened to. He is the color commentator for Lakers home broadcasts and worked for years with Chick Hearn (the other GOAT). My favorite all-time duo was Stu and Paul Sunderland – because I only got to hear Chick later in life when he was past his prime and calling out names like Worthy and Jabbar – but unfortunately he wasn’t picked back up after filling in for Chick during his medical absence. Regardless, Stu is like a family member to me. Not only is he an incredibly congenial figure, but he provides the most informative commentary you will hear. I always feel like I have attended a basketball seminar after listening to him call a game, especially when it comes to learning about how the big guys play. He is always imparting bits of wisdom from the big man camps he has been involved with over the years, and when I am not able to hear him call a Lakers game I often know exactly what he would be saying at a given moment. I’m obviously biased myself, but I also feel like he is one of the least partial home announcers out there too. He is quick to disagree with referee calls he views as wrong, whether or not they favor the Lakers, and he has plenty of positives and negatives to spread around for both teams. Listening to all the other home commentators through the NBA League Pass only furthers my belief in Stu’s excellence. Suffice it to say that a Lakers game feels incomplete without his words of wisdom.

Because I now live in a part of the state that residents somehow believe to be “northern” California, I don’t get to watch Lakers games and thus chose to subscribe to the aforementioned League Pass package. Because they usually broadcast the home team’s feed, I have grown to hate road games because it means I won’t get to hear Stu give his estimable opinion on our play. I’ve been very fortunate that the Lakers played 10 of their first 15 games at Staples, which unfortunately means that I have a disproportionate number of games to go without him, not to mention the nationally broadcast games that result in a blackout of the home coverage. Damn TNT and ESPN. I don’t know how I’m going to survive the playoffs.

 

my fave duo

my fave duo

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Aes Grizzle

Posted by hiphopmama on November 23, 2008

aesrockpaugasol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know the resemblance isn’t uncanny, but I can’t help seeing Aesop Rock in my mind every time Pau Gasol gets his mug on TV. It might just be the Castaway facial hair or the lanky white boy look, but they are one and the same to me. I recently saw Aes Rock live, and I had to fight the urge to ask him his thoughts about the upcoming Lakers season. Just imagine if their skill sets were combined. You’d have a 7-footer who could nail a baby hook AND pen a rhyme on the postmodern condition in intensely personal verbiage. Talk about a double threat.

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Strange Week For Premier League’s Big Four

Posted by hiphopmama on November 23, 2008

Talk about bizarre. Aside from Arsenal, who lost horribly to Manchester City 3-0, all the big teams in the EPL finished the weekend in 0-0 draws. ManU drew away at Aston Villa; Liverpool went scoreless at home against Fulham; and Chelsea failed to get on the board at home against Newcastle. So between the big four teams this week, not a single goal was netted. 

There has been some talk about the level of competition in the Prem being generally higher this year and, miracle of miracles, that someone outside of the big four might sneak their way into a Champions League spot. Granted, there have been some nice surprises among the “lesser” teams and the bigs have looked distinctly beatable, at least at times. Arsenal in particular look to be on the verge of a bid for the UEFA Cup next year, and ManU have had a hard time getting results against the top teams. 

Despite all this, any discussion of supposed parity in European football makes me laugh. I know no one expects teams like West Brom and Wigan to be able to compete with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool, but the notion that the Grand Canyon-sized gap between the top and the bottom of the league might possibly have closed by an inch or two is pretty comical. Let me get this straight. 75% or more of the top of the table is likely to shake out according to form (AKA dollars), but the possible inclusion of Aston Villa or even – gasp – Hull City is supposed to get me excited? I agree that Hull City’s story is amazing, and I’m definitely pulling for them to upset some people come season’s end, but I don’t really see that going anywhere. All the biggies will just retool, probably siphoning off some of the new up-and-comers’ talent, and we’ll be back to square one next year. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for some more competition in the Premier League. It’s just that, coming from a background of American sports which have at least a semblance of a salary cap, the occasional contention by a dark horse team just doesn’t inspire me. The U.S. hasn’t figured out many curbs to capitalism’s excesses, but sports is one area where we’re light years ahead of Europe. It’s not categorically better or worse, just much more even across the board. From what I can understand from my limited experience, that’s not even really the goal in Europe. You have these huge teams, like Chelsea and Real Madrid and Inter Milan, and they drive much of the action. Smaller teams chafe at them when they steal their talent away with a big paycheck, but I don’t sense much of a blowback from anyone with a serious interest in changing the system. Or to put it more directly, I cannot imagine a scenario in which one of those big teams was relegated.

And that aspect of the European game may be a crucial part of the difference. As the analysts are so fond of noting, on any given week, even the lowliest team in the NFL has a chance to knock off a title contender. Who would have thought at the beginning of this season that Atlanta would be 7-4 while Jacksonville sits at 4-7? Injuries play a huge role in leveling the playing field in the NFL, but a strict salary cap certainly deserves some credit as well. On the flip side, there are no special penalties for having a poor season, besides the general ill will of fans and a decrease in profits. In Europe, however, the consequences are harsh, with relegation to a lower league bestowed upon the lowest three finishers. I can’t fathom how big name teams like the Giants and the Patriots would handle the possibility of relegation in an off year, and I can only imagine they would be equally harried in their efforts to do whatever possible to avoid it. 

That doesn’t capture the whole situation, because even in a desperate attempt to stay in the top flight, NFL teams would have to do so within a salary cap. But with a relegation system in place, the wealthier organizations would have a big interest in lobbying the league to loosen up the monetary restrictions. 

Okay, that was a long aside on the monied interests in European sports, but there it is. Back to the games. The two I saw were much more entertaining than their goalless scorelines suggest. Chelsea blanketed Newcastle in possession, but the Magpies dug in their heels and held on for dear life, only just making it out by the skin of their teeth and a gracious full time whistle. Lampard saw a couple of good opportunities go wayward and Shay Given made a great save or two, but overall Newcastle showed great grit in keeping Chelsea off the scoreboard. Manchester United were similarly frustrated by a surging Villa team coming off an emotional 2-0 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates last week. Aston Villa posed a little more of a threat going forward than Newcastle did, but they also sat back and dared ManU to get one past them. At one point near the end, forward Gabriel Agbonlahor made a game-saving clearance in the box, indicating just how many Villa players were staying back to defend. I enjoyed this one since I hated ManU and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular. He was full of overblown histrionics in this game, rolling around on the ground and grimacing in pain as if he had lost a limb, only to get up and walk off under his own power all the while complaining to the referee. When he eventually went off with a slight but noticeable limp, I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t all for effect, as most things are with him. Whenever I watch him, he seems to be playing as if for a highlight reel in his head, picturing how this is going to look on YouTube the next morning. Hence all the useless stepovers and backheels that are entirely unnecessary and unhelpful to his team. When he is in form, he is an absolute joy to watch as he does things with the ball at his feet that few others can, and even a hater like myself can appreciate his talent. But that doesn’t detract from what a pissy little pretty boy he is. I’m sure he spends more on primping and pampering than any girl I know, including those meticulously waxed eyebrows and that perfectly gelled hair. Am I far off the mark in seeing him as Ricky Martin in cleats?

As for the others, I can only tell you what I’ve read. For Liverpool, Fernando Torres’ return could not offset the loss of Steven Gerrard to a groin injury, and the defensive minded Fulham team stubbornly denied them all game. Benitez’s decision to rest Xabi Alonso was a little surprising given the absence of Torres, although he was brought on in the second half, but it was too little too late. And then there was Arsenal. I’d prefer not to talk about it, but if I have to, I guess I’ll just say that the depleted line-up and lack of any momentum whatsoever really caught them up. They were without Gallas after the former captain was stripped of the armband, and in addition they were missing Fabregas, Walcott, Adebayor, and Toure. Confusion at the back resulted in the first goal by Stephen Ireland, and Robinho chipped one over Almunia for the second. Finally, in the game’s dying minutes, Daniel Sturridge nailed the penalty after a poor challenge by Djourou in the box. Arsenal now find themselves out of the top four, just behind Aston Villa and only a point ahead of Hull City. Frankly, I’m surprised it has taken this long, but I don’t see things getting better any time soon. It seems everyone at the team is under fire at the moment, so it will take a while for things to settle back down. A good run of play certainly couldn’t hurt that process, though.

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Best Hair Defense in Hair Defense HISTORY!

Posted by hiphopmama on November 18, 2008

 

1 strand

Welcome to Perfectville! Population: 1 strand

LOL at Mercury Morris on a hair restoration commercial. “I even went undefeated against hair loss! Take THAT, Tom Brady! These younger guys may live 20, 30 years longer, but they can’t maintain every last hair in the clutch. I pop a bottle of Cristal every time one of them loses a strand!” Classic.

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Schuster Gets “Vote of Confidence” – Only In Soccer

Posted by hiphopmama on November 17, 2008

After another disappointing loss, their third in four games, the Real Madrid coach was rumored to be on the hot seat for not getting the desired results from his all-star squad (read here about his stay of execution). The loss to Valladolid was indeed painful, in a different way than those losses to a resurgent Juve team, as Real once again looked hapless at the back and frankly uninterested in doing anything about it. It was a listless effort against a spunky team that, no matter how spurred on by their home fans, Real should have beat.

Still, when I heard about Schuster facing possible dismissal if his team lost that game all I could think was, “Only in soccer.” (Or football, or top flight European football – take your pick.) There is lots of talk about the “coaching carousel” in certain U.S. sports, particularly basketball, but it doesn’t even come close to approaching the kind of musical chairs that goes on in the big European leagues. Real Madrid is a case in point. Fabio Capello is brought in for ’06-’07, and he leads the team to a title. It was a grind, and it came down to the last week, but the team got it done. It wasn’t enough, though, and he was fired ostensibly for not playing the kind of football the Real Madrid faithful were used to seeing, adopting a more defensive style that was less flashy than the (notably title-less) Galacticos teams. So next up is Bernd Schuster, who brings back the razzle-dazzle (thanks, Ray Hudson) and leads the team to its second title in two years. So now, early on in the year and after the team’s first league loss, he is potentially on his way out, because these clubs operate on the Janet Jackson principle: what have you done for me lately?

I’ve always been a proponent of giving coaches time to prove their worth, especially if they come in with proven track records to back them. I’m admittedly a noob when it comes to European football, but my experience with the NBA tells me that you have to be patient. It takes time to come in, get a feel for the team culture, assemble the players you want on the roster, institute a new system (if necessary), and change the established mentality, all before you can expect to start winning. It doesn’t always take this long, but when it doesn’t, you can be assured that the system and players were already mostly in place before the new coach swept to power. Larry Brown ended up leading the Pistons to their first title in 14 years, but he did so with a team that Rick Carlisle assembled and brought back from the abyss and into contention. The addition of Rasheed Wallace in Brown’s first year was the thing that probably put them over the top and helped them beat my beloved Lakers. Similarly, when Flip Saunders came in and instituted a more open, offensive style – which was what management wanted from Carlisle all along, in addition to a more personable attitude – he led essentially the same group to the NBA Finals only to see them lose a tight battle to the Spurs. Jon Gruden propelled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a championship in 2002 on the back of Tony Dungy’s grunt work bringing that group together and instituting their renowned defense. Rotating new coaches in and out of already solid teams – as all of these big clubs are – is bound to be a 50-50 endeavor, yielding results as often as “disappointments,” however psychos like Ramon Calderon define those terms.

Thinking about these various coaches leads me to the conclusion that European football coaches are simultaneously more and less valued than coaches in the big sports in the U.S. Coaches in Europe are often superstars to the same extent as their players are, and their every move is scrutinized by the press and rival teams. Phil Jackson is only half jokingly self-dubbed the “Zen Master,” but it doesn’t approach the level of devotion that trails “The Special One” who currently resides in Milan. Despite this, even these larger than life coaches are rather easily disposed of and often for reasons that are entirely foreign to a stateside fan like myself. The Pistons ditched Carlisle partially for his surly demeanor as well as for a difference in opinion over team strategy, but it’s rare for feuds between coaches and team managers to be nearly as direct or as public as they are in Europe. Mourinho chafed under Abramovich’s insistence on Shevchenko’s position with Chelsea and was fired after taking the club to two consecutive league titles, while Capello was unceremoniously disposed of by Madrid for winning the title with less style than the Madridistas demanded. It’s hard for me to imagine an NBA or NFL coach sacked immediately after leading a team to a championship, no matter what justifiable reasons team management or owners might have. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it makes more sense to me that, if you’ve just come off a good performance, you might not want to shake things up. Then again, when you have the ability to just buy and buy and buy more talent, you have no incentive to work on building from what you already have, as happens in U.S. sports with at least a pretense of a salary cap. Instead, you can just ditch whatever doesn’t instantly work and move on to the next quick fix. Unfortunately, it seems like you might get just that – a QUICK fix that doesn’t serve your long-term interests.

But what the hell do I know? I’m just a dumb Yank.

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How Sports Blogging Is Killing My Love Of Sports

Posted by hiphopmama on October 8, 2008

That title might be a little exaggerated, but you get the point. I’ve had a great time reading and writing incessantly about my favorite sports since starting this blog, but lately I’ve watched simultaneously more and less than I ever have before. In one sense, I’ve seen bits and pieces of more soccer matches than at any time in the past. In another, I have only watched one or two matches all the way through with any real focus on the play. Soccer is a great thing to have on in the background while conducting my parenting business during the day – there’s nothing objectionable in the content, and I can tune in and out without missing essential parts of the action, thanks to my trusty DVR. (As a contrast, football doesn’t lend itself so easily to this kind of viewing. Each play can be critical, and when you miss one you’ve missed a much more significant portion of the game.) Because I can easily watch soccer during the day with my daughter, I can potentially get through a lot of matches. However, I can’t devote much attention to any of them, and I end up rewinding the goals and missing most of the rest of the action just so that I can write them up and move on to another match. The result is that I rarely get to enjoy a complete game and it’s often midweek before I can finally watch some of my favorite teams. (Case in point, as I write this I’m watching AC Milan’s match against Cagliari – nobody ruin the outcome for me!) 

So, in the spirit of true fandom, I’m changing my focus here. I’ve given up on covering any and every game under the sun, or even those in my three selected leagues. I can’t keep up with it and it’s bogus anyway, since I can’t possibly watch all those games. Instead, I’m just writing up whatever I happen to see, and completeness be damned. I figure anyone who wants the full scoop on any of these leagues will head to a much better website anyway. That said, I want to follow my own Big Eleven teams in the Big Three leagues in Europe, which are as follows:

EPL:

  • Arsenal
  • Chelsea
  • Man Utd
  • Liverpool

Primera Liga:

  • Real Madrid
  • Barcelona
  • Valencia

Serie A:

  • AC Milan
  • Inter 
  • Juventus
  • Roma

Not a very surprising list, I admit, but I can cover the major stories in each of those leagues by following those teams, and if anything else interesting enough happens, maybe I’ll deign to speak on it. It’s a completely elitist, American approach, but that should come as no surprise, seeing as my soccer viewing is subject to the whims of the national soccer broadcasts chosen for me. My apologies to all the second tier teams and their fans, who I’m sure deserve lots more love and respect, but it just ain’t in the cards. I pulled for Sevilla with all my might a couple years ago, but it was harder to keep up with them because the coverage just wasn’t there and it’s no different now. I’m a big market girl in a big market world, and I’m going to fall in line.

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An American Sports Fan In UEFA-Land

Posted by hiphopmama on October 2, 2008

As a native of the country that uses “football” to mean that sport in which two people per 53 man team ever touch the ball with their feet, I am understandably less well versed in the Beautiful Game that bears this same name in so many other countries. I grew up on the Big Three – basketball, baseball, and (American) football – and only came across soccer during the occasional World Cup match that caught my family’s interest. One by one, however, I have been alienated by the three American biggies, to a greater or lesser extent, leaving me with few regular viewing options to meet my weekly sports quota. (Unless, of course, you count the clusterfuck of reality show competitions currently flooding the airwaves, which I don’t.)

Baseball lost out early on because the salary inequalities between teams was disgusting, and because, well, it’s really fucking boring if you’re not actually at the game. Basketball was my first true love, but even it started to wear on me when Kobe made me cringe to root for my own team, the Lakers. The NFL was relatively new and fresh to me during my undergrad years, and that along with the strategy and parity (to use a buzzword) of the league helped hook me, at least for a few years. When my daughter was born, though, all viewing habits were wiped clean and I had to learn how to be a sports fan in a completely new era. One day of the week packed with games simply didn’t work for me anymore, because I simply couldn’t devote that kind of time and attention to anything that wasn’t pooping or drooling. It seemed all hope was lost if I didn’t want to enact the extreme measure of watching hockey or, worse, golf.

Then along came World Cup 2006. I was pregnant at the time, which meant I was a worthless blob on the couch 16 hours a day and in serious need of something good to watch. As you know, nothing’s really on in the summertime here – it’s my perennial dry spell, with the NFL and NBA in their offseasons and only baseball available to watch (which, as I’ve stated, is like watching paint dry). Needless to say, I caught the bug. I watched every match I could, and I even went out and bought the newest FIFA game on the market to help learn players and teams. I was half disappointed and half excited to find out that there were like six hundred leagues and thirty gazillion players in Europe alone, so I subscribed to the Comcast sports package and picked the three leagues with the most recognizable names – EPL, Primera Liga, and Serie A – to acquaint myself with the game. With the baby on the way, we also opted to get a DVR, figuring (rightly) that watching our favorite shows would be an exercise in finding five spare minutes throughout the week. 

Then something weird happened. I lost my gag reflex at watching non-live games. I’ve tried multiple times in the past to record big games that I had to miss for ridiculous reasons like graduate school or the birth of a child, but I’ve never been able to stomach it. “This shit’s not live,” I’d repeatedly tell myself, and I’d turn it off and go read about it on the internet (or ask my dad about it, in the neolithic days before the worldwide web). Somehow with soccer none of that mattered. Maybe because it was in Europe and played at odd hours, I thought. But that doesn’t account for the fact that I could record and watch a Mexican league game played in my own time zone and watch it three days from now. Maybe because I’m not used to watching soccer live, although that only partially worked too.

Really, it’s because it was just NEW. It was absolutely captivating to discover this new breed of sport, like a reverse Columbus discovering the European pastime and claiming it for myself. I loved the fact that I had next to no idea about the mechanics of the game but could still enjoy watching. I loved that there were myriad personalities and styles of play to absorb. I loved how incredibly fluid the gameplay was, and how little interference from the officials there was, unlike in basketball or American football where the referees tell you exactly where and how to place the ball for each inbound or play. I especially loved that there was this whole other world of sports out there that was huge and yet that I had no clue about. And, let’s be honest, I loved that I was the enlightened American for realizing how awesome it all was and working to educate myself about it.

My daughter’s birth only added to the phenomenon. I would say that she was colicky, but that wouldn’t even begin to describe the level and extent of screaming we endured the first year. She stubbornly refused to sleep anywhere outside of our arms for naps, so I spent the majority of each day holding her while bouncing on a big yoga ball and trying to find ways to stay sane in the meantime. Soccer came to my rescue. I learned to set up the DVR way in advance to record every game I possibly could, and then I’d studiously watch each and every one throughout the week while she slept. I figured there was little else I could do with that time, so I was even freed from guilt about not accomplishing anything of significance. 

This was how I developed a liking for certain teams. I still get shit about it, but I root for most of the ridiculously big name (and big salary) teams in Europe – Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid, AC Milan – regardless of their histories or potential rivalries with each other. It’s not that I’m a fair weather fan, looking to pull for a winner. It’s just that those were the teams I saw the most early on, and they were also the most fun to watch. I fell in love with Henry during the World Cup, so Arsenal was a natural choice, but I only grew to like Chelsea over that first season by becoming familiar with their players and seeing them play some great matches. (The fact that I already hated Cristiano Ronaldo also helped determine which team I WASN’T going to root for.) I wanted to root for Barcelona going in, because I liked Ronaldinho and the whole Catalan independence struggle resonated with me, but dammit I ended up pulling for Real Madrid. Never mind that I felt like it was tantamount to rooting for the Franco regime, but I just couldn’t help it. They were great to watch, I already knew most of their players, and they were easy to like since I didn’t know the details of their monied perch atop European football. 

Simply put, I was like a new convert full of religious zeal, and I still haven’t quite come down. How different my sports allegiances are was fully illustrated to me on Monday when I had to grudgingly turn off a recorded La Liga match so that my husband could watch Monday Night Football, something which HUAC could probably still try me for. Now that October is here, there is another force to contend with, which is the MLB postseason. I make no bones about my hatred of the sport, but the playoffs are something else entirely, and they usually catch me by surprise and actually get me to watch. Yet tonight, even during the opening games which included TWO of my own L.A. teams, I ended up switching over to the Champions League to see Arsenal pound Porto and Real Madrid hold off Zenit St. Petersburg (both recorded, of course). Don’t get me wrong – I still love all my sports and am dying for the NBA season to start (come on, Halloween!), but I don’t see any of the Big Three infringing on my soccer fanaticism any time soon. Hopefully they won’t revoke my passport or anything.

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