Monday, July 12, 2010

Still Like Watching Paint Dry

About 20 years ago, I was at my parents' home, and my father and I were watching a World Cup soccer match.

Neither of us are soccer fans, but on this particular afternoon, there was (literally) nothing else on. So we watched the game. It was scoreless through regulation, then they went through whatever tedious procedure soccer had in place at that time for overtime.

Eventually, someone won. And I had reached a conclusion.

I had long believed that all someone who was suffering from insomnia needed to do was stretch out on a couch and watch a video tape of a golf tournament — and that person would be out like a light.

No expensive doctor visits. No prescription sleep aids. No special diets or superstitious rituals. Just a few pastoral minutes of watching golfers and listening to announcers who always speak in tones so hushed it is as if they are standing right behind the golfer.

But that afternoon convinced me. If I ever had trouble sleeping, all I had to do was watch a recording of a soccer match. Preferably that soccer match.

It was more effective than a tape of a golf tournament. No kidding. I caught myself starting to doze off a couple of times. And I wasn't having trouble with insomnia, either.

It was like eating several slices of turkey on Thanksgiving Day — without feeling stuffed, just drowsy.

Anyway, fast forward 20 years — to yesterday, when the scene was replayed in South Africa as Spain and the Netherlands played in the World Cup final.

I watched the match — the first soccer game I have watched in two decades — and it was still about as exciting — for me — as watching paint dry.

Now, let me say this.

I know the World Cup is a big deal in most places in this world. And soccer has an apparently devoted following right here in Dallas, Texas, where "football" usually means the Dallas Cowboys or the Texas Longhorns.

Around here, "football" usually means helmets and shoulder pads and knee pads, not shorts. Rules infractions are indicated by yellow flags, not yellow cards.

And a buzzing noise likely means the football players (or a group of bystanders, like band members or cheerleaders) have disturbed some bees or wasps. I have no idea what that weird buzzing noise at soccer games is about.

Even so, I often see children — both boys and girls — kicking soccer balls in empty fields. And I figure there must be some upside to a sport that keeps children active outside instead of remaining sedentary inside playing video games.

But I still don't think the sport will catch on in America.

Don't get me wrong. I have always appreciated good defense in any sport — mainly, I suppose, because I was brought up to believe that defense really does win championships.

Now, I have seen periods in the histories of just about every major sport in which the powers that be made some kind of change — in the rules, in the equipment, whatever — to encourage a little more offense, a little more scoring.

What I saw yesterday suggests to me that soccer has been needing some kind of adjustment for a long, long time. Something that will put a little offense back into the game. It was scoreless at the end of regulation yesterday. Spain wound up winning in overtime, 1–0.

I'm happy for the fans in Spain because I know they have been waiting for this for a long time. And I'm sorry for the fans in the Netherlands because I know they're disappointed. I can relate to both.

And it appears that the tournament was a huge success for the host nation. But scoring seems a bit sparse in soccer, considering that each half is 45 minutes long.

I think most Americans are like me — they appreciate good defense, but they need some offense. A 0–0 score at the end of regulation is only dramatic when it is not expected, not when it is routine.

That's why I just don't think that soccer has a chance with mainstream sports fans in the United States.

Because it's still about as exciting as watching paint dry.

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