Mesa Musings: Another football to relish

I have a confession to make.I have a confession to make. My name is Jim, and I'm a World Cup-aholic.

I've gone gaga, cuckoo, banana crackers over soccer's premier international tournament.

I've always been a huge fan of "real" football — that uniquely American brand that employs an oblong pig's bladder, shoulder pads and helmets.

Now, in the latter stages of life, I've come to appreciate what the rest of the world calls "The Beautiful Game." Soccer-football rocks! Somewhat belatedly, I've also come to appreciate Renee Fleming arias, empty winter beaches and early-bird specials.

Because I'm retired, each morning for the past two weeks I've awakened early and turned on my TV to watch soccer. I spend several hours daily watching the live broadcasts from South Africa in HD.

True, the announcers have accents so thick it sounds like they're gargling in Gaelic, but the payoff is worth it.

I know the teams: Brazil, Argentina, England, Germany, Mexico, Italy, et. al.

I know the players: Rooney, Messi, Ronaldo, Kaka, Ribery.

I know the venues: Cape Town Stadium, Soccer City, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Ellis Park Stadium, Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

I also know that the field a "pitch." The same cannot be said of a Beckham "bender," sometimes called a "curve ball" — but definitely not a pitch!

And I know that this "June Madness" stuff overshadows "March Madness" by a factor of 10.

In the World Cup, it's country against country on a scale not approached by any other human endeavor save a panzer blitzkrieg or an infantry beach landing. Humans take drastic action when their teams win and lose: like flooding the Champs Elysées by the millions and partying all night; burning down municipal buildings; or jumping out of 30-story windows.

I'm beginning to feel their passion.

I'm rooting this year for coach Bob Bradley's gritty, gutsy, never-say-die USA side. They seem to overcome all obstacles, including blown calls. I love Tim Howard, the best-darned goalie on the planet! Donovan, Dempsey, DeMerit, Altidore, Onyewu, Clark and Bradley are amazing.

My second favorite side is the orange-clad Netherlands and their wacky orange-bedecked fans. My wife, Hedy, is Dutch-Indonesian. She spent her formative years in Holland, and speaks Dutch. Her father was a former semi-pro soccer player who taught me much about the game.

Actually, my soccer obsession plays strongly against type.

I was raised in Orange County in the 1950s and '60s. We played baseball, baseball, baseball — with a little basketball thrown in to finish off the year. There was no Pop Warner Football. No AYSO.

I played my first and only soccer game my senior year in college, in a P.E. class. I wasn't impressed.

What won me over?

I was in Europe in the summer of 1974, when Germany beat Holland at home to win the World Cup. The continent was a madhouse. I watched the championship match in a London pub and had goose bumps.

I was in France in 1998 when Les Bleus unexpectedly captured the Cup. The French were giddy. We stayed at a Paris hotel, and the auto horns on the streets blasted uninterrupted all night.

I was in Zurich in 2002 and saw German fans flood from bars and restaurants onto the streets early one evening after a victory over Argentina. The atmosphere was electric.

Though I had no stake in the outcome, I was caught up in the enthusiasm.

"Good for you!" I shouted to joyous Germans with their faces painted in national colors, waving flags of all sizes.

American college football remains my favorite sport. And, I confess that any level of soccer below the World Cup — like Major League Soccer — leaves me yawning.

But, once every four years, the World Cup dazzles me

Now comes the best news of all: there are still two-and-a-half weeks of action left.


JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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