No, it’s not the World Cup. But, yes, it’s still bigger than any Super Bowl. The biggest sport in the universe kicked off its Euro 2004 over the weekend — a sort of raucous little brother to the older, more polished World Cup of the siblings — and countless countries’ citizens have suspended all other thoughts from their minds and activity from their days in allegiance to their national teams.
Why is the tournament only for Europe?
This is an Euro-only tourney because all the greatest soccer … er, football, is played in Europe; because the antiquated, yet lush atmosphere of the European lands is the perfect setting for “the beautiful game”; but, most importantly, because those pesky South Americans keep stealing all the damned trophies away. Nana-na-na-na, Brazil can’t play.
This tournament is also one of the many things that America will never understand. Yes, Americans generally hate soccer because it’s: a) boring, b) pointless, c) for wimps, d) stupid or e) all of the above. If this were actually a multiple-choice test, most Americans would chalk one up for answer “e.”
The real reason, though, that this country will never “get” soccer is simply because it can’t, and the sport won’t be Americanized.
European football is sweet, sultry and sophisticated, its games are appreciated as an entire 90-minute drama (not just a final set of numbers on a scoreboard or in a win column) and it takes patience and keen spectatorship to truly be appreciated. Oh, and there’s the intrinsic loyalty.
It’s everything American sport isn’t and never will be. Yeah, I know, American sports have loyalty. Loyalty like the Lightning, right? Without bundles of beer and tons of TV cameras, that place would’ve been just as empty during Cup week as it was all year. Fanaticism for European squads is passed through the blood, like genetics. Ask a Scotsman, a Celtic or Rangers fan, if they care if their teams ever win, score or even play. Those fans pack their team’s stadiums every Saturday as if by some higher intervention. And that’s a whole other story.
In Europe, the fans live like they watch their sport. They’re knowledgeable, passionate and content to watch a nil-nil, middle-of-the-table fixture just for the camaraderie of their fellow fans and some fit crosses and passes.
If an American team starts losing, the franchise will lose more fans and revenue every time they end up on the short end of the scoreboard. Just ask the Devil Rays.
As far as the real football (soccer, I mean) is concerned, its players behave themselves — no, sport doesn’t have to mean hookers, cocaine-smuggling and violent crimes against society or loved ones. Manchester United just had a player suspended for almost two years, not because he failed a drug test but because he failed to take it. Kobe Bryant might go to jail for rape, and he’s still shooting hoops in the NBA Finals.
Also, if you’re counting, there are no commercial time-outs or advertisement interruptions.
To some American sports fans, like myself, the things we most wish could be aligned within our sports are already a part of European football.
But it’s not hard to realize that the most essential facets lacking in everyday American life as well as everyday American sport would do well to take note of the essential European energy that is emphatically employed in order to make this the greatest game of all.
Just ask anyone else in the world.