Friday, June 25, 2010

Americans and Soccer

If you watch sports at all, or for that matter just turned on a TV, in the past two weeks, you’ve seen something about the World Cup. There have been all manner of issues surrounding a bunch of the teams. There’s been the implosion and nearly self-imposed boycott by the French. There was the 7-0 rout that Portugal hung on North Korea. There was the phantom call made against the Americans calling back what would have been a winning goal. And there has been article after article written about weather or not America will ever fully embrace soccer as a major sport?

For the record, the answer is “no”.

Historically, I never really liked soccer that much. I played when I was a kid, then took a brief hiatus from about 10 years old until I was about 25. I was always able to appreciate it. These guys have ball skills at a dead run that I couldn’t put together if you let me use my hands. They’re in great shape. They’re revered the world over. Yet, if you ask your average sports-loving American in a bar “What do you think about soccer?,” you’re going to get something sarcastic, rude, possibly offensive or all three for your inquiry. Why? Here’s why…

American culture is competitive. Maybe it’s competitive to a fault? Maybe it’s that competitive nature that makes this country great? Actually, it’s probably some of each. But the bottom-line is that we’re competitive. We want to win. We want to win everything…all the time. So how likely is it that a nation with that type of drive and nature is going to accept and openly embrace a competitive event where the outcome can be a tie? A few years ago, the Bengals and the Eagles ended an NFL game in a tie, neither team scoring in the sudden-death OT period. I was at that game, and fans were incensed. I was ready for Eagles fans to collaborate with Bengals fans to burn the stadium to the ground. Either team would have sooner taken a loss then a tie.

The second reason is the exceeding amount of flopping that goes on. It always cracks me up when soccer players walk past one another, exchange words, touch in passing, and then one of them mercilessly flings himself to the ground as though he just stepped on a landmine. Better still is when there is incidental contact in the lower body and the guy grabs his head like he just took a right cross from Tyson. Even being a fan of the sport, I want to tell these guys to man up and get serious.

The final reason comes down to heart. Do soccer players have it? Yes. Do them demonstrate it? Sometimes. Do you ever hear about it? No.

This year Didier Drogba, striker for the Ivory Coast, broke his forearm in a tune-up game leading up to the World Cup. He missed the opening match due to the injury. Hey then had his arm cast in a low-profile support, approved by his team, the World Cup governing body, and the opposing team to allow him to play with it on. Now keep in mind, the World Cup is like the Olympics. It’s only played once every four years. And when his coach came to him after practice the night before their second match, asking if he wanted to play the next day, what was his response? “I’d rather be on the bench.” GET FOR REAL!

A few years ago, a fella named Curt Schilling was slated to pitch in the World Series with an ankle injury that required surgery. What did he do? He had the training staff stitch the injured tendon in place and went out to do work. Missing his start wasn’t even an option. He basically had the equivalent over OTC surgery, and went out to write his place into history, while the stitches pulled with every pitch, causing him to bleed through his sock.

How about Terrell Owens playing for the Eagles a few years ago? A major knee injury after a tackle by Roy Williams not only required him to have surgery, but also led to a shift in the rules of the game of football, prohibiting horse collar tackles from then on. What did he do? He spent two weeks in a hospital bed with his leg under compression and ice to ensure that he would be able to play in the Super Bowl that same month. THAT SAME MONTH! This was an injury that comes with a 6-8 month recovery period.

Drew Brees played an AFC Championship game on a torn ACL. Steve Nash had his nose broken in a game and only came out long enough to stop the bleeding, and only that long because the refs made him. John Isner just played the longest match in tennis history through blood and cramps.

And a soccer player wants to sit the bench with a broken forearm in a cast? Umm…you do realize you’re not even allowed to use your hands, right?

Unfortunately, Drogba’s response made news all over ESPN and other sports outlets. That’s what people have heard. And while that’s not the mentality of every soccer player out there, that is what has been represented. And that’s just a level of heart and commitment that isn’t acceptable in the competitive nature of this country.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Next Day...

I woke up a little nervous. I had roughly consumed my bodyweight in alcohol the night before, and just knew that every single part of my body was going to exact it’s revenge simultaneous. I was pleasantly surprised to find that after sitting up slowly, gently moving my head back and forth to survey my competence, and finally mustering the courage to stand, that staying up as late as I could to metabolize the booze and a long cold shower helped my cause. Don’t get it twisted, I didn’t feel great, per se. But on a scale of 1-10, 1 being spritely and jovial and a 10 being millimeters away from certain death, I was hovering around a 3.

After meeting up with Cindy, Jay, Karrie, and Josh, we started slowly migrating and milling around, deciding what the day’s plan of action should be? Cindy and Jay wanted breakfast…a real one and an Egg Mc-whatever wasn’t going to do it, so we parted ways and walked slowly north to see the new City Center.

This place is amazing. Well, the City Center proper is pretty cool with it’s shops and high-end stuff that make the average person feel rather inferior. But the new accommodations at Vdara, Mandarin, and all the time-shares they have are beautiful. The property is so large that it has it’s own monorail running through it, and it’s so encompassing that once you reach the front doors, you can look up, down, wherever and have no idea that you’re still in Vegas. There are amazing restaurants, reasonably priced gambling, and overall just an amazingly manicured place to be.

After moving through the City Center, Cindy and Jay were done eating, and the rest of our group was rousing. So why not meet at the Forum Shoppes at Caeser’s? Well, the best reason is because the Forum is about three million square feet of retail space, that’s why. We would have been better served meeting up anywhere else at all. It ran akin to finding a needle in a haystack, but harder. And I have to say, for all the retail shopping you can find in Vegas, I just don’t think the Forum is worth the hype. It’s huge, overwhelming, hard to navigate, and just not all that worth it with the exception of maybe three or four stores. My particular favorite is the one that only sells high-end watches. Walking past, I felt like Odysseus being called by the Sirens. It wasn’t until I poked my head inside and saw that all employees were wearing white gloves for the handling of merchandise. Yeah, I’ll be sticking with my Fossil, thank you.

We wandered for a while, in and out of this, that, and the other, when it occurred to me that we hadn’t yet had a seat at a table…anywhere. As timing would have it, Trina and Karrie had massage appointments, so isn’t it mandatory that we sit and gamble? We certainly thought so. The dealer at O’Shea’s had other ideas. She was apparently still pissed off that someone at a Three-Card Poker table she was dealing at the night before didn’t tip after winning and decided to take out her frustrations on us. Doesn’t seem fair, but such is Vegas. At least we spent enough time between our rout and the walk back to the hotel to meet the girls as they finished their girl time, and got ready for dinner.

Ah Craft. Been there three times now, and I love it every single time. Though I have to say, I have been just a tad disappointed with their risotto the last two times. The beef ribs we unbelievable though, the potato puree was amazing, and for the first time in three visits, I saved room for dessert. It was homemade monkey bread with homemade banana-cinnamon ice cream…and it was heavenly.

I’d love to say that since we were all dressed to the 9’s that we went out and lived it up, enjoyed the casino floor in swanky fashion, gambled into the wee hours, and so on…but I was actual so tired that I was physically uncomfortable. Walking all day long in Vegas heat with a mild hangover with do that to you. So with an utter lack of gusto, we took our leave, and went to bed.

Friday, 5/7/10
Ah, Friday. Friday, historically, has been the day we go home. Not this time. We had one more full day of insanity to deal with. It was, however, the day that Josh and Karrie as well as Cindy and Jay were headed home. We’d have liked one more day with Cindy and Jay, but we knew we’d see them when we got home. Josh and Karrie, on the other hand, were going home to finish their move to Pittsburgh. Since Trina and Josh are particularly close, not to mention he’s one of my best friends, we felt we needed to get in all the time we could before they left. So at 8:30 that morning, we were headed down to the Flamingo.

The Flamingo is a place on the strip that just oozes old-school Vegas. I can’t explain exactly why, but if you’ve ever been there or go there, it’ll just make sense. But the reason we went there, specifically, was a small kiosk that we found on our last trip out called “The Pearl Factory”. As you might guess, they sell pearls and pearl jewelry. But they also have a little spot where you can pick an oyster, and open your own pearl. The last time we were there, the girl we watched open one had twin pearls in her oyster. Pretty cool, all in all. The staff “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” about the rarity of twins, and they also said that people who open twins either are a twin, have twins in their family, gave birth to twins, are expecting twins, or something to that effect. And while all twins don’t get twin pearls, people who aren’t, never get them. Sure enough, this girl was a twin. Of course, being a twin, we had to make Karrie do it.

Damn…just got one in there. However, it was an amazing grey pearl almost eight millimeters in diameter. As luck would have it, Trina’s was also grey and nearly as large. Apparently this was a significant phenomenon as only 7 out of 800 oysters produce grey pearls. In any event, they were lovely, and we had such a good time that the cooky lady that ran the place gave them a free oyster with another beautiful pearl. But time drew short, and we needed to get them back to the hotel to gather their things and catch their flight.

The short cab ride back to the hotel was quiet and kind of uncomfortable. We all knew that we were going to be parting ways for a while, and after years of being best friends, we knew that person wasn’t going to be there when we got home the next day. Now don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh is an easy drive from Cincinnati. Four hours if traffic is good. But for years we’d seen each other once a week. Maybe even more often then that. To go two weeks not seeing each other was so rare it was almost regarded as something being wrong. But when we got home, they’d be gone. We all stood at the taxi stand looking at one another with reverent silence, not knowing what to do or say next? So fighting tears, we all hugged and said our good byes, not sure when we’d next see each other, but knowing the last time we got together, we lived it up in Vegas.