Thursday, December 16, 2010

For the Love of the Game

photo by Nina Matthews Photographyvia PhotoRee

I sit tonight by the hissing fire, warming myself from the cold weather which has invaded our tropical paradise from northern climes, cold beer in hand, having finally found some quiet time amidst the old-fashioned holiday bustle to ponder a question recently posed of me.  At the time, I found myself stunned into silence, unable to articulate a clear and concise answer.  Tonight, however, I’ll attempt to give a better account of myself.  The question, posed by a friend (we’ll call him Trey) unfamiliar with the game we all love, was relatively simple: What is it about football that you find so compelling; what do you love about the game?  My answer, after letting the question percolate in my mind for 24 hours or so, can be found below:
I love football because it’s a true mixture of both a team and an individual sport.  Much like my first love, baseball, success in football can be predicated on both outstanding team and individual efforts.   Obviously, a football game can’t be contested by one person alone, but the actions of a single player can and often do alter or decide the outcome of a game.  American Football, NFL style, on the other hand is a true team game; while an individual can certainly stand out, it’s virtually impossible for a single player to win an NFL game on his own.  The running back requires the line to block for him; the quarterback the receiver to catch the glamorous touchdown pass.  In the game the rest of the world calls football, however, some of the most majestic plays of all time involve a single player slaloming through a helpless defense with only the opposition goaltender standing between him and glory, and a single goal can make all the difference in the world.
I love it because it’s hard to categorize, and statistics don’t mean much.  In a world that loves to pigeonhole, stratify and define, football stands alone.  The NFL is full of yards per down, passes attempted, and a team’s possession limited to four downs to gain 10 yards.  Major League Baseball, the statistician’s wet dream, has Batting Averages, Slugging Ratios and Earned Run Averages to compute on an unceasing basis.  And the NBA is ruled by a shot clock, Triple Doubles and three-point field goal percentages.  Football, though, is like mesmerizing  jazz.  It’s freeform, improvisational and difficult to define.  You want to talk possession?  Possession means nothing if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net.  Time?  Talk to the referee because only he truly knows when a game will end.  And how about goals?  An own goal counts just as much as Dimitar Berbatov’s breathtaking scissor kick against Liverpool.   This is what I’m talking about: football defies the urgency of modern day life to break everything down into the sum of its parts, and sits largely outside the rules and order of the natural world.
I love it for the skill and raw athleticism.  To see little Lionel Messi bob and weave his way through an army of angry defenders intent solely on stopping him, only to find some way, often at the last possible second, to launch a ball goalward and into the back of the net, is to see what it truly means to be an athlete.  Whether its Cristiano Ronaldo’s swerving free kicks, or Didier Drogba’s muscular presence hulking over a defender, the skill required to do what these guys do is immense, and the beauty of it magisterial.
But most of all, I love the game’s unpredictability and often stunning endings.  The best team doesn’t always win.  Perhaps more so than any other sport, football seems filled with unending and varying plot twists and reversals of fortune.  I’ll check the pulse on anyone who watched the US’ last gasp victory over Algeria in this past summer’s World Cup and didn’t shake their head in disbelief at the shocking ending, or emerge from it as a greater fan of the game.
But we needn’t go all the way back to June to find additional supporting evidence.  For a more recent example, one only has to look as far as this past weekend’s EPL contest between Chelsea and Spurs: I went from thinking Spurs unlucky not to have won the game (in the 90th minute, tied 1-1 at the end of regulation) to believing Spurs very fortunate to have hung on for the point that came with their tie (in the 92nd minute, after Drogba’s penalty miss). 
This EPL season alone has featured some of the best cliffhanger endings and sudden twists and turns that I can remember: Everton’s two goals in stoppage time to claw back Manchester United in early September, and Sunderland’s last-kick-of-the-ball goal to tie Arsenal two weeks later just to name a couple.
Of course, for this fan personally, nothing will ever top the 1999 Champions League final, in which Manchester United trailed Bayern Munich 1-nil at the end of regulation.  With the referee granting only three minutes of stoppage time, the outlook looked bleak for the boys from Manchester.  The stoppage time goals scored by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, however, not only won the game and European Championship for United, they cemented this fan’s love of the game for life.  Watch the video below, and you’ll begin to understand better why I love this game.
Game Day Beer Review: Rogue Santa's Private Reserve Ale (6.00% ABV).  Pours a viscous copper color, with a one fingered off white head that gradually fades, leaving behind decent lacing. Smell is toasted coffee and hops.  First taste is slightly sour pine, lemon and hops, and the finish is clean and slightly bitter.  Santa’s Private Reserve is a rather untraditional holiday ale: B.

This is an unabashed farlieonfootie for December 17.

1 comment:

  1. The more things in life you are able to truly enjoy, the happier you are. The '99 CLF vid is pretty friggin' awesome stuff.