We are a country of excess. We are obsessed with size, quantity, speed, guns, monster trucks; with the Big Gulp, the economy pack, the party size, two-for-one regardless of what it is, the Whopper, the quadruple Big Mac and all-you-can-eat-buffets. We put foodstuff inside foodstuff. And we brag about it. It’s an accepted part of the American obsession with supposedly being number one in everything, believing we're bigger, stronger and faster permeates many of our thoughts.
This brings me to this year’s Super Bowl. Mercifully the NFL season will soon be over and the day after The “Night of the Living Bored” people will only remember and talk about the ads. I, instead, will be left with the usual nagging question. A question that has probably been asked many times before: why do American sports fans feel comfortable with calling the winners of the “Super Bowl,” the winners of the NBA and MLB titles "World Champions"? Barely anybody else even plays these sports. The Australian Football League winners don't call themselves "World Champions" of Aussie rules. The winners of the Irish Gaelic Football league don't call themselves "World Champions.” The winners of the Indian Kabaddi title don't call themselves "World Champions" of Kabaddi. So why is the team that wins the Super Bowl called the world champion of a sport almost nobody plays elsewhere in the world? Shouldn't they at least have to beat the winner of the Canadian League in order to partially claim that title? “Super Bowl Champions" or "NFL Champions,” would suffice and it is about as technically accurate as you can get. Calling one's team "World Champions" when nobody else even plays the sport is a peculiarly American thing. Throwing "World" in because you've decided, without ever trying to prove it, that you're so much better than everyone else that you shouldn't have to prove it, is just arrogance and frankly makes the teams who claim that title a bit of a laughing stock in front of the rest of the…world.
Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina have won multiple World Cups in soccer, the real football, in grueling tournaments. The preliminary competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil saw a total of 204 entries across six continents competing for 32 available spots.
The winner will surely deserve the title of World Champions. For the last FIFA World Cup in 2010, 200 teams played a total of 853 matches, over the span of 4 years, as 32 teams qualified for South Africa. Even after 30 years of being an American Citizen I can’t watch an NFL game. I’ve absorbed almost everything “American.” I am very proud of my adopted country but its sports are anathema to me. I must be missing that gene. I did try. I thought it would make me seem straight or butch. Now I do not care. I just don’t get it.
The spectacle is reminiscent of the barbaric gladiator fights of ancient Rome. Muscle-bound specimens in helmets and heavy armor hell bent on trying to kill or maim their opponents. A match played in five seconds increments, probably because they can remember or execute only one play at a time. The game is constantly broken up by loud commercials and field interruptions. After 3 hours of terminal boredom the score is probably 21 to 6. A goal/touchdown sometimes counts for 6 points sometimes for 7, another ingenious American way of creating high scoring games. 21 to 6 in soccer lingo is simply 3-1.
Football players are referred to as athletes but they seem to be running out of stamina whenever called upon to run more than 60 yards at a time going constantly back to the sidelines for a Gatorade or an oxygen refill. And supposedly they are not allowed to use imagination or burst into spontaneous plays.
The coaches do all the thinking and they have to draw them on paper for the players to understand them. I prefer the symmetry, geometry, creativity and dance like coordination of soccer. It’s a beauty to watch unfold as inevitable as the waves of the ocean. By the time this column goes to print there will be approximately 5 months left before the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off on June 13.The single biggest sporting event on earth. More than 750 million people watched the final game in 2010. That’s almost ten times the number that watched the Super Bowl that same year.
Come June 13, I’m taking off from work, I’m taking off from activism, I will not answer the phone or tweet, and my social and personal life will be put on hold until the winners, the real, true, World Champions lift the cup on July 13. Italy, my Azzurri, are four times World Champions. It will be extremely difficult to win a fifth title but let me dream for a few more months, or until they are eliminated. If and when that happens don’t talk to me, don’t call me, don’t come looking for me — unless you have an extra large supply of Xanax and a Blue Ray copy of “Bend it Like Beckham.”
Bill Shankly, a Scottish coach, once said: “Some people believe soccer is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”