You, the American sports fan, will be in demand for the next few weeks. Since so many sports these days seem to be trying to alienate the common guy with higher ticket prices and later start times for important games, it’s so nice to feel wanted for a change.

The problem is, we’re going to be wooed by soccer and hockey. It’s like being asked to the prom by two girls – the one who’s dated every guy on the block and the one who stood you up for the prom the year before.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be inundated with pundits cajoling, urging, imploring or begging us to watch two events that will go largely ignored on the American sports landscape – soccer’s World Cup and the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals.

Both events give viewers a number of reasons to tune in. The World Cup has pageantry, color and drama. Honestly, in what other sport could you watch a guy screw up and wonder if he’s going to get assassinated in his home country next week? The Stanley Cup is rife with intensity, passion and its own drama although, thankfully, no one will be machine-gunned at a sidewalk cafe in Edmonton if the Oilers lose.

Despite their merits, both events will be desperate for American viewers. A Carolina/Edmonton match-up for the Stanley Cup isn’t exactly Celtics/Lakers in terms of capturing the nation’s attention. Add in the fact that the NHL has been trying to win back millions of casual fans who were turned off by last year’s labor squabble and thinks the best way to do it was to put its games on some obscure cable network that millions of fans either don’t have or can’t find, and no one should anticipate the Stanley Cup being the next “Miracle on Ice.”

Speaking of the 1980 USA hockey team, it wasn’t that long ago when the American soccer team was being touted as the next “Miracle” team to promote red, white and blue interest in the World Cup. It didn’t work. There’s been plenty of ESPN-generated hype in the weeks and months leading up to the World Cup, and now that Team USA is ranked fifth in the world, appealing to our national pride isn’t going to work again. Remember the collective yawn that went through the country during the World Baseball Classic?

Obviously, the diehard and casual soccer fans are on board, but the hope in the soccer community is that Team USA will finally be a topic for water cooler discussions around the nation. The closest American soccer came to such status was when when the women’s national team won the World Cup in 1999, and that wasn’t until Brandi Chastain whipped her top off at the end of the final game.

Diehard soccer fans are hard to find, but there are just enough of them out there that we’re bound to run into a vocal minority who turn our peaceful indifference to a month-long migraine.

You know who I’m talking about – the soccer zealots. Not your average soccer fan, but the true, blue crusaders who have been trying for the last four decades to convert us to what the most sniveling among them call “football.”

Except for a few nervous NHL apologists nervous about how the first Stanley Cup Final since last year’s blackout will be received, the diehard hockey fans are pretty much content with their sport’s ugly stepchild status on the American sports scene. It seems, however, that the soccer zealots won’t rest until each and every household in the USA has built shrines to Pele and Franz Beckenbauer.

Every four years, the soccer Krishna’s try to shame us into converting. They say Americans don’t get the nuances of the game, we don’t appreciate the strategy, or that we don’t recognize the beauty of not scoring. Then they bring out the heavy ammunition and use the “i” word – ignorance.

The soccer extremists believe that ignoring soccer speaks to the biggest flaw in the American character, which is ignorance of the rest of the world. I’ll go along with Americans being too self-centered, but to equate our distaste for soccer with our inability to locate Germany on a map is ridiculous. It’s like equating the British oppression of the Irish with their unwillingness to use dental floss.

But it’s not just because the soccernistas have become so obnoxious that I’m advocating we continue ignoring the World Cup. Given all of the security concerns and the near certainty of hooliganism and mob riots at this year’s World Cup, I think it would be best if we maintain our indifference to soccer, at least for now. Because the first thing that pops into my head whenever someone says, “The rest of the world loves soccer. Why not Americans?,” is my mother’s favorite rhetorical question –

“If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?”

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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