When the movie 2012 came out, it sparked a fair amount of controversy across the nation. Several of my friends asked me what I thought about it. While I personally believe that the whole 2012 doomsday is just another man-made scare-tactic (not unlike Y2K), we are possibly headed towards a similar scenario in two years: a sports world without the NBA and, yikes, the NFL.
Now I know it’s still early, and many things could change in the next 12-18 months, but from the looks of things, the NBA is certainly headed towards a lockout. While this is TERRIBLE news for a basketball addict like me, I have to admit that losing the NFL would be far worse. I don’t think the NFL is dumb enough to lose an entire season. They are head and shoulders ahead of every other sport right now, and it would be foolish to relinquish any of that popularity.
But still, three troubling facts remain:
While it seems ridiculous to us, both sides feel that they are being legitimately wronged. As we have seen before, when money is involved to cloud judgment, people do crazy things.
2. The NFL knows that they are head and shoulders above every other sport when it comes to popularity.
Could they possibly be arrogant enough to believe that even if they lost a year, they would still be the most popular thing going? Absolutely.
3. Unfortunately, the owners appear to be holding all the cards.
Did you know that if there is no season, the owners will actually get richer? That’s right, as it stands right now, the NFL players take home about 60% of what the league makes. Much of this comes from the staggering $20.4 billion TV-contract the League has with ESPN, NBC, CBS, and FOX. Well guess who gets that money regardless of whether or not games are actually played?
And guess who doesn’t get any money if they don’t actually play the games? That’s right. The poor players. The owners are staring at a season where they would make all that money, and not have to give it to anyone.
Now what? Consider the following…
It’s 2012, and you are left crying about the fact that we just lost one of Peyton Manning’s last years, Kobe will probably never have a season where he is close to his prime again, and the only thing to watch on TV is…what exactly?
Sure, there’s college football every Saturday, but you are so mad at the BCS for messing everything up that you’ve boycotted that too. Major League Baseball games now take an average of four days to complete (cricket fans are getting angry at another sport for “crowding their space”).
You try to throw yourself into liking the X-Games, but it’s over in four days. You start following college basketball, but unless your team is playing, it doesn’t fulfill you until March. You’re left with your worst nightmare – following World Series of Poker reruns.
However, there is one sport that is left; but it is a sport that makes you cringe. Even the thought of following it upsets you. But it’s there. On television every single day. Staring you in the face.
Now don’t worry. This is not going to be the millionth article you’ve read in the past month that is trying to convince you why you should love soccer above all other sports. No, I could never convince you that you will enjoy soccer on television as much as the NFL or your favorite sport.
Personally, I love soccer. I have played it longer than any other sport. I even traveled to Brazil two summers ago on a soccer team to play the sport. (Don’t be impressed. My college team was beaten 7-0 and 10-0 by two U-15 teams. And the one time we played a team our age? 15-0. To their subs. Crushing. But alas, that’s for another day.).
I think soccer is awesome, but I understand why most Americans don’t share my love. Football and basketball athletes are just more exciting. They are more explosive. It’s much easier to understand and appreciate the skill it takes when LeBron dunks than it is to watch Christiano Ronaldo curl in a free-kick from 30 yards.
But I’m here to tell you right now that you should probably prepare yourself. Even if the NFL does decide to play in 2012, what are you going to do during the week? You could muddle through every day, just living for the weekends, or you could try to enjoy the world’s favorite sport.
Now some of you, no matter how hard you try, will never be able to appreciate soccer. No matter how good it looks in HD, or how nice it is to see a game end in two hours, or how pretty some of the Brazilian fans are…you just won’t jump onto that ship. But, if you are like most of my friends, it’s possible that you are thinking something like, this:
“Alright Jon, you’re right. I actually did get into the World Cup a little bit. It caught me off guard, but it was very exciting. But, I just don’t know where to go from here.”
Soccer is a little weird. Its fans, many times, are even worse. Most true soccer fans are kind of like Lord of the Rings fans. Are they die-hard? Yes. Are they very knowledgeable of the subject? Unbelievably so. Are they somewhat cliquish and annoying when they are in a group? Definitely.
It’s funny. These fans that tell you about the amazingness of soccer literally every time they talk to you are the same fans that call you a “poser” or “band-wagoner” as soon as you start to follow it.
I resisted Lord of the Rings for years – just because I hated the types of people that liked the series. One day, I met a normal guy that had seen the movies. We argued about them for a bit, and then he told me a few things I needed to know before I watched them. Well guess what? When I actually sat down and gave the movies a chance, they weren’t that bad. I just needed a little background information and a normal movie-watcher’s stamp of approval.
If you are still reading, that means that you probably watched at least some of the World Cup. It already has your stamp of approval. You know it is fun to watch. I’m here to help with the other part. What do you need to know to really get into the sport? And where do you go from here?
Well here it is: A Six Step Plan to prepare for 2012.
(By the way, as soon as you are able to break into the soccer world, don’t turn into the typical fan. Someone’s got to break this ridiculous wall down soon, right? Might as well be us…the REAL “real” sports fans…but I digress.)
1. Appreciate the world, but…
Let’s just be honest. If you watched the World Cup at all, and then accidentally stumbled upon the MLS in the past few weeks, you were appalled. Quite frankly, it’s like going to watch a high school football game after seeing the Super Bowl.
Can it be fun? Sure – in person (more on this in a bit). Is there any talent? Absolutely – for comparison’s sake, I once saw AJ Green play in high school and I was left speechless. But is the MLS all that watchable? No.
This is why you need to expand your vision. ESPN is now carrying not only the EPL (English Premier League), but also Champions League matches. In case you don’t know what the Champions League is, basically, the top 3 or 4 teams from every single league in Europe get put into a large, World Cup-style pool. They play each other in the middle of their regular seasons and eventually have a huge championship.
If you liked the World Cup, the Champions League is actually better. These club teams play together year after year and some of the teams are ridiculously stacked. Remember how good Spain was at the Cup? Well, let’s take their team and then add Argentina’s best player (Lionel Messi), one of Brazil’s best players (Dani Alvez), and studs Eric Abidal and Zlatan Ibrahimavic (just trust me…they are sick), and you have Barcelona’s 2010 team. It’s like watching the All-Star game (World Cup), but following it up by watching the NBA Finals (Champion’s League)…it’s awesome…and you will appreciate it.
You know why we like the Olympics every four years? Well, first of all, they allow us to say things like, “Man, I hate Germans” and “I wish those Russians would break their legs!” In fact, if you drop one of the comments in a big crowd, they will likely be treated with cheers and approval. However, the fact that we tend to win a lot makes those comments that much more enjoyable.
We grow up in this country having it drilled into our heads that America is the best. At everything. Well, when it comes to soccer, that’s just not the case. That’s ok, but don’t be a typical American soccer snob and bash your country. I can’t tell you how many “soccer fans” I talked to this year before and during the World Cup. All they wanted to do was talk about how poor the USA’s team was and how lucky we got. Well you know what? Why don’t you just leave our country!
But you are the real fan. And you actually like your country. You can revel in the fact that our best athletes don’t play soccer…and the world is still scared of us.
I think this is the most important step. It’s also one of the hardest. How do we back our boys, but still watch good soccer? (Don’t worry…I won’t even try to convince you that you should watch the MLS.) This is where I advocate something that I would never ever advocate in any other sport – sports bigamy.
Cheer for Everton. Cheer for Fulham. Cheer for Galatasaray SK. (This is where you ask, “Who?”) These are teams that American stars Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley play for. Whenever they happen to be on, try to follow them. It doesn’t matter that you are cheering for multiple teams, because really, you are still cheering for one – the USA!
Just as importantly, you can cheer against our rivals. You remember that jerk Nigel de Jong that kicked the Spanish player in the chest during the World Cup Final? He is the same guy that broke Stuart Holden’s (a young, American rising star) leg. These are the things that we need to know about. These are the players that we need to be collectively hating. I vote that he is Public Enemy #2 for American soccer fan. Why not #1? Because of this…
3. Hate England
This is one of my favorite steps. Bill Simmons once tweeted that “The 4th of July is like a super-slow Home-Run Trot as England watches from the mound.”
They absolutely hate us. We have a British player on one of the soccer teams I play on. We call him London Jon. He will, at every opportunity, bash our country’s soccer. It doesn’t matter that he is by far our worst player, and that England has a longer list of choking then my own Chicago Cubs. All he does is ridicule the U.S.
Here are some creative ways to cheer against England, while also sounding legitimately smart about soccer.
Diminish their “sacred league.”
British fans, no matter how much they fail on the International scene, always cherish the fact that the EPL is the “Best League on the Planet.” Well, maybe it used to be, but it’s not so cut-and-dry anymore.
Among other things, it’s not all that exciting. Counter-attack after counter-attack. Defend, counter, defend, counter…remember how the Netherlands tried to steal the World Cup away from Spain? This is how a ton of EPL teams play.
Spain’s Premier League is much more wide open. Germany’s Bundesliga is big, fast, and aggressive. At the end of the day, the EPL is probably the strongest league top-to-bottom, but it doesn’t make it the most exciting.
Really, it’s like comparing college football from the SEC (England’s EPL), the Big 12 (Spain), and the Big Ten (Germany). Does the SEC have the largest quantity of good players? Sure, but it’s soccer. We want to see goals. We don’t like defense. We want to see huge athletes playing the game like men and not faking all over the place.
So, if you talk to a Brit, tell him his league rots, and is, among other things, BORING.
The number of times an England player has won the FIFA Player of the Year award. Hey, England! I thought that you guys “created soccer.” Why does LIBERIA have more FIFA awards than you?
4. Keep up with it by…buying FIFA!
If you are like me, the only video games you play are sports-related and the occasional first-person shooter (Call of Duty, Halo, etc.). Well, I’m here to tell you that FIFA 2010 is a GREAT game. Not only is it incredibly fun to play with friends (there are no stoppages of play, the game is over in 15 minutes, and the trash-talking potential is through the roof), but it’s challenging, addictive, and most importantly, allows you to get to know soccer.
Who plays for Team USA? Just schedule a quick friendly. You can choose your own roster from a list of 35 or so Americans. It has their ages, their attributes, and even their pictures.
Can’t find any Galatasaray games on the TV? Become their manager and dominate teams with Michael Bradley. Sign the world’s youngest stars, and get to know them before even die-hard soccer fans do.
I’m gonna stop right here on the video game soap-box, but trust me. It’s nearly as fun as Madden, and the dynasty mode is top-notch. And if you really want to get to know the players, I don’t know of a better way to do it and have fun at the same time.
5. Go to a game
It can be a high school game. It can be a college game. It can be an MLS game. It would be awesome if it was a USA friendly. Either way, you will come to find out something: soccer fans are fun.
They cheer the whole game. They are die-hards. They don’t need a jumbotron or a cheer squad telling them when to cheer. They understand when to cheer. They see the through ball, simultaneously raise to their feet, and groan when the shot goes wide.
Seriously, when’s the last time you went to any sporting event that was like that? Unless you have visited a big-time college basketball game lately, I doubt you have.
6. Develop your own opinions.
As you get into soccer more and maybe start to play it a little bit, you will start developing your own thoughts and theories about the game. Until then, I will give you a few of mine that you can chew on, and even bring up in your own soccer conversations in 2012 when the world seems like it has ended. You don’t have to agree with these at all, but that’s what makes sports so fun. We all watch the same thing, and then each have our own opinion on it.
I’ve played soccer for almost 20 years, and I enjoyed listening to my co-worker’s thoughts on the World Cup – even though he has never played. Anyway, here is a present for you. Here is an opinion to have on the only soccer argument that matters right now:
For the United States to get better, we need to develop our own style of play.
This sounds self-explanatory, but allow me to shine some more light on it.
When I went to Brazil, we played 2 or 3 soccer games each day. I was astounded by one thing more than anything else. It didn’t matter whether or not we were playing middle-schoolers on the indoor courts or a college team on a full-field…they all played the same way.
Their touch was perfect. They moved fluidly as a team. Positions didn’t really matter. They switched fields effortlessly. What did this mean for them? It didn’t matter how old they were, where they were playing, or who they were playing with. They could step into any situation and they could play with each other.
So how does this affect us?
Remember when the Dream Team went over in 1992 and we absolutely crushed everyone? What did the World do? Did they try to develop 6’6” shooting guards with crazy athleticism? Did they try to field teams like Michael, Scottie, Magic, and Bird? No. They played to their strengths. They learned the fundamentals, and all of the sudden, we have 7-footers draining threes. This leads to the US losing in 2004 and all of us collectively freaking out.
So we, as Americans, need to play to our strengths. Will we ever have a team of small speedsters with beautiful touch? No. But could we play like Germany? They are big, strong and aggressive. They OVERPOWER people. That should be our goal. Landon Donovan is awesome. He’s the best player we’ve ever had. But even if we had 10 Landon Donovan’s out there…we aren’t beating Brazil at their game. However, if we had 10 Jozy Altidore’s and Oguchi Onyewu’s? Now that would be interesting.
So there you have it. A six-step plan to prepare yourself for doom and gloom in 2012.
Believe me, I more than anyone hope that we aren’t locked out of the NBA and NFL for a whole year. I live to argue over Kobe/LeBron, Kobe/Jordan, Peyton/Brady. But just in case, on the off-chance that we really are headed for a sports apocalypse, now you can be ready.
* – NFL money logo credit: SmartFootball.com
* – Hot Brazilian fan photo credit: Glob-a-log
* – Oguchi Onyewu / Jozy Altidore photo credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images/Images/Livesey/Getty Images via ESPN.com