July 20, 1998
World Cup Fever! 
Hey, time for a special guest columnist!  My old pal Allen Schauffler just finished watching the World Cup, and heís got a series of tremendous thoughts he sent me via e-mail.  He was also kind enough to allow me to share those thoughts with you, the whole world.  Enjoy!

Vive la France!  Allez les bleues!  Ou est la salle douze? Oui papa, dinons en ville ce soire.

Whee! They're dancing on the Champs-Elysees tonight.  What a blast.

I find it a bit sad, and very instructive, that America will never know the extent of Franceís joy or the depth of Brazil's agony.

We are simply too shallow, too egocentric as a culture, to xenophobic to participate in and embrace the number one sport in the world.  So it goes.  I accept it but it still irks me.

Here are four reasons why we'll never get it (yes, get ready for massive but supportable generalizations).

1: Scoring.

We're hooked on it, measure our heroes by it, even worship American-born sports that inflate the value of a single score.  Scoring is difficult in soccer, tough to do, only happens once in a while.  And the rules of the game (such temerity) only allow for a single point when there is a single score.  Score once.  Get one point.  You don't get two (or three if you shoot from a little farther out) every time you score, and you don't get six with an option for one or two more if you perform some weird out-of-the-flow-of-action task before the next kickoff.  Think about it; a 21-14 football game is essentially a 3-2 win.  American pro soccer leagues have always tried to boost scoring by giving extra points in the standings for multiple goals, or by easing off-sides rules, because without the big payoff, the goooooaaalll, American sports fans wonít pay attention.  And MLS I believe is the only pro league in the world where there are no ties, where there are shoot-offs to decide every game if it's tied after overtime, which brings me to point number two...

2: Resolution.

As a sports culture we just can't handle ties.  Itís like "kissing your sister" remember?  "Winning isn't everything it's the only thing," etc.  And because soccer is relatively low scoring, games often result in ties.  The rest of the world somehow has made peace with the concept; they may not like it, but they live with it.  But not here.  In fact our national pastime has no ties.  There has never been an official tie in a major league baseball game.  A winner is guaranteed, that part of the changeable plot is written into the very structure of the game.  Which brings up number three ...

3: Winning.

Until we win the World Cup, American sports fans as a group will never love the game.  We are too small-minded, too success oriented, too childish to embrace a sport we haven't dominated on the world stage.  Baseball?  Basketball?  Football?  Our big sports were all born here, and we deride the rest of the world for not picking up on our games.  It's insane and verges on bigotry.  When was the last time you saw a silver medalist on a cereal box?  An American athlete can be the second or third best at their sport in the entire world, and come home disappointed because, after all, they were "going for the gold."  Look at the annual agony over the college football national title, the constant wailing about there not being a playoff system to determine a true champion.

4:  Stats!

As a sports consuming public we're hooked on stats.  The big three professional sports (all invented here) are filled to overflowing with numbers.  Important and revealing numbers too, numbers that can tell the story of a game and tell hundreds of sub-plots at the same time.  Baseball, especially, is a stat-freak's Mecca.  I can sit down with any true baseball fan and a Monday sports page and I guarantee we can find hours of sports-talk fodder in the box scores.  It's an extension of the game itself that helps laminate the sports into our lives, bring it beyond the stadium or the television screen and give it life beyond the final whistle or the last out.

Soccer? They tried this time around, they really tried hard.  ESPN invented an imaginary "red zone" and then counted the number of times various players touched the ball within that zone.  They tallied fouls, red cards, yellow cards, corner kicks, free kicks, time of possession, etc.  And they put it all up there in cheesy little full-screens, knowing that we expect to see those numbers used as the basis of game analysis.  But soccer ain't like that.

It is a game of flow and pace and rhythm which is not easily boiled down to numbers.  It is also sometimes a totally unfair game, in which one team can blast away at an opponent's goal and dominate the game for 90 minutes ...  and lose 1-0.  Or 2-0.  They may win the stat war but get blown out on the scoreboard.  How often does that happen in the NBA or the NFL?

So vive la France.  Tough luck Bebeto, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Leonardo, Dunga and the rest of the boys who will probably be dragged through the streets until dead when they get home.  (Come to think of it, that "winning" thing is shared by many, isn't it?)

It's been a great Coupe du Monde, some fabulous theater on the world stage, tremendous action.  And America pretty much missed it all, and will continue to miss it.

Alan Schauffler

Allen Schauffler is an anchor/reporter for KING-TV in Seattle, WA.  Usually, his e-mail is a little bit shorter than this.

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Last updated July 19, 1998