Though I sometimes pretend otherwise, I am not really much of a sports fan. I like the occasional baseball game on a warm summer night – though mainly for the weather, the friends, and the beer – and I enjoy rooting for the hometown team, though I am more likely to applaud the underdog in almost any situation. I like the human-interest stories, and am taken by the individual athletes who have such physical prowess that watching them perform is nothing less than art.
More than anything else, though, I enjoy watching the people around me, the fellow beer-drinkers and the underdog cheerleaders, and the way that they get into the game at hand. I don’t understand the maniacal, but I do appreciate the heartfelt.
So last night, I tagged along with a group of friends who fell somewhere in between those two levels of emotional involvement for the World Cup game between the United States and Portugal. I don’t really know much about soccer – I was a field hockey/lacrosse kind of gal in high school – but appreciate the skill and speed with which the game is played. I also admire the passion that true fans have for the game at every level. I remember a train station in Germany overrun with local drunk fans – it was a bit scary – and used to share an office wall with a woman who was quiet and polite in every interaction, yet she full-on yelled, in her native Spanish, behind closed doors when her beloved team played.
In any case, all of this is to say that I started feeling a little bored last night, even as the game hit its fever pitch level of excitement in the last few minutes. I know that’s controversial, but though I was happy to be there, I started thinking about ducking out of the bar and finding a place outside to write; it was a beautiful evening. Instead, I tuned in to the people around me, who – by all appearances – were on a satisfyingly emotional roller coaster.
And made hand gestures:
Occasionally applauded a little bit:
Held their breath:
And then lost their minds:
Before settling into stunned disbelief:
And eventually returning to their beers in something vaguely resembling the self-congratulatory high that comes from surviving a close brush with an untimely and dramatic demise:
In the meantime, I used my best eavesdropping skills to tune into those around me. There’s something about the language that people use while watching a game; it’s often colorful and delightfully nonsensical. I captured what I could in my journal; I’m sure that I probably earned some funny looks from others while I scribbled in that ever-present little book. Here’s a sample:
“Wake up, wake up!”
“How’d that happen?!”
“Everybody still alive.”
“That’s it, show them what time it is, show ‘em what time.”
“I think he might be real hurt.”
“We’ll take another.”
“Let it out baby, let it out!”
“Women do get better at distance as they age but my PT says to ice…”
“That’s so sexy! Come on! Sexy time, sexy time!”
“Rev up the jet engines!”
“Let’s go boyyyyyys!”
“Aw shit. Aw SHIT!”
“Fuckin’ 30 seconds. God dammit.”
“Fuck! That was terrible, man!”
“When? Yeah, I could do that.”
“Don’t let go. No, no, your hands are good luck. Yeah. Keep them there.”
“Thursday at noon?”
“We’re going to watch it. Where you gonna be?”
And, my favorite: “Wait, it’s over? What does that mean for us?”
What, indeed? The two teams tied, and from what I’ve gathered, it means we (“we,” as if I have anything to do with this team…) have to tie Germany or win outright in order to move on. I’m not sure I’ll make watching that game a priority, but then again, why not?
If nothing else, it’s a damn good excuse for screaming in public, and even though I may not be a huge sports fan, nothing builds community quite like yelling and high-fives, at least among a crowd of strangers. Momentarily brought together by a game that few of us actually understand, anything feels possible – at least for those 90 minutes. And I’m always game for something like that.