Friday, July 14, 2006

Football On Ice

Now that the World Cup of Soccer is over, there remain but a few unanswered "football"-related questions. Like, why do they call soccer "football" everywhere except in Canada and the United States? Who would have been the more insufferable winners, the Italians or the French? And why did Zinedine Zidane head-butt that Italian guy in the chest?

As for the first question, if you’ve never been exposed to real football, it’s understandable that you’d call a game where you kick a ball with your foot "football." As for the second question, the French probably would have been more insufferable but we’ll likely never know given their penchant for losing.

As for the final question, why are we even asking it? For non-soccer fans, Mr. Zidane’s head-butt was the most exciting part of the game. Personally, I had settled in for a nap about thirty minutes into last Sunday’s match only to wake up half way through the overtime.

That unexpected head-butt finally got me into the game. As a died-in-the-wool North American sports fan, here was something I could understand. Two guys loping down the field yapping at one another until finally one guy snaps and takes a shot at his opponent.

Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting a head-butt. I’m more used to a crack block, a cross check or a charge. But a head butt, although unusual, was still something I could relate to.

So imagine my surprise when the soccer world (pardon me, the football world) universally heaped scorn and pity on the French midfielder (whatever the heck that is). What to me was a reason to celebrate was apparently to most a reason to mourn.

It seems that Zinedine Zidane is a feted veteran noted for his stellar and sportsmanlike play. Apparently this physical foul in his last professional game was most uncharacteristic. All I can say is "more’s the pity."

If that’s what it takes to rouse me from my nap and make soccer interesting, then let’s have more of it. No wonder we North American sports fans consider soccer one big yawnfest. With scoring in the range of 1-0, 2-1 or even 0-0, is it any wonder we get excited by an actual shot to the chest?

Let’s face it; if Mr. Zidane were a star hockey or football player, he’d be praised for his unusual form of retaliation. Drive a player into the football field or crush a skater into the boards and you’re celebrated big time. No one here would be musing over the tragic end to an otherwise glorious career. They’d be universally shouting "Way to go, Zinedine!" or "Attaboy, big Z!"

I won’t bore you with my sensible suggestions to liven up the game of soccer. Needless to say, it doesn’t look like FIFA is going to adopt three downs, goal posts or a penalty box any time soon. But until they do, don’t expect me or any of my North American buddies to sign on to a game that makes an Al Gore speech seem exciting by comparison.

In the meantime, I’d like to extend an invitation to Zinedine Zidane to cross over to the world of North American sports. He may be a little long in the tooth, but a man of his obvious athletic ability could surely adapt to football, basketball or even hockey.

Hey, Big Z, put on some shoulder pads, a helmet or even some skates and play a real man’s sport. We like big scores and we like big hits. And if you want to butt a guy in the chest, go ahead. The worst you’ll get is two-minutes or fifteen yards for roughing. Plus you’ll get all the endorsement deals you can sign. That’s the North American way.

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