Spoiled for Soccer

I skipped the World Cup this year. Until today’s final. Holy cow. It was one of the best sporting events I’ve ever seen. I saw a couple of textbook plays by Argentina that blew my mind. One was a goal scored on a series of touch passes that looked like a fast break by the Larry Bird Celtics or the Showtime Lakers. Another was a put back by Lionel Messi who was lurking in front of the goal like Phil Esposito of he old Boston Bruins. France should have won but for an absolutely magnificent save by the Argentine goalie near the end of the game. Lordy.

I’ve seen a lot of sporting events in my life but this World Cup final one was definitely one for the ages. Here are a few others.

The Sixth Game: In September 1974, the Red Sox brought up three rookies from their Pawtucket farm team: Burleson, Rice, and Lynn. I told my father about them and said that they were going to be a great team in 1975. He laughed. Game 6 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park was the pinnacle. It was credited with reviving the nation’s interest in baseball. I lived in Boston and drove a cab that summer. The Sox were all any of my fares wanted to talk about. It almost didn’t matter that they lost Game 7.

Hagler vs Hearns: Hagler was New England’s greatest boxer since Marciano. Hearns was called the Hit Man. They battled it out for three rounds that had more action than any three entire bouts anybody had ever seen. It was exhausting to watch.

Celtics vs. Phoenix Game 5: This game went three overtimes. Near the end both the players and the fans were utterly spent. I was watching in a bar in southern New Hampshire. The bar was supposed to close but nobody would leave with the game still going on. They closed the bar and locked us in! Celtics won the game and the next to win the championship.

Nationals World Series 2019: Nearly everything they did worked. They lost all three of their home games and still one the series. That never happens.

USA wins gold: The 1980 mens’ Olympic hockey team really should not have been on the same ice as the European teams but they won. I lived on a hockey floor in a dorm during my freshman year in college. One of the freshman players went on to be the 1980 USA team captain. The icing on the cake was that for once a nice guy finished first.

Red Sox 2004: The Sox hadn’t won the World Series since before my father was born. True to form they were punished for three games in the playoffs by the hated Yankees then pulled off the biggest comeback in history. I was jumping up and down on the couch like a madman. My kids thought I had lost my mind. The Sox went on to win it all.

After the 2004 World Series, I couldn’t watch baseball again for years. I just wasn’t interested. Nothing could top that. It probably helped that we didn’t have a bona fide major league baseball team in DC until 2012. I feel the same way about this year’s World Cup final. I’ll just move on from soccer for a year or so before I watch another game. (Okay, I might just peek at the women’s World Cup final next summer. Just for a bit.) In a way, I felt the same after riding my bike across the country in 2018. I walked around in a dream state for weeks afterward. Despite riding through some of the most jaw dropping scenery in the world, I really didn’t enjoy my 2019 tour. It wasn’t until this year that fun came back.

8 thoughts on “Spoiled for Soccer

  1. I saw as much of the World Cup as I could (all of the games on network television). I slept on the lawn above the Olympic speedskating rink (next to the hockey arena) in Lake Placid (site of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice”) on my coast-to-coast ride. One of the players from that team now coaches the women’s team at the university here. Thanks for the memories.

    1. I can’t say I knew Eruzione well. His closest friend on the team was Rick Meagher who was in the room next door to mine so he was around a lot. Kicked my ass something fierce in ping pong.. And softball. Hockey players have amazing hand-eye coordination.

  2. One of the other players on that team was my upstairs neighbor a couple of years before that. He was the sort of guy that would say “Hi, how ya doin’?” as he passed by. One day I answered in detail. He didn’t hear it.

  3. I’ll add these to your list.

    1985 Tour de France. In the race Hinault led through the early mountain stages, but suffered a crash and came into difficulty. At this point, it was clear that LeMond was an elite rider capable of winning the Tour in his own right. LeMond possessed a natural talent for riding the Grand Tours, and got stronger over the course of a three-week race. The injured Hinault was vulnerable, and his competitors knew it. Stage 17 included three major climbs in the Pyrenees. On the second, the Col du Tourmalet, LeMond followed Stephen Roche in an attack, but was not given permission to help build on the gap over the field. The managers of his La Vie Claire team ordered the 24-year-old LeMond not to ride with Roche, but to sit on his wheel, a tactic to use the rider in front as cover for wind resistance so the following rider uses less energy. The pace Roche could put out by himself eventually slowed, and other riders came up to join the two men. Hinault recovered as well, though he did not regain the lead group. At the end of the stage LeMond was frustrated to the point of tears. He later revealed that team management and his own coach Paul Köchli had misled him as to how far back Hinault had dropped during the crucial Stage 17 mountain stage. Hinault won the 1985 Tour, with LeMond finishing second, 1:42 behind. LeMond had ridden as the dutiful lieutenant, and his support enabled Hinault to win his fifth Tour.

    1989 Tour de France. The Tour lead had been a seesaw battle for three weeks, but LeMond was still recovering from a hunting injury two years earlier. LeMond seemed to ride himself into better condition during the first week’s flat stages, and he was coming into peak form by the time the Tour reached the mountains. LeMond remained at the front of the race in the Pyrénées, but lost the lead to his former teammate and rival Laurent Fignon on stage 10 in Superbagnères. Five days later LeMond reclaimed yellow in the Alps, after the 39 km (24 mi) stage 15 mountain time trial from Gap to Orcières-Merlette. The see-saw battle continued, and when Fignon attacked on the upper slopes of Alpe d’Huez LeMond was unable to go with him, placing the yellow jersey back on the shoulders of Fignon. Fignon held a 50-second advantage over LeMond going into the 21st and final stage, a rare 24.5 km (15.2 mi) individual time trial from Versailles to the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

    That was considered by most to be a gap too big to close in that stage format. LeMond started the TT three minutes before Fignon. The first rider ever to use helmet, disc wheel, and aerobars specifically designed for time trials, LeMond covered the course 58 seconds faster than Fignon (gaining more than 2 seconds per kilometer) , edging him by 8 seconds in the overall GC standings of the three week race. The shock on Fignon’s face as he rounded the final turn a couple hundred meters from the finish line and saw the clock and LeMond’s time was captured in an iconic image by veteran Tour photographer Graham Watson.

    2022 Cricket T20 World Cup, Match 16, India v. Pakistan. The rivalry between India and Pakistan is as intense as any in the sporting world. Pakistan batted first and set a decent total of 159. India’s two openers were dismissed early, facing just 15 balls between them and scoring a paltry 4 runs each. Virat Kohli, who had struggled for form for much of the season, came in at 3 and eventually formed a successful partnership with Hardik Pandya. With two overs left (12 legal deliveries) India were at just 129, 30 runs down. In the 19th, the first four balls they faced resulted in just three runs before Kohli launched each of the final two balls in the over for epic maximums and 12 more runs. Still, India needed 16 to win entering the final over.

    On the first ball, Pandya was dismissed, breaking the partnership with Kohli and bringing the new batter, Dinesh Karthik in on strike. Karthik drove his first ball for a single, bringing Kohli back on strike. Four balls left, 15 needed to win.

    After hitting the third ball of the over for two runs and staying on strike, Kohli blasted the fourth ball for a six. The delivery was ruled a no ball (above the waist on the fly), leaving the six runs to stand while giving India a penalty bonus run and a free hit. India still need six to win, from three deliveries.

    Pakistan’s next ball was wide, leaving the balls-to-go counter at three while giving India another penalty run and leaving the free hit still to be resolved. Three balls left, five runs needed.

    On the next ball, a low twisting delivery that landed right at his feet then spun and skidded low, Kohli swung and missed and the ball hit the stumps. Kohli would have been out except it was still a free hit after the wide.

    After hitting the stumps the ball caromed away from Pakistan’s keeper, enabling India to run three. Two balls to go, India need two runs to win. Kohli, the hot hand, is now off strike and Karthik faces the next ball. Remember, he had just come in and faced only one ball before rotating off strike, and was not yet really settled.

    On what should be the penultimate ball, Karthik is bowled (dismissed). That brings a new man in to face the final ball. It’s do or die time. One ball left, India need two to win, and a cold batter is at the crease.

    Final ball: WIDE! (The commentator: “Oh Nawaz! [Pakistan’s bowler] What have you DONE?”) India get a penalty run to tie the game, and face one more ball to try to win.

    Final ball, re-bowled: India’s new batsman, Ravi Ashwin, lifts a shot over Pakistan’s inner circle defense, which has been drawn in to prevent an easy single on the ground. India win, in very dramatic and improbable fashion.

    1. I’ll be honest. I don’t know the first thing about cricket. Reminds me a bit of being in New Zealand during the rugby World Cup. Games were on TV everywhere we went. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Every so often a team would group together and crap an egg. Then there’s run around like those plastic football players on the vibrating field.

      1. Think of it this way: after having been kept under tight control for nearly all their turn at bat, India needed something of a miracle to pull out the victory. Over the last 10 percent of their inning the events featured an escalating series of events, some of them so unlikely as to qualify as “I’ve NEVER seen this before” from the announcers (themselves all former players).

        Each event changed the calculus and balance between generally very evenly-matched sides, so there was a swaying, back-and-forth rise and fall of hopes, expectations, and likelihood of success on the part of one team then the other. It simply wasn’t possible to predict what might happen, up to the very final play. Few sports events feature that sort of sustained drama and escalating uncertainty of outcome.

  4. I’m not a football fan but my two boys are. We were out Xmas shopping yesterday but went to a bar to watch the final. By the middle of the second half I was ready to sleep but by God I soon woke up. After the Argentine save, the totally unfair penalty for handball given to France and the romance of Messi’s last World Cup I was cheering for Argentina like I was born there! Fabulous match that I thoroughly enjoyed 😊

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