Having completed my grueling morning workout (it's damned hard work maintaining this physique!), I now sit down to write my bi-weekly column.
As I do so, across America, several thousand of my saddest fellow citizens have dragged themselves out of bed at an ungodly hour to watch the soccer team from Donald Trump's favorite country (Russia) play the soccer team from Trump's favorite loan shark (Saudi Arabia). It's World Cup time again, that quadrennial confluence of nationalism, commercialism, masochism and even occasional athleticism.
My dad, may he rest in peace, was a voracious reader. I always found that impressive because he had attended a small rural school in Iowa. Right after he graduated, he went into the New Deal program, the Civilian Conservation Corp, and from there into the Army at the outset of World War II. He fought in North Africa and Italy and received the Purple Heart.
After four years in the War, he got shipped back home. The first night he was back in Iowa, he met my mom and they got engaged THAT NIGHT! They got married 12 days later and were married for more than 40 years until he passed away. It was a fairy tale romance, except for the fact that they occasionally got along like black people and police.
But that dude could read! He would get up at 4 in the morning and read the entire Los Angeles Times before heading off to work. One time, in 1966 (while I was still in my formative years), he urged me to read this article in the Times' sports page about the World Cup in England. All I knew about soccer at the time was that it was a strange semi-sport that was really popular in countries where chickens walk down the middle of the street. The piece was the first of an endless stream of "Is soccer the next big thing in America?" articles that I have read over the decades. It's now 2018 (and I'm in my deformative years) and very little has changed.
As the World Cup is being viewed by billions of people around the world, here are some quotes from American publications:
• "U.S. soccer on the brink"
• "Now everyone believes in soccer's future, a general belief that soccer has all the irresistibility of a sport whose moment has come."
• "Within 10 years, soccer will not only be the No. 1 sport in the U.S. but also the major soccer center in the world."
• "Fathers used to take their kids to the football game. Now the kids, they take their father to the soccer game."
One might think that America finally has its soccer frenzy on, but, alas, those quotes are from 1968, 1975, 1976, and 1980, respectively.
I think my favorite quote on the subject is "Soccer is America's next big thing...and it always will be." That's just about perfect. The quote came from some guy from Uruguay, which is impressive, considering that Uruguay isn't even the most famous country in the world with a "-guay" in its name. Also, even Uruguay has won a World Cup title, while the United States is holding onto its World Cup virginity with a passion (or, perhaps more precisely, a decided lack thereof).
It's true that, over the decades, I've used the phrase "Soccer sucks!" a few (thousand) times, and it mostly does. However, I feel myself on a life trajectory heading to a point where I will achieve a different strokes outlook on the matter. I sincerely believe that soccer is a great entry-level sport for kids, where a bunch of 5-year-olds can wear uniforms and gather in a tightly knit, 20-person mob around the ball and have everybody sorta kick at it. Then, it's juice boxes for everybody! Soccer is also good for the 140-pound high-school kid who is too small to play real football.
I will also readily admit that I enjoy watching soccer highlights. Those players sometimes do amazing things. Plus, you can watch an entire day's worth of highlights in the amount of time that your wife leaves the room during the commercial break of the "Murder, She Wrote" episode that she's been watching. And you don't have to watch the other 89 minutes of the soccer game with the ridiculous flops, the fake crowd enthusiasm and the breathless announcer analysis.
This World Cup is being carried in the U.S. by Fox, which I conflate with Fox "News," so I hope they fail miserably. It's off to a good (horrible) start. The games are in Russia, which means they'll start at 5 a.m. here. And the U.S. isn't playing because it got knocked out in the qualifying round by Trinidad and Tobago. I know that it's not fair that we had to play two countries at once, but I think I heard that the guys from Tobago decided to play barefoot to give the Americans a chance. It didn't matter.
Just last night, it was announced that the 2026 World Cup will be played in the U.S. (with some of the early-round games being played in Canada and Mexico). This gushing ESPN soccer guy, Taylor Twellman, noted that soccer still hasn't gained full traction in the United States, but then added, "In eight years, we'll be having a different conversation."
No, we won't.