Reprinted, with editing, from earlier posts.
During the past seven years I’ve twice posted blogs about my inability to enjoy sports that millions of people absolutely love. Here’s the update: they didn’t do it for me then and they don’t do it for me now. Although I wish they did.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Car racing draws huge crowds and has an unbelievable following. And while football, basketball and baseball are more popular, hockey is considered one of the Big Four. I’ve always considered myself a true sports fan, yet I can’t get into any of these. Millions of people live and die (literally, for some) over the outcomes of these contests. If that many people have that much passion for such sports, I should have somewhat of an interest -at least in some way, shape or form.
Although I’ve tried, I still can’t see what people get so excited about when it comes to soccer (although yesterday I found myself watching Uruguay and Colombia for several minutes - maybe all the replays and different camera angles make it seem as though teams are scoring more than one goal). When our sons were younger, I used to tell people that if the Chinese knew about what it was like to watch kindergarten soccer (and listen to some of the parents), they’d have done away with water. That’s not really soccer, so let’s see how a true soccer person would describe it.
The late soccer coach at Western Carolina University, Charlie Schneider, was a truly wonderful guy and, on several occasions, a tennis partner of mine. He was extremely intelligent, insightful and enjoyed talking about the philosophy of sports as much as I did. I remember during one of our conversations he told me how much he enjoyed watching basketball because strategically, it was so much like soccer. He proceeded to tell me about how attacking the goal was similar to a fast break in that you wanted your best “ballhandler” in the middle with the ball and your scorers on the wings. Obviously, it was to your advantage if you had “numbers,” i.e. more offensive players than defenders. He talked about the use of the “give and go” play, used so effectively in basketball, albeit something teams executed much more in the ’60s than they do now. It made a great deal of sense, but I wondered why, if there was so much similarity, there wasn’t any more scoring - which is the biggest rap against soccer in this country?
Then, it hit me. It would be similar to the opponent missing a shot and your team rebounding it. The ball would be outletted to your point guard who would turn and start the fast break. It was this visual that got me to understand the problem clearly. Imagine how little scoring there would be in basketball if the court was 120 yards long! No wonder it’s said that soccer players are the best-conditioned athletes in the world (except for maybe decathletes). Think of the kind of shape you’d have to be in to play fast break basketball for three periods in that type of venue.
As far as car racing, Mark Dyer, a brilliant businessman and a friend I met during my stint in Knoxville, at one time served as the director of merchandising for NASCAR. Although we shared a great many interests, he got extremely frustrated trying to get me interested in race cars. The day I told him I didn’t know how to operate a stick shift gave him all the information he needed about me and racing. Maybe if my company represented Danica Patrick like his current employer, IMG, does, I’d find a reason to tune in more often.
My first hockey experience occurred when I was a graduate assistant at the University of Vermont. The team won the Division II National Championship (1973). It wasn’t unusual for them to score double figure goals game after game. When I was working at USC a couple decades later, one of our former SC basketball managers, Dennis Johnson (presently an executive with Time-Warner cable) was an intern at the Great Western Forum. He got a couple LA Kings tickets for our then-four year old son, Andy, and me. I was pretty pumped. Andy, who, throughout a good deal of his early years enjoyed watching sports nearly as much as he did playing them, thus earning from me the nickname, “Fan-dy,” was really looking forward to it as well.
The hockey tickets DJ got for us were great seats and at that time, The Great One, Wayne Gretsky, was playing for the Kings. We got to the GWF late (because of traffic, not because I thought it was fashionable) and the first period was already underway. When the horn sounded ending the first of the three periods, I had yet to see the puck but hadn’t said anything to Andy. He and I went to get something from the concession stand. The players came out for the second period and after a few minutes, Andy, who was unaware there were three periods, looked up at me and, very uncharacteristically for him, said, “Dad, do we have to stay for the whole game?” The definition of a nanosecond was the time in between him asking me that question and me getting up and saying, “No, let’s go, buddy.”
When it comes to watching these sports, the line that sums up how people should approach me about them is:
“Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”