June 24, 2010
By Charles Cuttone
No cheering in the press box, but the living room doesnít count
There is an age-old axiom in the sports writing profession. No cheering in the press box. Fortunately, this rule does not apply to oneís couch, where a journalist is free to also be a fan.
I did perhaps as much screaming and shouting at a sporting event on television as I think I ever have on Wednesday morning. Then on Thursday, I shed a few tears as I watched my beloved Azzurri bow out in the first round of the tournament for the first time since 1974, the last World Cup before I became interested in the game.
As an American of Italian descent, for years, Gli Azzurri were my team to root for, almost always assured of watching them progress to the latter stages of the tournament, and very often seeing them make a trip to the final and hoist the trophy. After the Americans joined the party in 1990, they were always the other team to root for, but there seemed to be little chance that they would be around very long, so it was the Italians, and sometimes the Brazilians, that carried the banner in the tournament for me. After all, having grown up around the game with Pele, Carlos Alberto and my late, dear friend Prof. Julio Mazzei, itís hard to not have some affection for the Brazilian team, especially in the past, when they played the most beautiful game in the most beautiful way.
Thatís changed for me now. The Americans are a factor in this tournament. Their tenacity, their having to play against two teams in every game, the opponent and the refs, itís hard not to like them. If they by some chance had met the Italians in the later rounds, my enthusiasm for the Red, White and Blue would be stronger than the ties to the old country, a place I have never been. Even my late father would understand. He became a citizen not long after he moved here. He always considered himself American, and while we held onto many Italian traditions (I make a mean lasagna), when Italy played the U.S. at Giants Stadium in the 1980s, he waved an American flag.
So, it would be hard for anyone to accuse me of being a bandwagon jumper, unlike many others out there.
It has been interesting to see the aftermath of the U.S. win, especially since all the bandwagon jumpers had started to jump on early in this World Cup, with media outlets that normally would not give the time of day to soccer covering the event. A first, I think, for this World Cup was the variety of preview magazines available on the newsstands. Used to be, to get a preview magazine, you had to go to the now dearly departed out of town/foreign newspaper stand in Times Square. But several U.S. publishers, including a few that never touch soccer, did magazines this year, no doubt figuring they could make a buck.
The late night funny men have been yacking and yucking it up about the World Cup since the tournament started. Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson, who has in the past joked that he left Scotland and moved to America because hated soccer, did a cooking segment last night wearing a USA jersey.
There were reports from all fronts yesterday of Americans celebrating the victory over Algeria, from Wall Street in New York to a pub near Trafalger Square in London.
Some are viewing this as a signal, finally, of the true arrival of American soccer. Maybe. Maybe not.
Before Don Garber gets too giddy, we who have spent the last 35 years or so not cheering in the press box have seen these kinds of reactions and celebrations before. Letís face it, we Americans love an excuse to wrap ourselves in the Red, White and Blue.
It happened when the US hockey team beat the Russians and went on to win Gold at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. There was talk then of how much that would mean to hockey in the USA. It meant very little, actually. Few of the Gold Medal heroes even had credible professional careers, and any uptick in hockey interest was minimal. The interest was in the stars and stripes.
After Brandi Chastainís penalty kick gave the United States Womenís Team the World Cup Championship at the Rose Bowl in 1999, in front of more than 100,000 fans, there was a lot of talk about how much that would do for the sport, and particularly the womenís side of it.
Chastain and or the team appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek and People Magazine, and they had their few minutes on Letterman. The euphoria led to the launch two years later of a womenís pro league. It folded after three seasons in a sea of red ink. A second attempt at a womenís pro league launched last year and has already seen two teams fold.
So letís just enjoy this World Cup moment while it lasts, and not read too much more into it for the time being.