A Sip at the World Cup: In Defense of Ignorant Enthusiasm

I only dozed off once or twice during the United States’ stirring 1-1 World Cup tie with England. I didn’t see either of the goals as they happened—England’s came before I started watching, and I had already glanced away before the ball trickled in for America’s tying goal, because it was so obviously a routine save for the goalie.

Still, I mostly watched the game. It was important. On Friday, while I was driving around, the sports-radio guys were ripping into the World Cup, because it was their duty as sports-radio guys. Majority-friendly yet argument-provoking:


, they said,

does everybody pretend to be into this World Cup stuff? Nobody likes soccer.

The soccer nerds, baited and hooked on the phone lines, just made it worse for themselves:

Soccer is a beautiful game! Soccer has nonstop action!

All the arguments that only work on someone who’s already a soccer nerd.

The World Cup is bigger than the Super Bowl!

LaVar Arrington

choked on that one. Even if it was true, total-audience-wise or



Ordinary soccer action is a bore. It’s only nonstop in the sense that the clock keeps running during all the tedious administrative bullshit, the yellow cards, the offsides flag, the spotting and respotting of the ball. Most of the time, the ball is bouncing pointlessly around the green yet desolate middle of the field, where nobody is in any danger of knocking it through the goal.

But it’s churlish to complain about World Cup enthusiasm. What the sports-radio guys misunderstand is that situational enthusiasm, born of ignorance, is the heart of American sports culture.

Most normal sports-watching people are too smart to tune in for boring or irrelevant action. There is a whole hype industry waiting to bring the general public up to speed when it’s time to care. Who watched any of Butler’s

regular-season college basketball games

? And why should anyone have? Only basketball nerds would bother.

March Madness, not the Super Bowl, is the real reference point for the World Cup. Or the Olympics by way of March Madness. Once every four years, soccer stops being confusing and dull and organizes itself into a straightforward tournament, populated by easily identified teams. Who cares if Americans can’t name any of the players or their professional clubs? We know what Haiti, Greece, and North Korea are. We can root for that.

So the goalie for England let an easy shot slip out of his hands and get behind him—what is it with you people and leakage?—and then forfeited any claim to sympathy, as the ball rolled through the pipes, by going fetal on the goal line. Foetal. Screw you, England. We’re as good as you, now. And when we’re done gloating, it’ll be time for the Home Run Derby, and we’ll forget about soccer again for three years. Three years and 11 months, if you’re counting, which we will not be.