By Bill Buchanan
I am not a huge soccer fan. What little I know about the game comes from a friend of mine who gets up early on weekends to follow club soccer and absolutely lives for the World Cup. David’s love for the game probably came from watching and coaching his four kids when they played.
Now while I am not a fanatic (or even very knowledgeable), I do enjoy the World Cup. It is kind of like the Olympics only with a singular sport. And people not only take it seriously, it is life and death for many — some almost literally. A friend of mine who is originally from Colombia recently told me her dad had a heart attack while watching his beloved native team in the World Cup several years ago. Fortunately, he was watching with his two sons and they called an ambulance to take him to the hospital, where he was treated and later released. She didn’t say whether her brothers went with her dad to the hospital, or stayed behind to watch the game. I suspect the latter.
Three things stand out to me about soccer — flopping, magic spray, and the penalty or free kick.
Flopping occurs every time an opposing player even looks at a guy cross-eyed. Players seem to hit the ground on any type of contact. Now while some of the contact is rough and physical, other contact is less than you would receive bumping into someone at the grocery store. No matter, whenever an opponent gets close to another player, that guy goes down faster than Lee Harvey Oswald. I guess the idea is to draw a penalty, but it seems like the referees would get pretty tired of it.
Now compare that to American football, where linebackers hit running backs like a June bug hits a windshield. It seems no matter how vicious the hit, the ball carriers often manage to stay on their feet and run or at least dive for more yardage. When they do get popped and go down, they jump up and return to the huddle. It amazes me how hard some of these football hits are. And the guys pop right up. I know some of it is toughness (or craziness, perhaps), but some of it has to do with ego. The ball carrier just doesn’t want to let the defensive guy know that he hurt him. He jumps up like, “Hey, is that all you’ve got?”
The exception to this rule was the great Jim Brown. When Brown played for Cleveland, I was a Packer fan, but I loved watching him run the ball. No one ran like Jim Brown. When they finally did manage to tackle him, Brown would lay on the ground for a long time, and slowly get up and trudge back to the huddle. He was moving so slowly you didn’t think they were going to get the next play off in time. But when they handed him the ball he came alive. He would run over the first guy, put a move on the next guy, then sprint by other defenders and leave them there modeling their shoes while he raced for a touchdown. It was beautiful.
Now, back to soccer — when a guy goes down, and really appears to be injured, they often trot out the magic spray. The magic spray has not been used as frequently in the World Cup as it seems to be in club soccer. For the uninitiated, what I call “magic spray” is something mysterious the trainers bring out when a player is injured. I don’t know what is in that bottle, but it seems no matter how severe the injury, no matter how close to death the player seems to be, when the trainer pulls out that aerosol can and hits the injured guy with the magic spray, he seems to be reborn. He springs to his feet, ready to run at full speed and battle on until the end of the match.
The penalty kick seems to have similar recuperative powers. I have seen players hit the deck and roll around like they were thrown from a motorcycle — but when the referee calls for a penalty kick, they jump up like nothing happened. They get up, kick the shot and most times score the goal. Then, the guy who was just writhing on the ground is suddenly running around doing back flips and somersaults like something out of a Cirque Du Soleil show.
Now it occurs to me that with medical costs spiraling out of control, we should take a serious look at incorporating both the magic spray and penalty kicks into our health care system. Instead of costly hospital stays, let’s just hit the sick with a dose or two of magic spray, and let them go on their way. For more serious injuries, or for those recovering from surgery, offer them the option of a penalty kick.
Now you ask, what or even who do they get to kick? My suggestion would be a BP executive. I’m not talking about a rank-and-file worker, or some guy who works at a BP station or convenience store. I’m talking about taking a high-ranking BP executive and just kicking him around like a rented mule. Wouldn’t that make anyone feel a lot better? Imagine the health care savings.
Since this column deals with sports, I have to include a great sports-related story I heard the other day from Hank Bangser, Ojai Unified School District superintendent. Hank was in the office last week to film the weekly OVN “In-Depth Interview,” and he and I visited afterward. During our conversation, we talked about playing sports back in high school. It turns out that Hank was a three-sport man in high school — football, baseball and basketball — with basketball being his least accomplished sport. As Hank tells it: “I was 6 feet 3 inches, 225 pounds and the coach pretty much told me that my jobs were to set picks (i.e., physically abuse the other team), rebound, and get their best big man into foul trouble. In a word, I was expendable.”
Hank grew up around New York City, and one day his team was picked to scrimmage the undefeated national juggernaut, Power Memorial High School, whose center was a guy named Lew Alcindor. Many might know him better by the name he went by later on — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Hank got in the game in the third quarter, and had the “privilege” of guarding Mr. Alcindor. Hank was determined not to be intimidated, and to hold him to as few points as possible.
Hank told me that he held Alcindor/Abdul-Jabbar to only 20 points. I was impressed, until Hank added slyly, “but that was in only four minutes.” When you do the math, that would be 160 points in a full game.
Hank did say that he was able to dominate Alcindor/
Abdul-Jabbar in one statistic, “TIAHBs.” When I asked what that meant, he said it was “throw-ins after his baskets.” Ha. What a great story.
The column was on sports, but I didn’t get around to college football, and being a major Alabama fan, I will eventually devote a column (or more) to my love for college football — and especially my Crimson Tide. But that is for another day.