Mixed in with the crowd in the Sports Book Lounge at Harrah's in Reno, we had about one TV per man for the half dozen of us. Viewing angles varied, but when I made a gut reaction to a close play in the America/Monterrey game, the guy across the table asked, "you're watching soccer?"
Yes I was. Earlier, after a camera had panned the seats around one end line, one of the patrons had remarked derisively, "there must be hundreds of people there." Real men pay attention to sports events with spectators in the tens of thousands, of course.
"Soccer's a good kids' game," he responded, as if to finish the discussion. Was he trying to insult me? His tone was friendly enough, but he was holding an aura of superiority about his preference for the nearby NBA game. He had some sort of argument that I didn't pay much attention to.
I don't remember how I responded, other than thinking how the rest of the world must hate the "American" attitude that the U.S.A. is superior to everyone else, culturally, athletically, financially, technologically. Or how this game that was passionately played and followed by billions of adults could be dismissed by a pasty-faced gambler whose authority rested on coaching for his kids once upon a time. How is basketball, say, more adult than soccer? It appeals to more adult sensibilities in the spectator?
My wife was willing to engage him, get him to spout a bit more, while I was happy to ignore him and keep my eyes glued to the TV.
"Where's this being played? Is it like the US National team vs. some Mexican team?" Apparently "America" threw him off, and Jeanette reminded him that there were two continents that went by that name, not just our country. I couldn't tell him where the game was, or exactly who was playing, other than it looked like something in the Mexican league, and the commentary was in Spanish, appropriately enough.
"Do you have a bet on the game?" Telling him I didn't confused him. Why would I sit there and watch a game between two teams I didn't know, in a place I couldn't name, and without anything riding on it?
He rattled on about how the problem with soccer in this country is that to be really good at it, you had to start early, you couldn't pick it up late in life and be great. (Didn't his kids start early?)
Later, contradicting himself, he suggested one of the problems with soccer is that there weren't any big stars, nobody like Deion Sanders, for example. Or was it that there weren't any stars who could play multiple sports like "Prime Time"?
Either way, Deion's always been on the wrong team from my point of view, a huge expense and a liability. (Does he increase attendance and ticket prices enough to pay his salary?) For all his hype, ego and attitude, he hasn't made it happen for any of the teams he's been on. "What about his Super Bowl rings?"
I said "he hasn't been to the Super Bowl in the universe I inhabit," not quite as sure of myself as I made it sound, but this is Nevada, after all, leading with a bluff can't hurt.
That threw him off, and he tried to recall just when and with what team Deion had gone Super. I recounted "he missed it with San Francisco, and then he switched to Dallas just after they'd peaked and they haven't been back." Hey, correct me if I'm wrong, but it made a great basis for my concluding point:
The problem with the spectator sports that are big around here is that it's all about superstars who have no loyalty to their teammates, or the team as a whole. They build their own images up, and work the best deal from the highest bidder, jumping teams however it suits them. The dynasty Bulls were the only counterexample I could point to (even though there must be more -- I'm not that big a fan), and supporting examples are a dime a dozen. Figuratively.
That gave him pause. And more importantly, shut him up so I could watch the game.
March 8, 2000