Joe Lavin

July 11, 2006

Headbutts, Flopping, and Astrology:
What We Can Learn from the World Cup

After a month of the World Cup, I've now become a very big soccer fan, so much so that I can almost recognize when somebody's offside. Not bad for an American. It's a truly intense game, and there's much from it that we can use to help make our own sports more exciting. Here's just some of what I'd like to pilfer from the biggest sporting event in the world.

No timeouts -- Let's face it. If that were an American championship game, it would have never ended. "And France takes their final timeout with 0.03 seconds left. We'll be right back." I love the tension that developed from the lack of timeouts. I watched a few games with some Europeans at work, and I've never seen such intensity. Sure, American sporting events can be intense, but you still spend almost half the time talking about stupid commercials. Here, there was barely a word uttered by anyone, and when people did speak it was almost always about the match. Even if there were commercial breaks, could you ever imagine anyone watching the World Cup Final just for the commercials?

More headbutting -- I confess that I really enjoyed Zinedine Zidane's headbutt. You see, by this time in the match, I had grown weary of him. It's not really his fault, but, for the entire World Cup, announcers built him up so much that I almost thought "Zinedine" was his middle name and "The Great" was his first name. In the knockout phase, not five minutes could pass in a French match without someone exclaiming, "Could this be the Great Zinedine Zidane's final match?" ("I dunno. You're the soccer announcer guy. Why are you asking me?")

It was particularly amusing to hear the announcers after the headbutt. One minute, he was the classiest soccer player in the world; the next he had just committed a "classless act." It was like listening to the parents of an honor roll student who had just gotten arrested for underage drinking.

Then again, the French announcers were even more shattered. Somebody posted the French feed on Youtube, and the announcer simply repeated, "Mais pourquoi? Mais pourquoi?" From now on, I'm officially going to use this anytime an American athlete does something particularly stupid: " Mais pourquoi, Manny? Mais pourquoi?"

More flopping -- I do enjoy the flopping, and particular kudos should go to Italian Marco Materazzi, who went down as if he was hit by a cannonball after being headbutted by Zidane. I'm not sure, but I think he may still be lying on the ground in a fetal position, just in case the referee decides to change his mind and take the red card away. Marco, it's okay. You can get up now.

More astrology -- Apparently, the French coach, Raymond Domenech, actually used astrology in determining his lineup. He admitted that he didn't allow any Scorpios on his team and only two Leos. Scorpios, after all, can be prone to angry outbursts, and he wouldn't want anyone like that on his -- Oh, never mind.

Frankly, I think the use of astrology in American sports is long overdue. We already don't know what the coach or manager is thinking half the time anyway, so why not throw in some astrology too? Baseball managers could even turn to astrology when they run out of the lefty-righty stuff. "Well, it looks like they're going to the bullpen for a Capricorn. Can't argue with that move, as Bonds is only hitting .147 lifetime against Capricorns."

By the way, I'm a big fan of the French coach, primarily because he always looked like he was originally planning to spend the day smoking cigarettes in a Paris cafe while discussing Sartre when at the last moment he decided to coach a World Cup match instead.

More Surliness -- After the red card, Domenech performed some of the best sarcastic clapping I have ever seen in a sporting event. And how's this for a post-game comment? "Little by little we took control and we were better than our opponents, as you could see in extra time. This is a deception, it's sad." Okay, he's not exactly gracious in defeat, but it sure is a lot more interesting than the "We tried to gave 110%, but hats off to them. They were just the better team" stuff that we normally get from losing coaches. Oui, c'est une deception!

Seriously, I want this guy coaching an NBA team by October. I don't care if he doesn't know anything about basketball. We need him.

Penalty Kicks -- Until now, I've always hated the concept of penalty kicks. It's almost like deciding the NBA Finals on a game of HORSE, but by the end of this final was there anyone left on the pitch who had the energy to score a goal? Afterwards, I ended up watching the end of a 19-inning baseball game, and the idea of something like penalty kicks was starting to look quite nice then. There are many baseball games that could definitely use a winner-take-all home run derby after the 12th inning.

And finally, better celebrating -- One Italian player was so overcome with joy after winning that he actually took his pants off. Luckily, he had something on underneath. It's not quite Brandi Chastain and her sports bra, but there's nothing that says "the thrill of victory" quite like taking your pants off in front of one billion worldwide viewers.

©2006 Joe Lavin

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July 14, 1998
World Cup '98: Oh, Vive Off!
Those were the words of my best friend Dawn after she and her boyfriend Mike watched France win the World Cup with me in New York City. They are English, you see, and traditionally the English are not the biggest fans of France. ( More.... )