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My wife’s from Pittsburgh…but…I’m a New Yorker!

And I root for the underdog in about any contest…yet, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the authentic and original reason I started following the United States version of the sport titled “football”. You can only appreciate a sport if you understand it. Isn’t that the case with anything under the sun and beyond the stars? American football is a rush and a break. A break and then a rush. It’s got mad action and the stuff of soulful drama. It makes us bold and strong…and humbles us. The main event’s commercials are the best. No doubt about it. Victoria’s Secret, Hyundai, Doritos, Coke, Budweiser and GoDaddy.com have made fabulous contributions. But, let’s get back to the game: Watching a quarterback make a successful throw, the cause of which results in having a receiver complete an immaculate catch at the end-zone is the stuff of what dreams want to become…does it get better than this? Of course, but it feels darn awesome when your team does it!

The New York Jets, who practice in Long Island, and for games share a stadium with another New York team in The Garden State, have come farthest than any other team in American football history, by this amateur writer/spectator’s inexperienced eyes. Beating Eli Manning’s brother one week and the metrosexual Brady the week after, re-deeming themselves and beating the odds – masters of hope, leaving behind the cinders when no-one gave them a chance... I guess it’s too bad last Sunday’s game wasn’t the Super Bowl, but it could have been for the spirit of some. Yes, it was really spectacular.

But it ain’t over, is it? Two more successful games and the New York Jets can bring the Vince Lombardi trophy to Gotham. It’s almost too much to think that far. Especially when you still have another team that wants this victory just as much: The Pittsburgh Steelers. There’s a team with more soul than other teams. I may be biased, but that’s a team that has real heart. Not to say anything lackluster about the Pats or the Colts, but playing the Steelers in Iron City, in a play-off game, is I think, a harder challenge than playing Mr. Brady in New England. I only say it because Pittsburgh is really a football town. Really! Those terrible towels are the stuff of real Terror for anyone who’s not Black and Gold.

New York Jets, you are underdogs and I am with you. It’s a good thing my wife is forgiving, as is her family, who revealed to me the passion of the game. She’s a Pittsburgher, and with many rights to. After all, if it wasn’t for the Steelers, she may not be here. Her parents’ first date was at Three Rivers Stadium. Steeler blood runs really black and gold in Steel Country. It is one of the city’s many prides, perhaps the most stark of all. How/Why do you think the city’s team has won 6 Super Bowls? 

Gang Green has a real uphill battle…but, I am a New Yorker, and darn proud to be so, and I really love it when David defeats Goliath! This is my adopted country and I’m making the best in the Empire State. Can you hear Sinatra and Jay-Z in my voice…and don’t you forget Billy Joel…! Heather accurately said that I am a lover of the local, the present being where my heart is, and my heart is with you, who bring me passion and take my taxes: Gotham.

Make no mistake though: Should the Steelers win, they better win the Super Bowl, as that is the team that introduced me to American Football.

But for now, I’m in a New York state of Mind…

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Every four years I get addicted to this

My bartender, P-, at Jim Brady’s says the final is going to be Argentina versus Brazil. I say “my” only because I’ve become a regular at this fine Irish establishment that has 3 big flat screens displaying the World Cup, the object of my coming there. Of course, now I’ve formed bonds other than fútbol there: I’ve made amiable acquaintances with the owner, M-, a very courteous Irish gentleman, the bartenders and the wait-staff, who are all a delight.

During the second week of the group phase, when two games were shown at a time (presumably a good FIFA trick to increase excitement among the teams and dissuade them from second-guessing their chances for the next round and instead play!), I positioned myself strategically so that I would be able to see both games at the same time – there are a few spots where you can do that at Brady’s where you can see the two screens without too much neck twisting, just use your left eye for the right screen and right for the left (and old left/right brain trick).

Ah, maybe P- is right, about the final, but I can’t concede. Though I'm much dissuaded by my statement by what I saw from the Brazilian defense which was stronger than a concrete wall against Chile. The Rojas could not break that wall even if they had 20 Mack trucks and a demolisher. The giants are prevailing and no revenges have been settled. Brazil beat Chile as always. Ghana beat the US like in 2006. Argentina beat Mexico in the same phase, four years ago. Germany beat England the way it did in 1990 and other times; the story's a bit mixed in their encounters with the Germans more effective than the Anglo-Saxons. Will Germany beat Argentina this weekend in the Quarter-finals? I almost, almost doubt it, but who knows… What if Ghana triumphs over Uruguay and Brazil over the Netherlands in the Quarter-finals, such that the Five-time champion meets the last African nation left in the tournament at the Semis – would Ghana avenge it’s 2006 loss against A Seleção.

España sent Portugal packing home with a perseverant rebound goal by Villa, No. 7 of the team, who shone much better than his team-mate Torres, but, more remarkably than his Portuguese opponent with the same number, Ronaldo, so much for all his Nike “write the future” commercials. Portugal was great…against weak teams and not so great against strong ones: Facing Brazil, it was a disappointment, in fact, Brazil was disappointing to see when both Portuguese speaking nations fought in the field, playing safe instead of giving it all, which makes me wonder that maybe Brazil won’t be in the final, but who knows…

Drama, drama and art. Did you see how high the American goalie jumped in the Ghanan area in the last few minutes of the second extra time? The scene was so captivating that it reminded me what the Latino announcer in Univision said about another golden moment, “who says you can only see art in a museum – sometimes you can see such moments with a ball (of fútbol).” It was the last few minutes of the game and the Americans had secured a corner kick against Ghana. US Goalkeeper Tim Howard went over to the Ghanan section. He was going to head that ball if he could, right into the opponents. The assist came. Howard jumped. Kingson, the Ghanan, goalkeeper jumped. His arms were stretched so far in the air and he hit the ball, and by a few centimeters Howard almost hit it with his head. In other words, Howard jumped as high as his opponent’s arms stretched high above. It was a duel. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if he had hit it with his head?! Even so, it was amazing to see them jump so high. Such are real moments of beauty. Pelé was right, it is the beautiful game.

And why do some few people want to change it with “replays” and “reviews” and “challenges”, “use of technology”, and blah blah? Have we had referee error here? Yes and we’ve had it at every other Cup. Who says life is fair? Who says soccer has to be either? Put in “replays”, “reviews”, “challenges” then it’s no longer soccer/football/fútbol/futebol. You might as well divide the darn thing in 4 quarters, put in time-outs and take the magic out of the game. Not a good enough excuse. The fact that there is human error is a strength, not a weakness. Imagine that, accepting human error. In sports! What a concept!

I root for the Underdogs: Paraguay celebrated the first time they’ve gone to the Quarter Finals. Good for them, bad for the Japanese, whom they beat. But, there’s always a next time. Slovakia couldn’t defeat the Netherlands but they defeated Italy, the defending champs, just to show you that anything is possible in fútbol. The US showed it too, England surely felt that tie sting; unfortunately, they would wake up in the second half of games and that eventually caught up to them against another Underdog, Ghana. Don’t forget Mexico crushing France—that was classic too. The secret to winning does have something to do with what team demonstrates its winning desire out in the field. Of course, there’s always that bad luck that the Spaniards had against Switzerland, but the Swiss are gone and Spain’s still in, and the Spanish can smile and thank Honduras because the tiny Central American nation tied the strong tri-lingual Swiss, thereby denying them the 3 points to challenge the Iberian peninsula’s biggest country. Go Underdogs! Go! Locals do have a place in my heart too. Most of all, though, I root for the game itself.

I wish I would have entered a pool like the folks at Jim Brady’s did, well, all their staff really, and I think they let a few locals in it, but they had been seeing the games there since they started. I was away that first week in Lake Tahoe, with my esteemed gringo family, who I am happy to report became my comrades by enjoying and watching the games with me in the mornings of Pacific Coast Time. Thank God(s) for satellite TV when there’s no Univision. The tournament will be in Brazil in four years and the time zone won’t be the tricky issue it has been for the past 3 Cups, including this one. I remember waking up at 6am for some of the Korea/Japan games in 2002, including the Final! And I did get up at 4am to watch the great Paraguay v. Slovakia game this time around, but of course, we were leaving to the airport at 6am that day and what’s wrong with waking up a little earlier, a most convenient excuse…Though, I have to say, there is something specially comforting in going out for a late lunch at Jim Brady’s to watch these games, during the work-days.

Maybe once the final comes, I’ll bet who wins with my Irish bartender and stick to my guns, the way I did in 1998, when I bet my Portuguese barber that France would upset all odds by beating Brazil. My prize was getting a free haircut, which I relished that summer. P- can’t cut hair but he can make drinks. Hmmmm.