We're all born bandwagon fans. We're born without loyalties, and without any sense of obligation to one team or another. Your dad might dress you up in a ROLL TIDE onesie, but that doesn't automatically make you a rabid devotee to the cause. We all begin our relationship with sports casually. There's always that initial "Hey, what's this?" stab of curiosity, brought about by a parent liking the sport, or everyone in town watching the team, or a team uniform you like when you saw it on TV, or your being a Cowboys fan and a terrible person. There is an entry point to sports, and that entry is usually clumsy and sometimes half-hearted.
And then there is a moment of real pain, and your introduction is over. You've cut your hand and shaken hands with fellow fans with cuts hands and now it's IMPORTANT. That's how sports reels you in and spends a lifetime fucking you over.
Which brings us to yesterday. I have been told that a draw was good. I've seen the charts. I've seen all the estimated percentages for advancement. And you know what? It doesn't make me feel any better, because I wanted to win THAT game. I wanted to sit there as the 95th minute ticked off and tweet a picture of Hacksaw Jim Duggan as a formal expression of nationalistic happiness. And that wet bag of shit Varela STOLE that precious moment from me and my children, who would not shut the fuck up during the entire USA-Portugal match. Half the time, my oldest kid screamed out "YAY PORTUGAL" because she thought trolling America was funny. It was not an optimal viewing experience.
Soccer bandwagoning is a tricky thing, because many Americans dislike soccer and don't WANT it to flourish, and because many soccer fanboys are like vinyl enthusiasts who don't want you, Mr. Mouthbreather, acting like you're into this shit when they've been into it for YEARS. You're faking your soccer orgasm! You're not pleasing anyone by getting into this. You should only get into because it's worth it to you personally, because it's gone from passing interest to something that's begun to take root. I'm not faking it when I tell you that endgame sucked as much as any bad loss my favorite NFL team has endured. (There have been many.) All the hallmarks of crushing irritation were there: early distress, the fear your team will never be good enough to catch up, the fear your team will never be good enough to keep a lead if it somehow got one, the occasional moments of glory (Hey! We're better than these assholes!), and the final awful defensive lapse that fucks you over just as you were preparing to celebrate.
I've experienced all of that before, and it is unpleasant. And yet, it's fun to care. It's also fun to care about something new, to know that potential is still within you. You get to get age 37 and life has piled enough shit on top of you that you wonder if you can get it up for sports—for ANYTHING—the way you used to. And when you can, it's both surprising and reassuring. This is why I enjoyed yesterday's thrilling draw with Portugal even while I truly, genuinely hated the result. This is how the transition works. Without bandwagon fans, you can't have diehards. We all start somewhere, and I'm probably not alone in dying anew many times this past week. This is how you bandwagon: not for show, but because you're searching for something meaningful.
A few more notes from yesterday:
- You can win a World Cup without ever scoring a goal in regulation. It's true. I did the math in my head and everything. You go 0-0-3 and you can still make it to the next round if the other teams in your group go 2-0-1, 0-1-2, and 0-1-2. And then, when you get to the knockout round, you just sit there like a bunch of assholes and try to force four straight overtime shootouts. You could even take your 10 non-goalkeeper guys, bind their hands behind their backs, and park their asses in front of the goal. (I don't think anyone has ever pulled this off, though I'm sure England has tried.) But of course you wouldn't do this because everyone would hate you and want you killed. Soccer people can be annoying, but they want the same things you want: exciting gameplay, frequent attacks, and if not scoring, at least many valiant attempts to score. There are lousy soccer games just as there are lousy baseball and football games, but many observers will take those boring examples and extrapolate them onto the entire sport, which is unfair. Some teams try, man. You watch sports with the trust that the participants will either be honorable enough or bored enough to get around to trying.
- I am like any other American in that when things go wrong, I need someone to blame. That's you, Michael Bradley. I don't know you very well, but fuck you. It seems like our shittiest players are the ones I vaguely knew prior to this tournament. I say we cut all these GLORY BOYS in favor of no-name gym rats I've never heard of who lead the World Cup in grit.
- The best part of yesterday's game was when Jermaine Jones nailed the tying goal (THE EQUALIZER, STARRING EDWARD WOODWARD) and the Portuguese goalkeeper didn't even move. He just stood like there, frozen. I could keep a goal like that.
- Every American sporting event should be called by Ian Darke or some equally British commentator who will gladly heap disdain upon poor reffing and flopping dicks. Darke presided over the U.S. squad like an obedience school teacher watching your dachshund roll over on command for the first time. JOLLY GOOD SHOW! When Portugal evened the game, he said with great regret, "Oh, it was the last thing that happened," and he sounded like a sad grandpa when he said it. It made it that much more painful. I'm sorry we let Ian Darke down.
- At one point, Darke also noted that he thought Portugal might have more fans in the stands because of their shared history with Brazil. Who would have guessed that Brazilians weren't so warm and friendly toward their former captors?
- I still barely know anything about soccer strategy, but I remember during the Ghana game, Bradley got shit for not taking the ball to the "corner flag," and so I put that into my rooting vocabulary. When we got to the end of the match, I was like CORNER FLAG! CORNER FLAG THAT BITCH! I totally know what that means now. You gotta burn that clock. You gotta corner flag that shit.
- I know U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann claimed he wouldn't collude with Germany to orchestrate a tie on Thursday that would allow both teams to move on to the next round, but come on now: You don't have to formally collude to come to an unspoken agreement. Watch any NFL preseason game for an example of this. You pull your guys in a preseason game and the other coach will likely pull his, unless that coach is Steve Spurrier. It's anti-American not to TRY to win at all times, but in sports we cheat those ideals all the time. Football teams rest starters before the playoffs. Pitchers get shut down. Basketball teams start trying only when the playoffs begin. You compromise your sports morals for the greater good. I'm sure Germany and the U.S. will come out LOOKING competitive next week, and then when it's 0-0 with 20 minutes left, they'll just keep the façade going until we've been bored into triumph, and then we can all go tweet pictures of Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
Drew Magary writes for Deadspin. He's also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at email@example.com. You can also order Drew's book, Someone Could Get Hurt, through his homepage.