Watching Sports on TV

Messi and Teammates Celebrating After World Cup Victory

I woke up too late on Sunday morning to watch all of the Argentina-France World Cup Final. But I did see the second half, followed by the two overtime periods and the penalty kicks. And that hour and a half or so was the most exciting sports event I ever saw on television.

Now that pretty much everyone has weighed in on the game and Lionel Messi’s triumph and Kylian Mbappé’s stoic loss, I thought I would say a few words about the act of watching sports event. I am uniquely qualified inasmuch as I rarely watch sports events and have no clearcut team identification in any sport. Moreover, when I was growing up, my father would get so teed off when one of the Cleveland teams lost—and in those years they lost with amazing frequency—that I would have to go into hiding to avoid the paternal wrath.

It is only recently that I have come to love watching two types of sports events which, coincidentally, occur at four-year intervals. I am referring to World Cup Football (men and women) and the Summer Olympics. (The Winter Olympics—Meh!.) I have little interest in baseball, which typically involves a few minutes (if any) of intense action stretched out over several hours. American football, to me, is characterized by lots of starts and stops, followed after the so-called two-minute warning, by another hour or so of play.

Basketball has a lot of action, but there’s a lot of starts and stops there, too, as if the sport were devised with advertisers in mind. As for hockey, I find it too hard to follow the puck across the ice. All I see is the mayhem.

Only soccer football has continuous action, except for times when a player is injured or pretends to be injured. The final on Sunday built up to a pitch of excitement such that I have never experienced with any other sport. There was so much skill spread among so many players that it was a pity that someone had to lose. I would have been equally happy for either France or Argentina to win the game.

The Other Football

Argentine Footballers Celebrating After Scoring Against Poland

Yesterday, I watched the World Cup match between Argentina and Poland. Unlike most viewers, there are a whole lot of teams I like. I realize that the United States is still new at this game and can be upset by the likes of Liechtenstein or Moldova. A generation from now, I suspect that what we call soccer will be more prevalent, if for no other reason that parents won‘t want their sons growing up brain-damaged like Herschel Walker.

In yesterday’s game, I liked both Argentina (as I’ve visited their country three times) and Poland (because I’m Eastern European myself). Argentina won the game 2-0, but both Argentina and Poland advanced to the quarter finals. I think it was because the sum of the team members’ jersey sizes was a prime number.

The announcers kept talking about how surreal the end of the game was because so many teams were still in play, irrespective of their win/loss standings. Also considered in the standings were scores for remembering to say “please” and “thank you”; the number of syllables in the first stanza of their respective national anthems; the teams’ overall dental hygiene; and how well the teams could pronounce the name of the country they were in. (I think the latter is something like “Catarrh”, no?)

Argentina dominated the game, but the poles had one real hero in their goalie, Wojciech Szczesny. (Gesundheit!) For the entire first half, he batted away everything the Argentinians could throw at him, including soccer balls, off-color epithets, and one extremely rusted steam locomotive. Only in the second period did two goals get by him.

The Star of the Polish Team: Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny

Although soccer football does have its problems, such as the higher mathematics involved in calculating who gets to move on to the quarter finals and the treatment of draws. In American sports, there are a lot of stops and starts to allow for advertisers to plug their products and services. Soccer football games stop only for injuries, and then they add a mysterious number of make-up minutes after the regulation ninety minutes. I guess Americans will just have to get used to all that intensity and uncertainty. The rest of the world seems to have.