Saturday, June 17, 2006

Why I Love Sports

I left Cologne yesterday and took a 4 hour train ride to Kaiserslauten. On the trian, I listened to my Ipod and read a travel book on Berlin. I thought about soccer and poker and baseball. My train pulled in to Kaiserslautern around 8:30 PM. I took a taxi to Jason's house and had to wait about 5 minutes before he pulled into the driveway. I came out to meet him and said, "Long time no see! Ready to kick it?" He replied with, "Yeah, let's do it. Today was crazy: Something happened in Iraq and we had 19 patients on the floor today. I'm worn out and need to get some beers."

Suddenly soccer, poker and baseball seemed like dumb things to think about. Jason works as a nurse at an Army hospital in Lanstuhl and treats soldiers that were evacuated from Iraq due to injuries suffered in the war. While he's here in Germany, I'm galavanting around the world, obsessed with sports, and all the while doing nothing of any real significance. It was a very sobering thought and I started to feel indifferent about the US-Italy match. Who cares? It's just a freaking game.

We hit the bars and I tried to express my thoughts to Jason. He rebuffs me and says that he's just doing his job. If he could, he'd be doing what I'm doing. That's why I love soldiers. The "I'm just doing my job" line is so ridiculously humble. "Yeah, I'm just saving lives while putting my own in extreme danger. No biggie."

Fast forward to today, around 3 PM. We're hungover in the streets of Kaiserslautern, among thousands of soccer fans chanting back and forth. The Italians outnumbered the Americans but we still had a good showing, mostly because of the heavy military influence here. I'd say that about half of those wearing red, white and blue had some affiliation to the many Army and Air Force bases nearby. I saw the face paint and I heard them cheering and I started to understand why sports matter. They weren't thinking about the war or the long days ahead of them. They were focused on a soccer match and for the time being it was all that mattered. I saw the excitement in Jason's eyes and I began to get fired up.

At 8:45 PM, Jason gets a phone call from two people in his squad. They have 2 extra tickets and want to know if we'd like to go to the game. Uh, yeah? We're about a mile from the stadium and sprint the whole way to meet them. I was full of sausage and potatoes but I ran faster than I have in a long time. We make it into the stadium as the National Anthem is ending and the players take the field. The atmosphere is surreal, I can't even begin to describe it, but the emotions of the 3 soldiers I was with struck me more than anything. All I could think about was the war and their jobs and how great it was that they were given this break from the "real world".

Everyone already knows how the game ended. The Nats played their hearts out and earned an incredible tie despite playing 9 on 10 for the entire second half. It was by far the greatest sporting event that I've ever been to and I've been to a lot of them. The Super Bowl this year, The NFC Championship game, Game 3 of the 2004 World Series; none of them come close to what I experienced today. I had tears in my eyes for the last 15 minutes of the game, watching these true American heroes root for our National team to hold off the Italians. It took everything I had to hold back from bursting into tears as we left the stadium chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" with the thousands of other fans and soldiers and Americans. It was definitely one of the greatest feelings of my life.

We beat Italy. We didn't win the game but anyone who watched that game knows we beat their ass. Supposedly, there are no moral victories in sports; Only the results matter. But, if you try to tell me that, try to tell Jason that, try to tell the thousands of Italians who left with hung heads, you'll get a very different answer. We beat Italy and for tonight, for Jason and the groups of soldiers on the streets, it was the most important thing in their lives.

That is why I love sports. Sports have an incredible ability to take our minds off of the stresses of everyday life. Sure, most games aren't as extreme as the World Cup and most stresses aren't as difficult as war, but the moral remains. Tomorrow, when Jason and his friends go back to work they'll be back in the war, but the memories of today will stay with them and make things a little easier. That's why the games matter and that's why I love sports.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

good post...now LET'S JUST WIN, BABY.

Anonymous said...

Wow, very nice entry. My favorite that I can remember. As you know, I'm not much of a US soccer fan, but reading this made feel really good about the game today.

So cool that you got to go. It would have been a shame if you didn't get to a game over there, and what a game to witness.

I actually missed most of the match. Nordberg convinced me to go to Lake Tahoe for the WSOPC. Today was day 2 (I busted), so the game started at the same time the tournament resumed. I caught the last 10min when we got a break.

Sick sick Ghana v Czech game. I wish Ghana and US could both go through.

All the red cards are frustrating. Not just for the US, but in general. I think it's fine that the officials, and FIFA, are trying to keep the action clean, but it sucks that so many players have to miss a game because of it. I think the following game suspension should only be given when their red card action warrants it.

Go Brasil!

|*****|
| CBF |
\___/

Carl

Anonymous said...

Me so jealous. Me green with envy. Me love soldiers too. Except ones that dye their hair blonde and cut it with sheep shears so that they look like a leopard. :)

France got bamboozled aujourd'hui. No credit for goal scored. Zidane sits out next game. Good thing I like Souf Korea so much.

Your disgustingly sick lifestyle is exactly the reason why alot of Americans join the service. A little sacrifice to see people like you live the mother f-ing dream makes it all worthwhile. Fuck the politics, I hope you buy a soldier/airman/sailor/marine a drink whenever you run into them.

Anonymous said...

Great post, a real reminder of both why the World Cup rocks and a good check on our perspective. Hope you continue to have a great time.

-Harlow

John Rankin said...

nice one.

Anonymous said...

Good work, B. When a troop says, "I'm just doing my job," he/she's just telling it like it is, not being modest. Sometimes he's thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?", but mostly it's a job, and somebody has to do it.

See if you can look up Larry Stone's article on Bloomquist and Ellison from last Friday's ST. Award level journalism about another positive aspect of sports.

Watching Putz strike out Barry Balco Friday and Sunday was also sweet; and watching Moyer, who gave up Barry's 11th HR (!!) in '86, strike him out twice was ice cream. Nice weekend for the good guys.

Otis said...

Holy cow, man. What a great post. You are something else, bud.

TitoSantana said...

Beautiful, inspiring blog write up. Brandon, I have submitted "why I love sports" to Readers Digest and Sporting news magazine. Let me know if you have a problem with me doing it. I think your story was beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes to read it. And im not the type whos getsl like that. Thanks brother, god bless. GO USA!