MORRISSEY: World Cup last chance to convert soccer nonbeliever

Written By BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist Posted: 06/08/2014, 02:33am
Array Brazil's Fred, right, dribbles past Serbia's Branislav Ivanovic on his way to score a goal during a friendly soccer match at the Morumbi stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, June 6, 2014. Brazil is hosting the World Cup soccer tournament that starts June 12. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) ORG XMIT: XAP119

I’m going to try hard this time. I really am. I’m going into the World Cup so open-minded you could drive a Range Rover through my head. Coincidentally, some of you soccer fans have wanted to do just that for years.

But the sport and I are approaching a period of peace during which all the dislike and mistrust of the past will be suspended. We will lay down our arms (not that you can use them in soccer anyway), and we will look at each other as if for the first time, with new eyes.

Plus, I’ll be in Italy during the middle of the World Cup, and no amount of red wine will be able to numb the senses to the soccer fervor there. So there’s that.

I’m going to try to look at the sport the way most of the world looks at it.

I will not look at it and think, ‘‘Gee, another scoreless tie — what are the odds?’’

And soccer will not look at me and think, ‘‘This guy is old, American, intent on NFL world domination and quite likely wearing women’s undergarments.’’

The World Cup starts Thursday when host Brazil takes on Croatia in Sao Paulo. The tournament will last a little more than four weeks, enough time to change minds, hearts and geologic eras.

The door is open to transformation at Casa Morrissey, but this is soccer’s last chance. If it can’t get me this time, it never will.

Indulge me while I go through my litany of complaints, just so you know what the sport is up against. The only thing I don’t like about soccer is soccer. I like the pomp, the circumstance, the fellowship, the passion, the beverage-fueled singing in the stands and the way the sport brings the world together. All good.

The game itself — not so good. Boring, not nearly enough action and too many TV recaps of games that begin, ‘‘In what would be the only goal of the contest . . .’’

I don’t like ESPN ramming the sport down Americans’ throats in the hopes of making more money than it already does. Three soccer highlights in your daily ‘‘SportsCenter’’ top 10 plays of the day, ESPN? A sports impossibility. A six-part series about the U.S. national team as it prepares for the Cup, ESPN? Ridiculous.

OK, I’ll stop.

But before I do, let me present to you soccer-loving Deadspin, which is treating countries as plural in its stories — not ‘‘Chile is beating Australia’’ but ‘‘Chile are beating Australia’’ — presumably because that’s how the British do it. God save us and the queen.

Deep breath.

Peace. Only peace.

Soccer is called ‘‘The Beautiful Game,’’ and I’m going to do my best to see the beauty in it. I should be able to, shouldn’t I? I love sports. I’m not an isolationist. I’ve been all over the world. And these are great athletes. I don’t care whether the U.S. does well in the World Cup. That’s immaterial. If I don’t learn to like the game first, no amount of patriotism will change things.

I have tried in the past, and it hasn’t taken. I once accepted a reader’s offer to take me to a Fire game and show me why I should love his sport. He flew in from New Jersey just to proselytize. Pretty impressive. Didn’t work.

Why might this time be different? I figure if I can get caught up in the international frenzy, I very well could find myself caught up in the games themselves. I find myself inexplicably wanting to get caught up in the games.

I watched English Premier League games this year while exercising and, in a departure, did not change channels right away. That’s progress, friends.

Just a word of warning to the soccer fanatics: Don’t try to shame me into liking your sport. It won’t work, and it won’t make me want to try harder. It will make me want to bar you from using your hands to protect the family jewels during a free kick.

Let’s do this the right way. I watch the games. I feel. I decide.

What are the odds of a conversion? I don’t know. But it’s like enemies sitting down together. At least we’re talking.

And if it doesn’t go well? If soccer still can’t sway me? The World Cup ends July 13, in time for the start of Bears training camp. You know, that other kind of football.

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