Picks keep on coming for soccer neophyte
I have become the person I detest every March.
I am the secretary in accounting who makes her NCAA Tournament picks based on team colors and mascots, then wins the thing. I am the know-nothing who earns the burning enmity of the people who followed college basketball obsessively all season by embarrassing them in the office pool.
That's me with the speckled ball. Suddenly I'm the wizard of World Cup prognostication. The accidental savant of soccer. The pope of the pitch -- and the proof is in the pick'em pages of this very Web site.
Through Tuesday's games, my entry (Use Your Hands) was in the 99th percentile in the ESPN.com Germany Cup Pick'em fantasy game. That's down from my standing Sunday night in the 100th percentile, when I ranked in the top 200 of the roughly 100,000 entries from across the globe.
Borrowing from the Michael Davies lexicon, I have no pants at all. I am naked below the waist.
In other words, I rule.
I have remained humbly quiet about my mastery of all things futbol until now. I can hide my brilliance no longer. When it comes to predicting how this soccer tournament will turn out, I can bend it like Beckham, torque it like Torres and shake it like Schweinsteiger. (Or whatever it is Schweinsteiger is doing out there for the Germans.)
This might surprise some of my friends. OK, all of my friends.
They're aware that before the World Cup began, I didn't know Ronaldo from Geraldo or a striker from Steve Stricker. They know that I've rarely had a kind word to say about this vastly inferior form of football.
Last time I remember feeling truly involved in a match was the last time I played in one. I was 9.
That was back during the First Soccer Boom, in the mid-1970s. I grew up across the street from a soccer field and watched the cars flow in and snarl up the road several nights a week, and I heard the buzz: We were told, in excited tones, that we'd fall in love with The Beautiful Game. We'd forget we ever heard of football or baseball or basketball. Footie was the Next Big Thing.
The Second Soccer Boom supposedly coincided with the United States playing host to the World Cup in 1994. The heathen Americans would join the rest of the world at last.
The Third Soccer Boom allegedly was touched off when Our Endearing and Enduring Pony-Tailed Title IX Babies won the women's Olympic gold medal in 1996 and then the World Cup in '99. They would lead us out of the darkness.
That's a lot of booms that never made a peep.
American moms and dads have purchased a lot of shin guards and sliced a lot of oranges in the last 30 years, but that has not translated into a paradigm shift in sporting preference in this country. Soccer moms have become a much bigger force in American culture than soccer itself.
I have remained among the unswayed. I attended a World Cup game in Chicago in '94 and enjoyed covering the U.S. women's team during the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. Neither experience transformed me.
Seeking some insight and inspiration this time around, I asked my childhood friend Martin what he likes about the sport. He's the son of Swiss immigrants, and he's a former player himself. (I used to enjoy sitting on the porch on spring evenings and listening to Martin's dad, Chris, howl in teutonic-tinged frustration at the clueless American adolescents he coached on that field across the street. "Vat," Chris would holler at his players, "are you doing?")
This was Martin's take, via e-mail: "The thing I love about professional soccer is the contrast of the play. A big part of it is the chess-like nature of the game (you can call it boring) broken up by some unbelievably athletic bang-bang-bang goals. And near misses. And great saves. For me, it's baseball meets football in terms of play. It's like watching a pitchers' duel when all of a sudden Elway is on the field dodging a blitzing safety and then throwing downfield 50 yards for a TD. And maybe it's that contrast that does it for me. It's that tension of when is that next unbelievable goal going to happen. I love the World Cup. Where else do Switzerland and Togo get together?"
Agreed, anything that brings Switzerland and Togo together cannot be all bad. So in the spirit of the event, and in an effort to force-feed the Cup to myself, I entered the pick'em contest.
I put in a solid 5-10 minutes picking the first 49 games. No use sweating over guesswork. (Japan-Croatia? When in doubt, pick a draw.)
Then I went on vacation, left the laptop at home and promptly forgot every pick I made. When I got home and logged on Sunday night, I found out I owned the joint.
And you know, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that I've undersold myself. This isn't dumb luck after all. This is a latent genius streak, until now untapped.
So I have some free advice for the Worldwide Leader. Eric Wynalda and Julie Foudy have done fine work as analysts -- but if ESPN wants a true expert riding studio shotgun with Rece Davis for the rest of the World Cup, it's time to corner-kick those two outta there and make room for me.
I wear the pants around here.
Or, in this case, I don't.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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