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It's OK To Root For USA Because This Is Soccer

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The World Cup provides a rare opportunity to ... yell ‘USA! USA!’ And not feel like a jerk.
Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated, June 2014


There are very few things Americans can all agree on these days. The disappointment, shock and frustration following Portugal's equalizer at the 94:35 minute mark of Sunday's 2-2 World Cup match was felt universally across the United States.

Move over "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29." Sunday, we got "Portugal Topples USA 2-2."

Kissing your sister? This must feel like marrying your cousin. The good news, the Americans are still alive in the "Group of Death" after the 2-2 loss tie.

Our men's national soccer team has turned this nation into a bunch of soccer-loving, jingoistic, flag-waving fools. Or so we've been told.

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And all those "USA! USA! USA!" chants are a good thing once again.

Rooting for America without reservation in any international sporting competition was once the norm. Jesse Owens against the Nazis. Joe Louis against Max Schmeling. Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione and Friends against the Soviets in 1980.

But the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles changed that. Ronald Reagan was president, en route to winning re-election 525-13 in the Electoral College. The Soviets and their puppet nations were boycotting The Games. The Chinese had yet to load up on 8-year-old gymnasts and athletic chemical enhancements. Michael Jordan led the all-collegiate Team USA basketball squad. Carl Lewis raced up and down the track. Mary Lou Retton won over a generation with her unlikely gymnast's build and never-ending backflips.

The only real question that summer was how much free food were we going to scam from those McDonald's cards that awarded fries, burgers or drinks with each USA medal. It was a glorious time..

That infamous McDonald's promotion is widely considered one of the most financially disastrous in American marketing history.

A similar promotion nearly crippled the "Krusty Burger" franchise. The fake fast-food chain featured on Fox's animated hit "The Simpsons" lost $44 million after Krusty Burger was named "The Official Meat-Flavored Sandwich of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games." In the wake of his company's marketing disaster, Krusty the Clown vowed to "spit" on every 50th burger he sold.

Those Olympics were considered a cartoon parody by many critics. Team USA needless to say, smote the competition. For many Americans, their worst sporting red, white and blue nightmare had come to pass. Americans wildly cheering for Team USA as its crushed those poor nations who dared to show up. Meanwhile, millions loaded up on free fast food, waved the flag non-stop and wallowed in America's unmatched success.

The horror.

"Oh, what we've done to the Olympics," wrote the legendary Frank Deford in Sports Illustrated at the time. "God only knows what the 2.5 billion people around the globe who are watching the games will think of a vain America, so bountiful and strong, with every advantage, including the home court, reveling in the role of Goliath, gracelessly trumpeting its own good fortune while rudely dismissing its guests."

The same sentiments resurfaced in Barcelona. But this time, the Ugly Americans were basketball players who stomped all over their hosts, along with anyone else in their way. The 1992 Dream Team was undoubtedly the most-talented and greatest grouping of athletes in the history of team sport. That original Dream Team of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Jordan and others has been rightly lionized.

They remain the best ever. At the time, basketball fans in Barcelona were mobbing the players whereever they went and witnessing history. Americans at home, however, were once again being guilt-tripped into being embarrassed by success.

They can't win by that many points.

Barkley was hammered for his antics against Angola. Jordan was soundly ripped for not wanting to rep Reebok during the closing ceremonies. More so than that, it was a little unseemly that these American professionals got to play in the Olympics.

It just wasn't fair.

The rest of the world has covered a lot of ground when it comes to matching up with the U.S. in basketball since 1992. The last two Olympic "Dream Teams" struggled in their gold-medal games. The Americans trailed Spain by just two points with 8:13 to play in 2008 and hung on to beat the Spaniards 107-100 in 2012. It's gotten fair.

Since 1984, anyone who has openly rooted for the "USA! USA!" to amass the most medals in the Olympics, assemble the best players and prevail in every athletic endeavor possible, or wave the flag when it comes to sports have been condemned by those who determine cultural norms as a boob, fool or near-neanderthal.

They are a little more forgiving for Americans in the Winter Olympics. That's partly because the USA is rarely a favorite to dominate when it comes to marquee events like downhill skiing, ice hockey and women's figure skating. The figure skating judging also carries a reputation for being strategically suspect.

Patriotic displays before sporting events in the United States are far too often vilified as "jingoistic" and/or unnecessary. There often is not a more solemn and depressing place inside a stadium, arena or ballpark than the press box during the National Anthem. In the post-9/11 era as this country fought [rightly or wrongly] two wars, the rise in patriotism surrounding sporting events was often derided.

Salon magazine noted in 2012 in an article aptly titled "Don't Chant 'USA! USA!'":

"Our Olympic victories — and celebrations of those wins — then (wrongly) convince us of our ongoing superiority, while robbing those weaker nations of any wins that might give them a fleeting feeling of self-empowerment or sovereignty against us. In other words, we are further distracted, and they further emasculated by us militarily, economically, geopolitically and, every four years, athletically. And so the cycle continues…"
Salon.Com, Aug. 1, 2012

Where rooting for America over the rest of the world was considered xenophobic, gluttonous and gauche just two years ago, now we're being told it's OK to root for the United States and and be wildly unapologetic about it.

This World Cup has been refreshingly different. We will like soccer this time around, whether we like it or not, the directive goes. It's much like the metric system four decades ago. Regular folks rooting for the USA en masse while waving flags this time is just fine.

Let's hope that trend continues when the world gathers again in Rio 26 months from now for the 2016 Olympics.

This World Cup has been mostly a joy to watch, especially on Univision. There, the cadence of the announcers, the music and even the tempo of the commercials provide a festive atmosphere. Do I know much of what they're saying? No. But does it really matter? When Portugal tied it, the expletives coming from the couch were enough.

In the above-cited "longform" piece from Sports Illustrated's website, Chris Ballard details a life-time affection for soccer and his various trips to the World Cup. While writing about the USA win over Ghana, he offered the following:

"They chant “Gha-na-na-na, Gha-na-na-na, hey-hey, Goodbye!” In the stands, we lock arms as the national anthem plays, just like Eric and I did back in France, only now we’re amid both friends and a horde of Americans wearing flags for capes and holding aloft inflatable Uncle Sams. The chills resurface, despite the balmy air, for there is nothing quite like hearing your anthem abroad. You can hear it thousands of times at home, before every NBA and MLB game, and it becomes part of a routine. But to hear it played thousands of miles from home, in some strange city, before a World Cup match? If that doesn’t make you feel something, then you’re not human."

“Gha-na-na-na, Gha-na-na-na, hey-hey, Goodbye!”

American fans whose team is in the "Group of Death" mocking the "Black Stars."

The Sensitivity Police must be on strike. Where is the U.S.Patent Office and Trademark Court when we need it?

Some of us are stodgy, unsophisticated and clumsy enough to feel chills when the National Anthem is played "abroad" in places like New York, Miami or St. Petersburg [Fla.], too. At Tropicana Field, the National Anthem and the occasional rendition of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch is about the only thing the last-place Rays get right when it comes to decorum and class.

Bostonians everywhere know that you do not need to go all the way to Brazil to feel chills during the National Anthem.

[Always look for an excuse to run this clip. Still hard to believe the Bruins lost that game.]

And just imagine if Ballard had written that his "chills" resurfaced during the red, white and blue display prior to Sunday's NASCAR race in Sonoma, Calif.?

He would be stripped of his Sports Illustrated badge, suspended with pay for a month and shipped off to the nearest Ivy League campus for "Nationalistic Re-Education."

Not only has Sports Illustrated stoked the fires of good-old "USA! USA!" sports patriotism, it has also blessed us with stunning visuals such as this:

Looks more like "Group DD" to me.

A photo gallery of random female fans? How did this escape the censors? But this is futbol, not football. This it is both very OK and not offensive to anyone.

Americans are watching these World Cup games at group viewing parties across the nation, waving flags and cheering with glee whenever their country scores. Boston's House of Blues was packed on Sunday when members of Revolution hosted a watch party for the USA-Portugal game.

That's a wonderful trend that we saw earlier this year during the Winter Olympics at places like "Stats In Southie" whenever the USA men's hockey team took the ice.

Nary a critical word has surfaced about his behavior. Thankfully. We can root for the United States as a team again.

And those "fan" photos?

They keep coming, too.

Chants of "USA! USA!" Flag-waving fans. Hot chicks.

This soccer thing might catch on after all.

The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Hit him up on his Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page, on Twitter @realOBF or at his
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. Thanks always for reading and pass the clicker.


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