Look, no matter how you present the scenario, this is all still weird for American sports fans, who are used to a “win or go home” mentality. The very fact that the United States men’s national team could look so dreadful in its World Cup match against Germany Thursday yet is cause for celebration is a difficult outcome for many to wrap their provincial heads around. Lose and advance? It just doesn’t compute for the majority.
But as the clock ticked away, with the U.S. losing to Germany, 1-0, and Portugal beating Ghana, 2-1, Team USA had sealed its own fate; an escape from the “Group of Death,” much to the delight of thousands who gathered at Boston’s City Hall Plaza to watch the game on the big screen.
What’s really more of an upset; the US moving on to the Group of 16, or the fact that Bostonians could actually gather together and witness a real, live sporting event, much like other fine cites throughout the country manage on a normal basis?
“Some people get exuberant have a few and act up, and you know, this is a sport, and a lot of families who like to watch sports bring kids, and I wouldn’t want to send the wrong message to anyone.”
Those are the words of former Mayor Thomas M. Menino explaining why the city of Boston would not entertain the thought of holding a party at the TD Garden, where fans could have watched Game 7 of the Bruins-Canucks Stanley Cup final in 2011, just as Vancouver hosted for Game 6 when the Bruins and Canucks played in Boston.
Whatever. It’s not like Avicii was playing during intermissions.
But there was a viewing party on Thursday at City Hall Plaza - the same City Hall Plaza once deemed unsafe for championship rallies after the Patriots celebrated there in 2002. The same City Hall Plaza that once welcome back Ray Bourque and his Stanley Cup for whatever reason. The same City Hall Plaza that has hosted dozens of high-profile concerts, food festivals, and circus acts not relating to the politics inside since. The same one where a few thousand landed Thursday afternoon to take in a soccer game with their fellow Americans, fans, and colleagues sneaking off for an extended lunch. They were dressed in red, white, and blue. They had flags draped across their shoulders. They led chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A,” and “I believe that we will win.” A few dozen children - freshly released from the rigors of daily school life - set up folding chairs in the first few rows and soaked in the first memories of their summer vacation.
Not to sound overly simplistic, but the whole thing was…well, cool.
The voices of ESPN’s Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman boomed throughout the plaza, filtering through the “oohs,” “ahhs,” and a presumed “what just happened?” or two. There was angst when Germany scored the only goal of the game, early in the second half, a sense of relief when noting what was happening in the Portugal-Ghana game, and the knowledge that things would have to unravel 52 different ways in order for the US not to advance. And even amidst the frustration that resulted as the US failed to score in its best chance during extra time, the message was clear, even in defeat.
“We good,” one fan kept repeating to nobody in particular. “We good.”
The crowd cheered the loss. The fans high-fived each other and waved tiny American flags as a few of the kids in the front few rows jumped up and down with excitement. Then, a funny thing happened. Everyone either lingered around for a bit, or quietly left, back to work, home, for a stroll along the Freedom Trail, or wherever. They disposed of their trash and filed in different directions, happy in defeat, content in the company. Incidents were rare, if there were any.
Menino did also host a World Cup viewing party at the plaza back in 2006, but such gatherings were indeed something that the former mayor shied away from at various intervals of his time in office. The “Rolling Rally” as we know it was the offshoot of his noting that a large gathering of fans at City Hall was too dangerous for a traditional rally, including interaction between team and fans. But “Boston Calling,” the city’s recent slate of concerts at the plaza, has gone off without a hitch, as has the latest sports gathering. Granted, it didn’t attract as many fans as a Stanley Cup Game 7 might fetch, but these were situations in which Menino seemed to balk more often than not over his final decade in office.
Mayor Marty Walsh has seemed more open in that regard, perhaps bristling at suggestions that Boston can’t be considered a world-class cities because of certain limitations. Late-night transportation? Later closing hours for bars and restaurants? Viewing parties? Walsh isn’t afraid to tinker with the norm, even as he needs to have a keen acknowledgement of security for every new wrinkle he suggests. Let’s just not get crazy and slide this success into some nonsensical Olympic discussion, OK?
The US finished the “Group of Death” with a 1-1-1 record. They move on to face Belgium, as we bunker down for a few days worth of jokes about waffles, beer, and The Smurfs being inferior. The Americans lost, and Boston celebrated, frankly, for more reason than just the game.