It's been four years since anyone really cared about soccer in America, so that means it must be time for the World Cup!
Will the US soccer team be able to compete with the big boys and bring home the.....I guess it's a cup? I don't know, but did you care last week or the week before?
I know what you're going to say because you're one of those American soccer fans that goes to the niche soccer bars and chants European songs as you watch whatever big game happens to be on the tube on whatever given night.
However, I'm not referring to you. I'm talking about the rest of us who didn't really care about soccer last week, but who are now suddenly overcome with national pride, as the United States gets set to take on Portugal in its second game after knocking off Ghana, 2-1, in the opening round.
What was the record-setting number the US/Ghana game drew for the World Wide Leader? Eleven million viewers.
Hey, great for the game of soccer (and ESPN), but you know, there was a 49ers/Packers wildcard playoff game on Fox that drew 47 million viewers this past January, and there wasn't any national pride involved (unless you're talking about 49ers and Packers pride, and Harbaugh lovers and Cheesehead wearers).
Why am I saying all of this? Is it to dis the great sport of soccer? Not really. It's to assure my fellow Americans (and my fellow football fans) that it's OK to love the NFL (and of course, college football, if that's your thing). It's OK to love all things (American) football, if you do, in fact, love the sport. You know why? It's our national pastime, that's why.
Despite what some of your snobby American friends tell you, and despite our international brethren reminding us time and time again that their version of football is way more popular than ours world-wide, it's perfectly fine that we are in-love with the American version, and that it's our favorite sport.
Why must we pretend every four years, just to appease the rest of the world, or to pacify some sort of guilt that we collectively may have about not loving soccer the way most other countries do?
Would it be cool if we somehow won the World Cup? Maybe in a "hey, neat, I got to meet the guy who played Al Bundy" kind of way, but probably not in a totally passionate way.
See, there's a difference between neat and passion. Those folks in England, Brazil and Argentina? They're passionate about soccer, and if their country wins the World Cup, man, it's going to stoke their flames, and they'll have memories that will last a lifetime.
But in America, we think soccer is neat and cool, and when we say we love the sport and try to convince ourselves that a World Cup title would be a huge achievement, it's like when Clark Griswald tries to convince his wife that Christie Brinkley is ugly in National Lampoon's Vacation.
If you're an NFL fan, and you have a team you're passionate about, you know what your version of the World Cup is, and that's the Super Bowl, a game that's played every February (not every fifth June). And when your team wins, you are filled with just as much pride as a Brazilian soccer fan.
Again, would the World Cup be a huge achievement for America? Of course it would, but just not as big of an achievement as a Steelers seventh Lombardi trophy (at least in Pittsburgh).
And that brings me back to those die-hard American soccer fans that watch games in those designated bars and act really happy when Chelsea or Manchester United wins the English Premier League (I hope I didn't offend anyone by not mentioning Liverpool). My question is, when those fans are celebrating their victories, who else is joining in? There can't be much civic pride felt in the air at the corner of Carson and 18th street after a Chelsea victory.
My guess is, if you walk down the streets of Pittsburgh's South Side neighborhood screaming "Chelsea!" 14 women might turn their heads to look at you, but they're not going to know you're talking about a soccer club.
However, the next time the Steelers win a playoff game, you'll be able to celebrate that victory with the neighbor next door, your dentist, the woman who cuts your hair, and they'll all know what you mean when you say, "Whoooo, Steeler Nation!"
If you're an NFL fan, you likely know all about The Immaculate Reception, the Sea of Hands, The Catch, and the Harrison Hundred, but the only person who will know about The Header (my made up name for the play involving the guy who scored the winning goal against Ghana the other day) will be the player who scored the goal (and maybe his mom).
Do you think Brazil or London cares that America doesn't count soccer as its national pastime? Does anyone in America care that Brazil or London doesn't count the NFL has its national pastime? (OK, maybe Roger Goodell cares.)
As a country, let's not be ashamed of who we are. We're (American) football fans, and we should be damned proud of it!
Now, go on and finish watching the neat little World Cup. We only have about a month to go before we can express our passion about the start of NFL training camp.