ELMORE FIELD – You’re trapped, soccer haters. Sure, it’s a manic Monday at Wimbledon, baseball is slogging along, but you don’t really care about that and can’t work up any honest emotions over Carmelo Anthony. The World Cup has squeezed everything else out…at least for one more day, when our surprising National Team takes on The Phlems, and now all the places we usually lunch at on Tuesday require reservations tomorrow.
Sorry, but I’m going to pile on here with a little more soccer talk on this site, and I look forward to your vitriol in the comments (unless, like the Belgians, you don’t call me anything and just ignore me).
In 1977, the year Pele retired from soccer and the Cosmos were drawing 70,000 to their games, tiny Hartwick College, from my tiny hometown of Oneonta in upstate New York, won the NCAA Division I college championship. A national title, for a liberal arts school that maybe counted sixteen hundred students, if that. They had a sniff of it in the bicentennial year before, and this year the Warriors went undefeated and romped through the tournament, which had an opening round field of 24 that included huge schools like UCLA, Penn St., Cal, and Clemson (while, admittedly, also including places with names like SIU Edwardsville, Philadelphia Textile, and Brown). In the Final they beat the two-time defending champ San Francisco, 2-1 in a controversial and toughly fought defensive battle in the opponent’s backyard, Berkeley, 3000 miles away from our radios (you think this game was on TV back then?). Freshman keeper Aly Anderson, a name I remember to this day, became a hero with nine big saves. A tough loss for the Dons, who out shot the Warriors 24-10, but for Hartwick’s players, they were reportedly “smug” in victory, saying it wasn’t even their best game.
Who were these guys? It would be years before I learned that many of key players were actually from overseas, recruited by their brilliant young coach Jim Lennox, who would coach Hartwick for 25 years, over thirteen tournament appearances and five final fours to go with that national title (and would later coach young national players like Cobi Jones and Kasey Keller on the US U-20 team). To ten year old me, they were cooler than the Fonz. I rarely share this, but the Bucky Dent home run game the next year? I didn’t see it, because a buddy (who would one day play for Hartwick and Lennox) asked if I wanted to take his place as ball boy at the game that day, and I jumped at the chance before realizing that the two events took place at the same time (and thus why my buddy had suckered me like a 70’s soccer Tom Sawyer). Still, it was the only time I got to be down there on famous Elmore Field–which is atop a hill overlooking a wildfire of fall color in the valley below–with Anderson and these guys, and at every break they’d play Phil Rizzuto’s call of the game over the loudspeakers. I didn’t hear the Dent call, but I did hear what turned out to be Reggie’s decisive shot in the eighth and Nettles catching Yaz’s foul pop to end it. I think the Wick won that day as well.
My original point when I started this was a half-baked comparison to this year’s Team USA squad, which too is made up of many foreign born players. People are still talking about Landon Donovan’s being snubbed, and many of the old guard – Bruce Arena, Alexei Lalas, most fans, and Donovan himself – have had to concede a visibly grudging appreciation for Klinsmann’s German engineering (I wonder what Lennox thinks?). Soccer has made exponential leaps in the States since 1977, and yet maybe things haven’t changed that much after all…and the cheesy end to this post is some reflection of ten-year-olds today not caring where their team’s players were born, as long as they win, then they’ll be cooler than the Fonz. I just hope they don’t jump any sharks anytime soon.
Tune in tomorrow for a fellow futbol fan, Walter “Grinding Ax” Hynes, tomorrow.