Even in the U.S., soccer is unifying
ALBANY I started my day on Monday by listening to some genius call Martin Kaymer a Nazi.
It’s the kind of moment that gets me humming “I’m-proud to-be an-American.” Like, really sarcastically.
Morning talk radio, always a bad idea, was going through the weekend sports, and the “talent” never referred to Kaymer by name, but did call him a Nazi and a hygiene device with the casualness of someone who comfortably makes a good living off snark.
Kaymer’s dual crimes were being German and not letting anyone get close to his score on top of the U.S. Open leaderboard for pretty much the duration of the tournament.
Sooo … Nazi.
“I’m-proud to-be an-American …”
It went all uphill from there.
By 6 p.m., I was singing the national anthem — loudly, proudly, badly — with a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at a German beer hall. I never sing the national anthem, and I mean never.
This was different, and an excellent example of how soccer, at least World Cup soccer, can be a unifying force in a country where plenty of people still scoff at the most popular sport in the world.
Wolff’s Biergarten seemed like a logical destination on Monday because Germany and Portugal were playing at noon, and U.S.A.-Ghana was at 6. Nice call.
I arrived at 11:30 a.m. to make sure I got a spot at the bar, and that became protected ground for the next eight-plus hours. At first, my phone and beer were enough to ward off invaders during bathroom/brat breaks; later, the little sub-community of newfound friends within the throng guarded this precious spot of turf.
I rooted for Germany against Portugal because I have some German blood in me, but mostly because it seemed to be in the Americans’ best interests if Germany spanked Portugal hard.
And they did. Germany won, 4-0, and as a bonus, Pepe got a red card and will have to sit out Portugal’s game against the U.S. on Sunday.
This all came to the delight of a large group of Germany fans, one of whom showed up in one of those Lucha Libre pro wrestling masks that are popular in Mexico, but in the yellow, black and red of Deutschland.
Reminiscent of a night at the Quays in Galway, Ireland, I soon became acquainted with strangers around me. Our table to watch the Irish national team in the 2008 Rugby World Cup eventually collected a father and son from Australia, three Galway lasses and a young Scandinavian couple.
This time, all American, of course, to watch the U.S. play Ghana.
The only person I knew in the whole place was former Siena star point guard Ronald Moore (in town after playing for JuveCaserta of the Italian League), who told me he’s not a soccer fan but knows a good time when he sees one.
Was he ever right.
We had barely caught our breath from having belted out the anthem when Clint Dempsey scored 30 seconds into what turned out to be a bizarrely choreographed game from a scoring standpoint.
What ensued was over 80 minutes of Ghana possessing the ball while the U.S. could barely put more than two passes together. Eighty minutes of this nail-biting.
A dull thud dropped on us once Ghana tied it in the 82nd minute, then Johnny Brooks’ header turned Wolff’s Biergarten into a Boeing 747 engine, it was so loud. By then, everybody was sweaty and giddy and nearly hoarse.
True red-white-and-blue everywhere, including face paint and plenty of dudes wearing Old Glory as Superman capes.
I’m really uncomfortable with some of the jingoism you often see in support of the U.S.A. I’m talking about the hollow posturing and mindless displays of nationalism.
It really bugged me in 2005 to overhear a woman, upon seeing a TV news update about terrorist subway bombings in London, sniff at the report with disdain because “we” had lost so many more lives than that in 9-11. Like there was a scoreboard. U-S-A, U-S-A!
The spirit at Wolff’s, though, was overwhelming and infectious, and in all the good ways. It was just a soccer game.
Wolff’s let the German fans go nuts for a few seconds when their game ended around 2, then immediately commandeered the airspace by blasting “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen.
That was followed by another hit from a group known for its overt nationalism, the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”.
We fought for that inalienable right, held our ground and won the day.
It brings a tear.
I’ve never felt so patriotic.