Category Archives: Sports

First-World Soap Opera Reduced to Third-World Propaganda?

How wild would it be if something once so fun and inspiring became a rejected afterthought due to all the cynical profit-mongering and slop attached to it?

Publics may finally be getting wise to the fact that the long-term economic benefits of hosting mega-events like the Olympics or the World Cup are usually negligible at best. This is going to mean that fewer democratic countries will make bids for them and the ones that do, like Brazil, will do so in the face of widespread popular opposition. For the Winter Olympics, where thanks to weather and geography, the number of potential hosts is small (and thanks to climate change getting smaller), the problem will be more acute.

Slate: How Come Nobody Wants to Host the Winter Olympics?

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Sports Fans: Your owner will die, or go bankrupt, or lose interest, or get arrested, then you’ll have another one

I try to make this point (and the point in my headline above) to people quite often, but never with such dead-on metaphor:

Owners and sponsors in any context are at best the sausage makers of sports. You don’t want to see them, much less know how they got into a position to buy a team, put astonishing athletes on it and make the tasty meat you, the sports consumer, devour happily. Generally speaking: The less you have to deal with them as a fan, the better. You do not need to see shots of the Kraft family in the box at Patriots games. You do not need to hear owners’ acceptance speeches after winning, or introduce the bowl game as a sponsor, or wheel Michael Vick out in a wheelchair yourself. You don’t care as long as the team competes and the owners and sponsors do not embarrass you for your loyalty to their products.*

*See: Donald Sterling.

From “Nascar, GM, and the average fan:  A new low in corporate sponsorship”

This swimming thing is rough.

It started with … wait, how did it start again?

Ah yes. It started with friends of Mrs. Fall of Because getting her to do what I could not do: Get a bike.

Well, technically they got her to do a sprint triathlon, which mandated getting a bike. They win, I win. Except the triathlon part meant I should go support her for this endeavor, which was fine. Except the going to support her meant that I had to sit through 300 participants for her turn to swim, then (repeat) bike, then (repeat) run.

It was only a couple of hours total, and being my mother’s son (“Mrs. J, your son just scored a goal.”), I brought a book. But still, it was a lot of watching, and idle hands get to thinking, “Hey, I could do that, and it would be fun.” Certainly more fun than watching.

But there was one problem: “Lawrence doesn’t swim.” Through a combination of laziness, avoidance and fear of failure, I never learned to swim even half-way efficiently. I can get from here to there to save my life, but that’s about it. Worse over time my body has associated immersion in water with relaxation — and alcohol. Be it the beach, the pool or the hot tub, when I’m in water I’m there to chill. No exertion. No holding breath even. Perhaps a cocktail. (Worse, I don’t float. Not even dead man’s, not even ball-up-and-rise to the surface. I just sink.)

So what. It’s a 400 meter swim. Surely even I can do that, with practice? That was the thinking last winter. Then came spring, and the thought we really ought to get me in the pool. Then came summer, and the reality we really ought to get me in the pool. We got me in the pool, and laughter ensued.

It’s been like learning to walk or bike at age 32. It’s awkward, my limbs don’t behave, nothing feels natural, and it’s all entirely too tiring. Worse, there’s time to think underwater. When my form is good, I start to think, “Hey, my form is good!” and then I lose it via this distraction. When my form is bad, I start to think, “Uh oh, my form is bad” and it just gets worse as I struggle to the end of the lap. When things are just okay, I see the wall and get excited for a milestone, expend unnecessary energy, and need to take a rest before starting the next lap. Mind and body are not acting as one, and both are in a crash course.

There’s a crazy 61-year-old who wants to swim from Cuba to Florida, swimming for two days and two nights (with a crew of attendants, of course. No challenge in this day and age is quite what it seems). In the article, they talk about how swimming is all about technique. Evidently I severely lack this technique. Swimming for 15 minutes wipes me out.

Historically, physically I’ve tended to challenge myself to get better at the things I’m already good at — and already physiologically understand. This has been an entirely different type of challenge. It’s gotten better, in very slow strides, but my time will still probably be in the bottom five percent in the swim.

The triathlon is Sunday. I’m excited, I’m not a bit self-conscious, and I know I’ll do fine (barring heat exhaustion in this heat wave) in the bike and the run.

So long as the swim doesn’t kill me first.

Parenting: How Saturdays disappear

Today I’m invited to the 9 a.m. soccer game for a girl who is kind of like our goddaughter, and then to my godson’s (one of them; I have an empire of godchildren) hockey game at 12:15-ish.

When I think about how my Saturday will be affected by the prospect of attending both (for just once in a blue moon, honestly), it crystallizes for me how parents of children of a certain age see their weekends disappear into sports/classes/practice ferrying.

And not that I ever doubted it, but it also underlines why my mother spent every game she attended sitting on the sidelines reading a book or grading papers. To the point that my limited moments of athletic glory would lead to this recurring scene:

Bystander: {nudge nudge} “Ma’am, your son just scored a goal.”

Mom: {puts book on lap, picks up glasses} “Did he? Oooh, great!” {clap clap} {takes glasses off} {goes back to book}

Coda: And you know, I laugh about it and we tease her about it now, but I really do think in this and several other ways, she taught me the importance of having a book or magazine around for settings you’d rather not be in. You’re never bored or waiting interminably if you have a book with you.

‘Inta muh body’

Hilarious splicing of Roger Clemens’ “confession” about alleged use of career-stretching, stats-boosting drugs.

I’ve tried to mostly disengage from baseball, but I confess to schadenfreude about the pride-fueled fall of a player who was incessantly hyped into a legend and always came off as an arse back in the days when baseball mattered to me.

“Genie let out of the bottle,
It is now the witching hour.”

–“The Gloaming,” Radiohead

STL’s original Big Mac in the Hall

No suspicion of steroids to cloud this one: St. Louis sports’ original “Big Mac” is a Hall of Famer.

On July 4, 1994, the Blues acquired Al MacInnis from the Calgary Flames for Phil Housley and an exchange of draft picks. It was an odd deal: MacInnis was already an unrestricted free agent, so I never understood why the Blues had to “trade” for him — especially trading Housley, who himself was on his way to becoming the top scoring U.S. defenseman ever.

It honestly seemed like it was a charitable gesture, a bone thrown to the small-market Flames, who were entering that dark ’90s period of exploding free agency that, combined with a much weaker Canadian dollar, cost Canada the Quebec Nordiques, the Winnipeg Jets, and damn near cost the Flames and Edmonton Oilers, too.

At the time, with the need for a trade curiously unexplained in the papers, I suspected it was the Blues’ way of trying to keep the league from punishing them for once again actually using the free agent marketplace that the rules allowed but the league discouraged. Here’s why: They had paid the price for their first free agency foray, in 1990, signing mighty future Hall of Famer Scott Stevens away from the Washington Capitals and giving up five consecutive first-round draft picks as compensation (amazingly, only two of those picks, Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt, turned into notable NHL players).

Then in 1991, they really paid the price when they signed budding power forward superstar Brendan Shanahan from the New Jersey Devils: the Devils demanded Scott Stevens as compensation in a one-or-the-other arbitration process that meant one team (the Devils) could ask for the world in arbitration, forcing the other team to really up their offer just to keep the team from receiving said  world. Well, the Devils got the world. Two hemispheres (budding stars Rod Brind’Amour and Curtis Joseph) was not good enough.

Twice burned, perhaps the Blues wanted to smooth out their karma by giving up a great defenseman in return for MacInnis.

MacInnis went on to have a fantastic decade as a Blue. He won a Norris Trophy as best defenseman (and probably should have won two), eventually captained the team, was a voice of reason in the Hull vs. Keenan wars, and became a cherished member of the community.

Aside from his obvious outstanding play on offense and defense — and of course the slapshot that could maim people [and should’ve been used to maim the 2001 Colorado Avalanche players who, taking advantage of MacInnis’ inherent desire not to maim people dove with their faces right in front of his blade to prevent him from actually shooting. Yes, this still irks me.] — three things always come to mind when I think of MacInnis:

1. Funny how things work out: Stevens went on to win 3 Stanley Cups with the Devils, despite trying to re-sign with the Blues twice. And simultaneous to, yet separate from, falling in love with MacInnis, Blues fans never really got over the loss of Stevens. Yet if Stevens and his #2 uni had never been stolen from them by arbitrator Ed J. “F*** You, St. Louis” Houston, MacInnis and his #2 probably would have never worn the Bluenote. Today that number would still be retired, but in Stevens’ name instead.

2. It always amazed me how St. Louis fans claimed MacInnis as their own so quickly. To me, he was a Flame first and always will be. Even 10 seasons in St. Louis (one consisting of only 3 games, after the eye injury that would end his career) didn’t match his time spent in Calgary. And Calgary is where he went to two Stanley Cup finals, winning one and taking home the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. Even today, despite his continued work with the Blues’ management office, I feel like Calgary would get first dibs on the theoretical “hat” he’d wear in the Hall of Fame.

3. What a strange thread has connected these the two franchises, with MacInnis weaved throughout: Stunning youngster in his early seasons, he made the finals in 1986 with the help of a Blues reinforcement, fellow Hall of Famer Joey Mullen. Al MacInnis was on the other side of the “Monday Night Miracle” that playoff year but survived that semifinal series only to lose to Montreal in the finals. Three years later, the Flames again faced the Canadiens in the finals — this time winning the Cup — again with the help of Blues reinforcements, including Doug Gilmour plus Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley (who incidentally, were acquired in the deal that gave the Blues the future Hall of Famer  MacInnis would later have to help babysit, Brett Hull).

Finally, his career is a great illustration of the confluence of luck and skill required to win a championship. Fans hyperventilate over specific reasons or management/player mistakes that cause a team not to “win it all” in any given year — completely ignoring the fact that even if all management and players operated in a perfect vacuum, there would still be only one winner and 15+ losers.

In 1986, MacInnis’ growing Flames team ran into a hot rookie named Patrick Roy. In 1989, they had all the pieces (trading Hull’s future value for Ramage and Wamsley’s immediate help) to win it all. In 1995, his Blues team dominated the lockout-shortened season only to fall in the first round due to several uncharacteristically weak performances. In 1996, they might’ve had enough — including Wayne Gretzky — to go all the way, but they lost goalie Grant Fuhr to injury in the first round. In 2001, they had it all and might’ve taken eventual winners Colorado and the nauseating “Save Ray Bourque Crusade,” but their headcase Czech goalie Roman Turek had a playoff-long meltdown that sabotaged them at the most critical moments.

Stevens has three Cups, MacInnis one, Housley none, but the chips could’ve very easily fallen differently. Regardless, I’m happy the great MacInnis got his, and I’m glad he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He has earned it and then some.

The sad history of USNT jerseys

It has long pained me that the men’s U.S. National (soccer) Team refuses to stick to a single, consistent look for their uniforms. [ed: Yes, file this under, “My, What a Life of Hardship You Lead”].

Slate now has a great annotated slideshow depicting some of the USNT’s more blinding uniform mistakes over the years, as well as a good assessment of why it’s such a shame they keep toying with their look.

Essentially, the field is now in the hands of a multi-million-dollar sponsorship business in which uniform makers (Nike, Adidas, etc.) dictate changes to team jerseys. But with a difference: other national teams insist (and are probably popularly demanded to) on sticking to the same general design scheme. The U.S. team, with no consistent tradition, lets the uniform sponsors do pretty much whatever they want. I’m sure the 3rd-jersey fad that took hold in other American sports (and now, in club soccer around the world, too) has helped enable this.

What can I say — I like jerseys. Apparently in soccer especially, they’ve been a big factor in choosing the teams I follow. But that aesthetic tradition and appeal is part of the continued, irrational, nostalgia-fueled fondness I hold for certain sports.

For soccer in particular, though, this aesthetic tradition is part of the culture and international elements that make the sport so electric. The blue azzurri of Italy, the bright gold/yellow of Brazil or “tricolor” of Mexico that reflects the countries’ flags, the sublime light blue stripes of Argentina, the clean red or white shirts of England. The green and red of Cameroon or green and white of Nigeria. The classic blue and cross of Scotland. All firm, historic identities that visually bring any viewer back to whatever historical period of the team a person wants to think about. As Seinfeld said, we sports fans are basically just rooting for laundry, and I don’t like it when they change the laundry.

But with soccer irreversibly growing in this country, and with the National Team consistently making the World Cup and nurturing a following, it’s a shame they haven’t picked a general design and stuck to it. There’s a lot of young kids now growing up who, I suspect, would have an even greater attachment (and $$$ diverted to) the national team in their adult years if the squad had a consistent visual identity they can trace back to their childhood, a uniform kit that didn’t change more often than the roster of players who wore it.

For love and hate of Brett Hull

The St. Louis Blues officially “retired” Brett Hull’s #16 this week. He had a larger impact on the franchise than any other player in its 40-year history, and he was the best player on the team from the moment he arrived to the moment he left. But he never became my favorite player. This week I’ve been reflecting on why.

First, probably every thing I loved and hated about Hull is best represented here: in a nice collection of anecdotes about him from former teammates, compiled by the dedicated but painful-to-read-or-listen-to Andy Strickland. Still, while all the humor, the talent, and the obnoxious selfishness is well-represented in Strickland’s post, I’m going to continue to exorcise my Hull demons by processing my own picture of him and the 10 years of personal memories he created.

The tide turns
As a talent, Brett Hull thrilled me from day one. On March 7, 1988, the Blues acquired him after getting new ownership that was determined to replace the destructive firesales of the preceding six years. I still remember the excitement I felt from seeing his and Steve Bozek’s mug shots on the front of the sports page that day. In the mid-’80s, one by one, the team had dealt every star (save the real heart-and-soul, untradeable duo of Brian Sutter and Bernie Federko) to pinch pennies. Due to ownership uncertainty, the team even did not participate in the 1983 draft, setting the franchise back immeasurably. I watched as favorite stars — Mike Liut, Joey Mullen, even coach Jacques Demers — were all let go over money.

Fan favorites Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley were dealt, too, but this time it was different: we got a budding star, Hull, in return.

He literally could score from anywhere. Players invented new ways of cheating just to keep him from getting his shot away. But he had such a quick release, and was so good at reading a developing play, that a mere split second of freedom was all he needed to get a stunning, deadly shot off. It’s impossible to smother an opponent for every second of every shift of every period, and Hull was a master at turning those few lax seconds of each game into scoring opportunities. He was by no means fast; but he saw the field of play the way brilliant stars in any sport always do: with an almost omniscient perspective that few understand (except afterwards on video replay, from a much broader angle). That vision mitigated the importance of his speed. He racked up gobs of goals no one could ever have imagined would come from a human in a seemingly cursed Blues uniform.

Media darling, devout fan’s scourge
Alas, he was also a character, a blow-hard, a media puppetmaster, and a player all too aware of his talent and all too willing to abuse the liberties that talent earned him. He had public run-ins with every Blues coach he had (something that didn’t change when he moved on to Dallas), and he played Post-Dispatch beat writer Dave Luecking like a toy, as Luecking was always willing to print Hull’s mouth-fart quotes rather than focus on the damned game.

The line I’ve heard about Hull more than anything else — including “star,” “sure Hall of Famer,” or “goal machine,” was “a sportswriter’s dream.” Ack! Fie! A plague on your publication! Few things in sports irritate me more than a lazy writer happy to cover the B.S. and the controversy of a star personality rather than the game itself. I guess I’m in the minority, but I don’t follow sports for gossip or reality-show off-field drama. Controversy and me-first high-jinks, while occasionally entertaining, are not why I watch. Don’t give me “I am the greatest.” Don’t show me the damn money. But with Hull, that was the baggage that came with the goals.

Anyway, Hull came in with a reputation for being unfit and lazy, and though he didn’t exactly play lazy (you can’t fight through that much opposing checking without working your tail off), he did have a very narrow, self-centered view of his responsibilities: score goals, period. Let the other players handle the defense. Even though he ripped less-talented teammates relentlessly, few teammates seemed to ever challenge Hull to behave and backcheck — the kind of thing necessary to win, no matter how many goals you score. Probably because they all knew his unbelievable talent made *one* part of their jobs easier, and also because, by all accounts, he was a character and friend to be around off the ice.

So if the teammates can’t discipline the star to behave in the interests in the team, what does that leave? The coach. But whenever a coach tried to fit Hull into a team plan, Hull resisted, he bit back, he pouted to the media, and he even — inexfuckingcusably — stopped trying. That doesn’t exactly maintain team morale when the team’s leader is acting like a five-year-old.

You can win a Cup with Brett Hull, sure; you just can’t win one with Brett Hull as your leader
The line about Hull while he was with the Blues, constantly creating controversy and stirring a roiling debate among the fan base, was that “you can’t win a Cup with Brett Hull.” Imagine! The best, most electrifying player in a franchise’s history, and a good portion of the fan base can’t stand him and/or wants him out of town “so the team can win”!! What sins and daily irritants must a flatteringly covered, media darling superstar commit to elicit such a response?

But the naysayers only had it half-right: you can win a Cup with Brett Hull. You just can’t win one when he has the run of the locker room.

So it was ironic and predictable: Mike Keenan (and, probably, other Keenan-supported teammates) finally got Hull to backcheck, but he still hated Keenan so much that he sabotaged the situation as much as possible, in the process earning himself almost as much of the blame for the waste that was the Keenan years as Keenan himself. Joel Quenneville, too, got Hull to play responsibly, but Hull still had major run-ins with him in front of the whole team — including the legendary incident when he fired a puck at his coach during practice. That era was finally the last straw, and the Blues let the team’s Best.Player.Ever. walk as a free agent. I personally hated to see him go; I knew we were letting a still-thriving legend walk. Yet part of me was also very, very relieved to be rid of him.

He signed with Dallas — home to another coach, Ken Hitchcock, who wanted him to play responsible defense — and he pouted and raised hell again. The difference this time was that he wasn’t the locker room’s alpha male. In Dallas, there were already established leaders who not only helped keep him in line but also set the tone for the other role players that this sort of laziness and petulance would not stand. They won the Cup his first year.

But — shock! — three years later, Dallas let him walk, too. He wasn’t washed up; he hadn’t “lost a step” (there was no step to begin with), yet Dallas let him leave without compensation. In Detroit, he won another Cup, but Detroit had even more stars and locker room leaders, and another hard-nosed coach in Scotty Bowman (who was in some ways similar to Keenan yet without the debilitating pathological streak), so he was kept largely in line.

And that is why, even though he was the most exciting player my favorite team ever had, even though I have more great sports memories associated with him than anyone else, even though he did magical things in a three-year run with linemate Adam Oates that I will never s
ee again, and even though I of all people could sometimes laugh at the things he said…that is why I will always have a bitter taste in my mouth when I think of Brett Hull.

He was such a prolific scorer. He made hockey so exhilarating. His honors are all well-deserved. The sound of Dan Kelly or Ken Wilson saying, “He shoots, he scores! Brett Hull!” still brings a sentimental tear to my eyes, as does the memory of John Kelly shouting “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” after Hull ended a long playoff overtime game.

And yet…and yet. I will always wonder what could have been if the superstar hadn’t tainted his highlights by behaving like a spoiled, whiny little brat.

‘You break my heart Newcastle, you break my heart’

ESPN.com has brutal, 10-point assessment of what has eroded one of my favorite soccer teams, Newcastle United. It’s only a third of the way through the season, but they’re currently in the relegation zone, which in non-U.S. world soccer means you’re demoted to the minors and you make a lot less money. It’s like the Atlanta Braves fall to last place, and the next season they’re in AAA, without the MLB TV revenue.

Thanks to my Euro-dad’s viewing habits, I grew up on hockey and soccer. But live soccer, in post-NASL America, was only accessible via the exciting-but-sacrilegious indoor soccer of the MISL. Beyond that, I got occasional glimpses of German and Latin American league soccer. And I read what I could from my father’s subscription to Soccer America.

From there, I read stories of the famed European clubs and randomly picked “favorite” teams to follow based on coverage, uniform colors, and childish whim.

Apparently, I Like Stripes
In Spain, it was Atletico Madrid, because cross-town Real Madrid was the money-hording giant, and Atletico’s red-and-white stripes were much cooler than Real’s purple. In Italy, it was Inter Milan because, again, they were the underdog (though to a much smaller degree than Atletico) to Milan rival AC Milan, and I preferred Inter’s blue-and-black to Milan’s red-and-black. In Germany, it was Bayern Munich because they were good, storied, and I loved everything I’d learned of Bavaria. Their then red-and-blue stripes were sweet, too. In Holland, it was Ajax Amsterdam, because that was the only damn team they ever wrote about. In France, it was no one, because it was France, and no one seemed noteworthy.

Then there was England. England obviously received the most coverage in the English-written Soccer America. I couldn’t settle on one team. First was Sheffield Wednesday — simply because of the curiosity of the name. But Wednesday were rarely any good, and I needed teams I could count on reading about. Enter Newcastle United, Arsenal, and Liverpool, three teams with notorious fan bases,  enough success to keep them in the news, and intriguing names (okay, Newcastle and Liverpool are cities, but still, they’re so…English-sounding!).

Of those three English teams, Newcastle won the top of my heart for various reasons, but a big one, I’m sure, was their classic black-and-white stripes that resemble an American football or hockey referee’s uniform. Yes, apparently I liked stripes. They were just so different from American sports uniforms. They looked so simple and classic (of course now they’re emblazoned with advertisers, too, but Newcastle’s main sponsor was Newcastle Brown Ale, a great beer with an eye-pleasing logo — for a beer — complete with the city skyline silhouette inside a blue star).

Anyway, when I finally got to actually see English soccer on TV as satellite coverage picked up during the ’90s, I was drawn into Newcastle, with their instantly recognizable uniforms and their frequent appearances on American broadcasts.

They were good, too. They regularly competed in European competition, flirted with the league title, and signed English star Alan Shearer, who retired this year after netting tons of goals for Newcastle.

But like my favorite hockey Blues, their flirtation with the top was never consummated, and now a series of poor signings and miscues has them in decline. They still have a decent gob of money, but they’ve misspent it horribly, and now even their notoriously loyal fans are getting restless. They’ve been painful to watch the three or four times I’ve caught them this season. They’re killing me.

But there’s something about sticking with a struggling, storied team — especially from afar, where your not bombarded by the ennui and fatalism of the local fans and media. It’s like watching a good tragic drama. Even if they were relegated (presumably still unlikely), I think I’d still enjoy the tragedy of the ride.

But nonetheless, they’re breaking my freaking heart.

The Tottenham-Chelsea derby

I’m writing about this game because it was so incredible I had to record my thoughts and memories. But what helped etch the beauty of this match into my brain, and kept me watching on the edge of my couch for 2 uninterrupted hours, was the constant, unrelenting roar of the Tottenham fans in the stadium. It got me thinking of that seductive roar that first sucked me into sports when I was a wee lad watching whatever my dad did.

Football — and English football in particular — is already known for its fervent fans and the great songs and choruses they sing throughout a match. But this one was like a celebratory choir singing throughout the game. It didn’t matter if the Spurs were winning or losing — and they did both — the crowd was always singing to rally them forward.

The scene was set partially by the fact this was a “derby” — a match between two clubs from the same town or region (heh, in this case, London, which has like six of the 20 teams currently in the Premier League). But more so, Chelsea are the two-time defending champions, owned by a Russian oligarch oil baron (“one man’s terrorist is another man’s…”) who has dumped gobs and gobs of money into the team, buying up every world star who appears on the market.
Harry Hotspur
Furthermore, Tottenham Hotspur (yes, their name is a Shakespeare/history reference) hadn’t beaten Chelsea in 16 years — and hadn’t beaten them at home in 20. But now the ‘Spurs are an up-and-coming team, and though they’ve started this year slow, they possess the arsenal to give top teams a good fight.

So home fans had reason for hope, but alas, this game started out poorly for Spurs, though, as a Chelsea defender (Frenchman Claude Makelele) who has one goal in his entire English career, scored on an amazing volley from outside the box. It was incredible skill by a world-class player who, as a defender, is rarely in position to show this side of his game.

That didn’t deter the crowd, though, and their singing continued unabated. So did the players’ hustle: The pace was of a speed and furiousness that is seldom seen in football simply because it’s humanly difficult to run your arse off like that for 90 minutes without slowing down. Most matches have at least several lulls in them where teams slow the pace down, regroup themselves, and probe and test the other side to figure out which way to attack next.

Chelsea had several chances to extend their lead by players of utterly world-class skill like Ivory Coast native Didier Drogba and Englishman Frank Lampard. (Another thing I love about this sport: it’s the closest to a melting pot there is outside of the United Nations.)

Even though Chelsea is almost impossible to defeat when they have a lead, Tottenham was able to tie it on another great soccer scenario: young English star Aaron Lennon dribbled and dazzled around a slower-footed defender, drawing a yellow card and a foul. The spot of the ensuing free kick was far outside the box, from a spot the novice eye would find unthreatening. But the free kick was sweetly placed into a mix of players in the upper portion of the box, and another goal-deprived defender, the 6’3″ Michael Dawson, got his head on it enough to tap it back up, over the goalkeeper and into the upper corner of the net. It was Dawson’s first goal with his new club.

The 2nd Half
So fans at White Hart Lane went into half time having come back to tie the might Chelsea, and there was reason to hope that maybe, just maybe, with a little luck and some skill they could get the lead.

It wasn’t long into the 2nd half before it happened. Irishman Robbie Keane, who’s incredibly skilled with the ball but not incredibly fast, beat a Chelsea defender down the sideline not by speed but by tricking and goading him with fakes, stops, and starts. By the time Keane delivered his cross into the box, the defender, Dutchman Khalid Boulahrouz (he would later be subbed out), actually fell straight on his arse from Keane’s deceptive moves.
Goal by...Makelele?!?!?
Keane’s cross was slightly deflected but ultimately fell to youngster Lennon again, who faked a shot with one foot, moved around a defender, and slotted what would be the game-winner into the back of the net.

Still, there was nearly 40 minutes left to play, and it was filled with speed, tension, and near-misses on both sides. At one point Chelsea’s Dutch winger Arjen Robben had time alone at the top corner of the box to settle the ball, take aim, and curl a beautiful strike that seemed destined for the corner. The Spurs keeper could only fall hopelessly as the shot curled around him. But it clanged off the post, and the Spurs’ lead would survive for at least another moment.

There were moments like these throughout, all the way to the final whistle, which itself was drowned out by the maddening roar — one not even an imaginative child can replicate in his head with a loud whisper — by the 30,000+ fans at White Hart Lane, who just watched their home club beat the mighty Chelsea for the first time in 16 years.

Oh, looooord, this is why I love this game.