June 24, 2014 10:53:04 AM
Something truly remarkable happened Sunday afternoon: Americans in large numbers watched a soccer match.
Monday, the ratings were announced, revealing that almost 25 million Americans tuned in to watch the United States and Portugal fight to a 2-2 tie in the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil. No soccer match has ever drawn a larger U.S. TV audience.
Even so, some perspective is helpful. The final episode of MASH drew an audience of 105.9 million, the last episode of Seinfeld had three times as many viewers as the U.S.-Portugal match and the last episode of Magnum P.I. had twice as many viewers as the soccer match. That's right, Magnum P.I. ran a lap around U.S.-Portugal.
That is not to say that we should be dismissive concerning the viewership of the match.
But I think there is a larger story here. It's not that almost 25 million Americans watched the match; it's that I was one of them.
It marked the first time I had ever watched an entire soccer match, beginning to end, and just the second time I had even tried. The first attempt came 20 years ago when Brazil defeated Italy in a shootout to win the World Cup. My interest was piqued primarily because the month-long tournament was held in the United States, so I felt sort of obligated to watch it. I had the best intentions, too, but then after realizing that neither team seemed to be showing any particular interest in scoring, I drifted off to sleep that Sunday afternoon and woke up only to realize that the game had ended.
Since then, I've only been mildly aware of soccer. Mind you, I'm not a soccer hater. I'm just indifferent to it. I feel the same way about, say, the country of Paraguay. I hardly ever think about Paraguay and, far as I know, Paraguay has never done me any harm or any favors. Paraguay does its thing; I do mine.
But for some reason, I decided I would watch the U.S.-Portugal match Sunday.
The first test of my resolve came about five minutes into the match. Something diverted my attention for a moment and when I look back at the TV, I saw -- I don't know -- maybe 47 Portugal players and the ball on one side of the field close to the U.S. goal. Not surprisingly, the U.S. goal-keeper struck the posture of a lone security guard at the opening of a Black Friday sale at a New Jersey Walmart. Helpless.
So it was 1-0 Portugal. Now, based on my limited understanding of soccer, I understand that goals can be infrequent. So that 1-0 Portugal lead loomed large and came at what is, for me, prime Sunday afternoon nap time. Besides, if I want to watch the U.S. lose, I can tune into C-SPAN any day of the week and watch Congress.
Somehow, though, the match kept my attention.
Sure enough, the U.S. began to turn things around, launching shot after shot in the general vicinity of the Portugal goal-keeper. Finally, at some point in the second half, the U.S. scored to tie the match and then, lo and behold, some time later, the U.S. scored again to take a 2-1 lead.
In soccer, the clock doesn't wind down the way Jesus intended; it winds up. So when the clock hit 90 minutes (which is supposed to be the duration of the match), I figured the U.S. had won. Instead, we were told that there would be four minutes of added time, a unique feature of the sport that I've always viewed as some sort of conspiracy. Outside of an LSU home football game, you just don't see folks arbitrarily adding time to a game after the clock has run out.
But that's what happened. It seemed like the match went on for much longer than four minutes, though, and I kept thinking to myself that surely the game should be over by now. And then, when I was absolutely certain that game was ending, Portugal scored a goal to tie the game. Instead of a win that would have propelled the U.S. to the "knockout round," the U.S. has some work left to do.
It was a gut-wrenching ending and now American soccer fans are left to ponder the possible scenarios that will enable to U.S. team to advance.
One way is to beat Germany in its final pool play match on Thursday. Just beat Germany. Simple enough, except that from what the experts say, beating Germany is as simple as nailing Jello to a wall.
Fortunately, the U.S. doesn't have to beat Germany to advance. There are other ways, depending on the outcome of the Ghana-Portugal match. This involves things like point differentials, tides, barometric pressure and the outcome of "The Bachelorette" (I think the U.S. gets in if Andi picks Nick over Chris).
But as famous sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote years ago, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how long you can stay awake."
I'm going to see if I can get through a second soccer game when the U.S. plays Germany on Thursday.
I'm making no promises, though.
You cannot afford to get cocky in these situations.