This month has been an absolute dream for soccer fans, practically even equaling the excitement of the World Cup. As far as I’m concerned, nothing distracts someone with borderline ADD from their work and grad school more than one of the most quality European Championship competitions in recent history and some Copa America games that haven’t been close, but certainly have been entertaining.
Watching the European Championships with all the late winners and drama has recently made me think about just how ludicrous sports are, and that’s precisely why we love them. Soccer in particular is really exceptional, and anyone who says otherwise is frankly lacking passion in their lives.
For further proof, just listen to the Icelandic announcer almost pass out today from excitement after his team qualified for the round-of-16 for the first time ever; or watch the Irish supporters all simultaneously not be able to even after their late winner against Italy today. Look at the heartbreak on the faces of the Spanish supporters yesterday (myself included) after Croatia stole a victory in the waning minutes.
Soccer is special because it unites and uplifts just as quickly as it builds barriers and breaks down. It truly is the beautiful game, and after the Icelandic coach wanted to declare a new holiday in his home nation from a game that merely allowed them to qualify, the reminder is there that it’s more than just a game.
I only wish my fellow Americans could experience that passion. I know we love our sports in this country, but we don’t have to separate opposing fans into a different section. We don’t have to have the police escort referees out of stadiums after they’ve made terrible calls. Don’t get me wrong, those are good things; but the pure euphoria and elation that can be shared by team supporters after a golazo changes everything is truly second-to-none. That’s what makes the European Championships special. That’s what makes soccer special. That’s what makes sports special.
The madness is not unique to soccer though. I was left in complete shock at what the Cavaliers pulled off on Sunday. In my approximately 20 years of watching sports I don’t remember ever seeing anything like it. Furthermore, it made me realize that in my 26 years of living I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything quite like sports in general.
Aside from the massive salaries that these professional athletes make, their craft is truly a unique one. They spend most waking hours of their day, the dedicated ones at least, trying to find ways to improve, ways to gain some sort of competitive advantage over their adversaries.
Also, most professional leagues have at least 30 teams, which means that most will go long stretches without seeing a championship. Most players will never even have the opportunity to hoist a championship trophy. Most players will see all of their efforts be absolutely in vain (apart from the money).
There are even some, like Steph Curry and the record-breaking Golden State Warriors, who will have put in countless hours of work and have aligned the stars just right to forever etch their respective names into the history books. Ultimately, they will have done all this just to be thwarted in the literal final minute by an exceptional play from Kyrie Irving.
Reflect on that: 3,936 minutes of regular-season basketball executed almost flawlessly. 1,151 minutes of playoff basketball played where they did enough to become the champions. All it came down to was the very last minute, after 5,086 where they had just one mission and had done more than enough to complete it. None of it mattered in the end. Late nights in the gym, monstrous triple-doubles, record-breaking threes, all amounted to nothing. Yet, they still won’t give up. They will likely put in even more work this offseason just to try and put themselves in another championship series which could just as easily be squandered in a moment’s lapse of concentration. I guess soccer isn’t the only beautiful game.