http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204791104577108782771826106.html?mod=googlenews_wsjFootball Is Better Than Soccer
An Englishman Abandons the Beautiful Game for the NFL; Like a Chess Match—With Violence
By GERARD BAKER
I'm a traitor. I may as well come straight out and admit it. I've betrayed my family, my friends, and my country. If Dante were around to update his roll-call of infamy, I'd be right down there in the ninth circle, feeling the heat with Brutus, Cassius and Judas.
The occasion of my sin isn't political or religious. It's much more grievous. I've betrayed my cultural heritage, cut the most binding filial ties, abandoned my national loyalties.
The shameful truth is this. I like football better than soccer.
I realized only recently the depth of my treachery when I found myself actually referring to football—the game played over here by the big men in spandex with the little oval ball—as "football." This alone would be considered a kind of verbal treason to my countrymen.
Growing up in England, I played football. I went to football games—with other football fans dressed in football attire at crumbling, violence-infested football stadiums that hosted teams with names like Charlton Athletic Football Club. (There was, confusingly, rugby football too, commonly called rugby, but I always hated that.)
"American football" (the term was usually enunciated in a sneering tone that dripped with derision, the way you might say "the Italian military") was something very silly, a far-off pastime of which we knew little and cared less, played by softies who apparently needed helmets and padding to protect their delicate frames.
If we ever thought about "American football" at all, we thought about all that protective gear and considered it a source of some pride that the average English football fan was in more physical danger on his way to the toilets (we called them that) at halftime than a roly-poly lineman in a scrimmage.
But I discovered football when I first came to New York in the late 1980s and my prejudices melted away. It was the era of New York Giants greatness and I was hooked instantly: Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, Mark Bavaro, Jeff Hostetler. Yes, I did just say Jeff Hostetler. That should tell you how hooked I was.
I didn't immediately abandon what I slowly came to call soccer. I'd keep in touch with the fortunes of my team, Coventry City (don't ask), every Saturday. But steadily, I lost interest. I'd find myself forgetting some weekends to check out the score on a Saturday in my sweat of anticipation for Sunday. I was drifting apart from family and friends.
There is no more powerful alienation than that of the displaced from his erstwhile peers. Every weekend I call my father back in London. At 91, he's as engaged as ever in events—sporting and otherwise. He wants to know what I think about Liverpool's latest signing. All I want to talk about is the 72-yard touchdown pass Victor Cruz caught from Eli Manning. He thinks Victor Cruz was a 1950s band leader (OK. I thought Victor Cruz was a 1950s band leader till the start of this season).
I'm desperate to find someone among my family or friends to compare notes on the remarkable success of the Houston Texans' third-string quarterback. My uncomprehending friends just shake their heads.
"Why?" they ask. How could you do this to us after all we did for you?
Some might say it's simply, predictably, a man's reaction to his habitat. If you're a sports nut and you move, you'll probably take up whatever's on offer in your new milieu. But that won't do as an explanation.
On that theory, if I moved to Canada I'd like hockey and I can assure you, that's not happening.
It's none of the usual explanations: lots of scoring being better than endless nil-nil draws—I've been to cricket matches in which 1,000 runs were scored and you could hardly call them riveting. It's not the hoopla or the sport-as-family-entertainment thing either which soccer fans accustomed to English hooliganism are supposed to appreciate. (Have you ever been to an Eagles game?)
Baseball fans will have to forgive me here, but the answer, I think, is that football is the quintessential American sport. It's no accident it hasn't really caught on elsewhere (the annual NFL game in London notwithstanding) whereas baseball and basketball have at least a claim to a global following and participation.
In its energy and complexity, football captures the spirit of America better than any other cultural creation on this continent, and I don't mean because it features long breaks in which advertisers get to sell beer and treatments for erectile dysfunction. It sits at the intersection of pioneering aggression and impossibly complex strategic planning. It is a collision of Hobbes and Locke; violent, primal force tempered by the most complex set of rules, regulations, procedures and systems ever conceived in an athletic framework.
Soccer is called the beautiful game. But football is chess, played with real pieces that try to knock each other's brains out. It doesn't get any more beautiful than that.