Friday, January 11, 2008

The day I went over and the days since

They had me at the bicycle kick.

But perhaps I'm getting a little ahead of myself. It all starts with these two friends of mine, see, who for the sake of naming names, perhaps before a committal judge pleading my case in the future, I shall call out as Jefe and mister3d. Jefe was moving back to Houston after many years roaming the dark and distant lands of San Antonio, dallas, Eire and Georgia. I once even took him to a high school tournament when he was visiting because at the time that was just about the highest level of organized footy there was here in Space City. At the tourney, I felt a strange draw to the sport, but once Jefe returned to his home, I went back to baseball and other, more "American" (so I thought at the time) pursuits.

The other partner in crime, mister3d, was, like Jefe, returning to Houston after a year in his own dark and distant land, Minnesota. It was during mister3d's time freezing his noogies off among the 10,000 lakes that the former San Jose Earthquakes moved to Houston, became 1836 and later Dynamo. This was, to put it succinctly, killing him (he moves out, MLS moves in) and possibly was among the reasons that, when his wife's job and kids' desires focused back on the Great State, he directed them in a return to the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

Now, I have never needed much prompting myself to get excited about a sporting event, any sporting event. Give me two guys playing Tiddly Winks, and I'll work up a running commentary and deliver 30 inches of prose to a waiting editor with quotes before the deadline comes close to ticking over. They say that once you recognize your sickness, you are at least halfway to curing it. "They" are wrong. I recognize my sickness and then immediately throw myself back in for more. This is why I long ago decided to turn this into some small level of profit (emphasis on the small) and became a sportswriter and later, sports editor.

Now, all that being said, my main sport of choice was baseball, the national game. I would watch any game, anywhere. Calvin Trillin once wrote that the team that is your team when you are 12 is your team for life. There is nothing you can do about it, and even if the team is terrible or, in his case (and mine with the Houston Oilers, which is a different story entirely) no longer exists, you are stuck and that is that. So my team was the Houston Astros, who in 2006 were coming off their first (and still only) World Series appearance. The National League champions. My team. Life was good. I liked other sports, they seemed nice, but really, I just wasn't interviewing right there and then. The universe of baseball was what there was for me and I knew, just knew, that that was all I was ever going to need.

So there I was in September of 2006, blissfully, and ignorantly, being wrong about that whole universe of baseball thing. Jefe and mister3d were on their way to Houston and I happened to notice that Dynamo, who up to that point I had barely noticed and had not even had an intention to go see play, were going to be hosting D.C. United. So, being a nice guy, I bought three tickets hoping to treat my friends to a good evening. They were thrilled. My wife was happy I was getting together to connect with these guys I had not seen in awhile. I was sitting pretty, happy with my lot, not even noticing that I was about to cross the line into TOTAL, COMPLETE SOCCER INFECTION!

The game, as I remember it, was something of blur. D.C. United had already qualified for the playoffs and was on their way to the Supporters' Shield. Dynamo needed to win to qualify for the playoffs. The game was a back-and-forth affair. I knew of only two Dynamo players, Brian Ching and Dwayne De Rosario. I noticed this guy, Waibel, completely taking Freddy Adu, of whom I was dimly aware, out of the game. The game was scoreless, it was getting on, almost over, and then it happened. Here, it never leaves my brain, so I'll treat you to it again:

The ball soars through the air, pops up off of Paul Dalglish's dome, Ching circles under it and the explosion that occurred in Robertson Stadium when it rocketed right by Troy Perkins took over my heart, took over my soul and that was the proverbial it.
The next day, I check the paper for the Astros' score, read it for about two seconds and then watched the highlights of the 1-0 win on Dynamo's Web site about 20-30 times. I would return one more time that season, to see Dynamo take out Chivas USA in the Western semis. Ching did it to me again in the closing seconds. Check it here:

I skipped the Western final win over Colorado, thinking that this sickness would surely leave me. Then I was in a long-previously scheduled workshop during MLS Cup (which, as it happened, was being played on my 42nd birthday) and could think of nothing BUT MLS Cup. I called mister3d that evening the first half-second I got out of that workshop, and he led me through what had happened. Houston Dynamo, MLS champs. My team. I knew it without a doubt. They had become My Team.

My last stab at denying the new state of my life came when I decided that I would not, WOULD NOT buy a 2007 season ticket, no matter how good that Holiday Special looked. I paid for that decision many times over in '07, missing only 2 home games and paying full price for all but one that I attended.

The year since has been, like that first game, something of a blur. With loyalty to my friends in Glasgow, I have adopted Celtic as my European team. I seriously follow the US MNT. Dynamo are No. 1 in my heart and soul, though, and cheering them on to a second title, I have brought my two sons -- 11 and 8 -- into the footy-verse. My wife has watched with a mixture of horror and amusement as my ascent is now complete. (My 11-year-old has a theory on soccer hatred that allows him to take out his vehemence against the candystripers in little d.)

Now Jefe, mister3d and I have started this blog and my conversion to TOTAL SOCCER ORIENTATION is complete. I now have serious and long-thought-out opinions on anything from the playoffs vs. single table debate, why there is not relegation in MLS, fixture congestion, you name it. From here on out, soccer is I and I is it. Now, if you'll excuse me, another rewatching of MLS Cup 2007 is in order as I think it's been, oh, about 4 hours since the last time and I'm starting to get the DTs. Here's a parting video for you:

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