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George Reeves died on June 16, 1959, at the age of 45.
I didn’t grow up with soccer. I played it a little, but only casually
and only in the way a lot of American kids play soccer: As a way for
their parents to get them out of the house for an hour or two. (Chuck
Klosterman, in an otherwise reactionary essay
that I bet he’d write differently today, had the funniest observation
about this, noting that soccer is popular with parents because their
kids can run around for an hour without anyone ever noticing anything
good or bad that they did.) I didn’t grow up with a favorite team, I had
no idea what Europe was let alone be able to follow any of their teams
and, I’m sad to say, in 1994, the year the World Cup came to America, I
was spending my summer working nights at a factory in Mattoon and
basically missing the whole thing. Until I moved to New York City in
January 2000, the only soccer moment I’d ever noticed or cared about was
the 1999 Women’s World Cup, which remains one of the most fun
fortnights of sports fandom I’ve ever experienced. That team was so fun,
and with the perfect ending: It’s not often you get that sort of
collective good feeling.
What got me into soccer, eventually, was the US men’s national team, specifically, the odd, new and pleasant sensation of rooting for a Team USA team that wasn’t stacked with the best players in the world, one that was an upstart, an up-and-comer. Cheering for the USMNT felt like a cause. I wrote about it for Sports On Earth a few years ago:
U.S. Soccer allows American sports fans their sole example in which their delusion that they are an underdog is actually true. U.S. Soccer is what Americans imagine ourselves to be: less skilled but determined, and, without question, on our way up. There are constant hints everywhere that ours is a nation, if not in decline, at least not ascendant; we’ve become the lumbering target rather than the sleek, hungry insurgent. In soccer, though, we can play that role: U.S. Soccer is on the rise, and it’s so much more fun to cheer for a team on the rise than one that is merely trying to maintain.
It was through the USMNT that I got into international soccer — eventually ceding to my old friend David Hirshey’s demands that I cheer for Arsenal — and eventually into Atlanta United, a team that has instantly become of an obsession, and a local sports team here I actually love. I now watch soccer as regularly as I watch any sport other than baseball. But the World Cup is the true event. It might be my favorite sporting event. It is one month of total insanity, in which you see all sorts of different fans and styles and stories and everything you might possibly want. Even before I liked soccer, I liked the World Cup. It is obviously a major bummer that the USMNT isn’t in it — though probably fitting — but it is not going to dissipate my joy in this event.
The best part about the World Cup, for me, is that I find myself marking my life by it. Because it comes every four years, you can track who you are, where you’ve been, by where you stood when it came rampaging by every olympiad.
2002: This was the year it was in South Korea and Japan, and the games were all essentially in the middle of the night. I had only lived in New York City for about 2 1/2 years at this point, and I was underemployed and broke and listless and restless. We were all still in that first-year-after-9/11 thing where we drank ourselves into numbness every night — seriously, when people ask me what it was like to be in New York City on September 11, I always say “we just got drunk for five years” — and I remember being in an East Village bar with Daulerio, nursing $2 beers and wondering if we’d ever write anything that ever got published ever when, out of nowhere, a whole massive gaggle of Irish soccer fans came barreling in for a 3 a.m. kickoff. It was very confusing. I did not watch, nor did I even think to watch, either the USMNT’s Round of 16 win over Mexico or their quarterfinal loss to Germany. This strikes me as insane now. Shoot, I was probably still up that late anyway!
2006: This was the one World Cup that happened while I was doing Deadspin, so — like pretty much everything else in 2006 — I was basically working 20 hours a day at this point. We had readers live-blog each game, and, again, like everything else from 2006, I only remember the games of this tournament by how I experienced it through Gawker’s Content Management System. I am not entirely certain I saw the sun once in 2006.
2010: Lots happened between 2006 and 2010! I had not met Alexa Stevenson during the 2006 World Cup; right before the 2010 World Cup, I married her! We came back from our honeymoon to get together with all our friends at Floyd in Brooklyn to watch the USMNT tie England, a matchup that, if I’m being honest, I’d spent most of our honeymoon obsessing about. The loss to Ghana two weeks later was my first truly sad soccer fan moment. More could be coming. Landon Donovan’s goal to beat Algeria got me so excited I made New York Magazine give me the rare ALL CAPS headline.
2014: 2010 was the Leitch Wedding World Cup: This was the Leitch Newborn World Cup. My son Wynn was actually born during England’s collapse against Uruguay that ultimately kept them out of the knockout round. While my wife was pushing, I remember seeing Suarez scoring his second goal. I probably should not admit this. I wasn’t watching the game. It just happened to be on! I swear!
He turned out pretty cute.
2018: Today, the boys are six and almost four. William is obsessed with Brazil: I even got him a personalized LEITCH 13 Brazil jersey. They spent yesterday afternoon screaming after every Ronaldo goal. They have a wall chart in the room we fill in after every game. They’re into it. We’ll probably always be into it now. In four years, in Qatar, the World Cup will fight for American airtime with college football and the NFL; it’s being moved to November because of the heat. But in 2026, it will be in North America, and several matches will be just south of here in Atlanta. William will be 14; Wynn will be 12. They will be completely different humans by then. I suppose I will be as well. But we will still have this. Who knows where we’ll all be in four years, or eight, or 12. I love that we’ll have the World Cup to give us a sense of how far we have come, and how far we have to go.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. It Is Probably For the Best that the U.S. Missed the World Cup, New York Magazine. This is the final step of the grieving process, methinks.
2. Who Cares How Much Money Miguel Cabrera Is Making? MLB.com. Seriously, leave Miguel Cabrera alone.
3. Hey, the Padres Might Not Be Half-Bad! MLB.com. It’s funny how playing the Cardinals for three games can make your team look pretty decent!
4. The Thirty: Best On-Pace-For Stats For Each Team, MLB.com. This was the most labor-intensive of these columns, but also maybe the most fun one.
5. Pixar Movies, Ranked, Vulture. We updated our rankings with Incredibles 2, which I won’t actually be seeing until about the time you receive this newsletter.
6. Debate Club: Best Supporting Comedic Performances, SYFY Wire. Rob Schneider from Judge Dredd did not in fact make it.
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
No show this week. Back next week!
Grierson & Leitch, lots of movies, from “Ocean’s 8" to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” to the great “Hereditary.” Also part two of our “Before Sunrise” series, with “Before Sunset.”
Seeing Red, Bernie Miklasz and I have had it about up to here with the Cardinals.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
If you have an Amazon Alexa — and my family doesn’t, for obvious reasons — you can hear a special show Grierson and I are doing weekly solely for the Amazon Alexa. Read about it here. If you have one, will you try it out and see if it works? I have no idea how to work that weird device.
Happy Father’s Day, everyone, and to Bryan Leitch, who had to deal with two insane children growing up and somehow made it out alive.
Have a great weekend, everyone.