O'BRIEN: International sporting events give us all a chance to - Quincy Herald-Whig | Illinois & Missouri News, Sports

O'BRIEN: International sporting events give us all a chance to be on same team

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An estimated 70,000 Argentinian soccer fans made their way to Rio de Janeiro in the days leading up to Sunday's championship match of the World Cup. The Associated Press reported some drove nearly 40 hours by car to be at the scene of what they hoped was their country's latest soccer triumph.

Winning a World Cup is a big deal. The fact that the Argentine national team was playing for the title against Germany on a rival's home turf made it all that much better. In American sports terms, it would be like the Michigan football team playing for a national championship in Ohio. The last thing the Brazilians wanted to see was their rivals hoist soccer's most coveted championship right in front of their crying eyes.

As it turned out, Germany scored a goal during extra time (or overtime as Americans know it) and won 1-0, sparing the Brazilians the embarrassment and making Argentina backers weep.

International sporting events like the World Cup are fantastic for national pride. It's too bad there isn't something scheduled every year that we can get behind. We may haul our kids to soccer games for years on end when they're young, but let's face it -- on a national level, professional soccer is a niche sport.

Yet, when the World Cup rolls around every four years, it seems like we're all into Team USA. This past World Cup was no exception. People watched U.S. games in record numbers on ESPN.

The team's game against Portugal drew nearly 25 million viewers. How big is that? The final game of the recently completed NBA Finals drew 18 million, while the final game of last year's World Series had 19.2 million viewers. Those World Cup viewership totals don't count the thousands of people who watched in bars and at stadium watch parties across the country. In certain scenarios, soccer can be big business in America.

The U.S. team fared well, advancing out of what was considered "The Group of Death," and going to extra time against powerful Belgium before falling 2-1 in the knockout stage. The Americans' winning percentage was a mere .375 percent at the World Cup, but people saw it as a monumental achievement.

Maybe it was. I'm no soccer expert.

More likely, we're were excited about how our boys did because we tend to put on blinders when the folks competing are wearing "USA" across their chest. We love to wrap ourselves in the flag, and events like the World Cup and the Olympics let us do this.

How else can you explain people getting excited when the U.S. luge team does well at the Winter Olympics or when we win gold in judo at the Summer Olympics? Nearly all of us have no idea how to be good at luge or judo, but we take pride when one of our own wins the gold.

International sporting events really are the only time we can all come together and agree on something. In everyday life, we have our own rooting interests. You're either a Republican or a Democrat. It's either Blue Devils or Raiders, Cardinals or Cubs, Blues or Blackhawks and Rams or Bears.

Unfortunately, we have to wait until 2016's summer Olympics before we all get to root for the same team again.

Until then, go buy a "Back to Back World War champs" T-shirt and wear it proudly.

-- dobrien@whig.com/221-3370

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