When I was a wee boy my father took me to Philadelphia to see the Eagles play. It was a cold Pennsylvania winters day and we both wore heavy coats. I don’t remember who the Eagles played, but I know I fell in love with football that day. Norm Van Brocklin quarterbacked the Eagles and he was great. He was the first of my three-quarterback heroes: Van Brocklin, Johnny U, and Dan Marino. Actually I was kind of old to have Marino as a hero, but God he was good and fun to watch. I loved football. And the Dolphins. And Howard Cosell. “It’s a full moon over Miami tonight as young Danny Marino leads his Miami Dolphins onto the field to take on…” My adrenalin flowed and I watched the first half on the edge of my seat. Marino almost always hit one of the Marks Brothers for a game winner. And there is nothing like the Super Bowl produced by any of the big networks.
I played some Pop Warner, and in Junior High I was a back up QB and starting wide receiver. Two problems: I am blind in one eye and very slow. I had a short career in pads, although I played lots of touch on Sunday mornings, playing my last game at the age of 40. Soccer was never, ever on my radar.
But sometime in the past decade I got back in touch with my English roots. My Mom is a Brit and my cousins love football; their football. I started watching when it became available on American television (cable). I saw Messi and Ronaldo and Rooney’s bicycle-kick goal. I started paying attention to the Premier League. I liked it. The ball is in play ALL the time. No huddles. No timeouts. No commercial breaks. It’s 90 minutes of action, and it can get rough. While they don’t wear pads, they can bang. See yellow and red cards. It might be low scoring, but a strike can occur at any moment.
Now I’ve become a huge Manchester United fan. As the Dolphins have faded, United has risen. You’ve got to have someone to love, and for the past ten years it’s been impossible to love the Dolphins. On the other hand, United has been fabulous. You start to know every player and even begin to understand why the managers play certain players and deploy their different formations. You scream when Manchester United scores.
So in my sporting heart, Manchester United has replaced the Miami Dolphins. Does that mean soccer has replaced American football for me? I’m not sure. But I’m suspicious.