The soccer match was also quite good. I believe the winner was either Argentina or Holland.
The final that year was between Brazil and -- much to the surprise of the French -- France. Brazil was heavily favored, but France won, and the whole country went berserk. My son and I spent that night on the Champs-Elysees, swept along by a boisterous river of several million wildly happy French people.
Q. How happy were they?
A. They were so happy they were actually hugging Americans.
``Enjoy this!'' I shouted to my son, as we were being French-hugged. ``Tomorrow they'll hate us again!''
My point is that for excitement and atmosphere and a general United Nations of craziness, there is no sporting event that approaches the World Cup.
``So what,'' I hear many American sports fans scoffing. ``Soccer still sucks. Nobody ever scores and the players are a bunch of weenies with 1978 haircuts and names like `Pupa' who fall down writhing in fake agony every time they come into contact with an opposing player or stray mold spore.''
Yes, they do dive. Not to single out any one nation, but the Italian team spends so much time on the ground that some of the players have developed primitive root systems.
I personally find the diving to be one of the more entertaining aspects of soccer, which is a wonderfully theatrical sport. But don't be fooled by the histrionics: Soccer players are amazing athletes, playing a sport that requires extraordinary toughness and stamina -- and, at the international level, almost unbelievable skill. Scoring a goal in soccer is one of the most difficult feats in sports: Everything favors the defense, so the offensive players usually have to do something brilliant just to get off a halfway decent shot. That's why there aren't many goals. But that's also why, when the goals do come, they tend to be spectacular. And because goals -- especially World Cup goals -- are so rare and valuable, the tension preceding them is often deliciously unbearable, leading to the cathartic moment -- GOOOOOOALLL -- that can cause an entire nation to erupt in joy, and plunge another into years of black despair.
I truly believe that, even though many Americans say they hate soccer, if they gave it a fair chance -- if they took the time to actually watch a World Cup match or two -- they would still hate soccer. I don't know why this is, but apparently it's not going to change. I've given up arguing with guys who tell me how boring soccer is, but will happily spend four hours watching a baseball game in which 97 percent of the action consists of batters calling timeout.
I don't care. I love soccer, and I love the World Cup, and I'm rooting for the inexperienced but likable U.S. team. On Saturday, when the U.S. plays its opening match against England, I know exactly where I'm going to be: watching my daughter's dance recital. Really. Both events -- this is proof that God dislikes me personally -- are scheduled to start at the same time. And since my wife will be in South Africa covering the match, I'll be in an auditorium watching dance performances by hundreds of girls, only a tiny percentage of whom are my daughter. This is the mature thing to do, and I made the decision willingly once it became clear that the alternative was divorce.
But I definitely will watch the rest of the World Cup. And for the last week of the tournament I'll be in South Africa, joining in the biggest party in the world. I'll do my best to represent my country with honor, dignity and class.
Or, at the very least, with underpants.