David J. Neal

David J. Neal: World Cup fan takes results personally

Each U.S. goal Sunday sprang us into happy dance sampling. My 9-year-old daughter and her pal giggles at their fathers doing things that looked lifted from Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Fiddler on the Roof, bad American Bandstand. Our screams scared the cats.

Then, that final, tying Portugal goal. I melded into my black modern-designed leather recliner. Only a single bomb of a word could be mustered.

As I drove along 36th Street on Monday, I wondered … why those reactions? Why do I still hope my DVR shows me Michael Bradley retaining possession at midfield, Demarcus Beasley blocking the cross or one of those three defenders heading it into the rain forest? Why didn’t I sit down for the first eight minutes Sunday?

Why was I a pure fan? Why am I a fan every World Cup?

Spending 27 years writing about sports for a living matures sports love. You lose your face-painting, Facebook-avatar-changing devotion.

Like the real world, there’s little pure dark and light. Some organizations always make your life easier. Some delight in making it more difficult. But, overall, most organizations have a similar mix of good people and tools. We deal with the former, work around the latter.

If we have any sense, we keep an appreciation for greatness in all forms. But time, life and that up-close perspective divert our rooting interest to, first, ourselves: What results make my life easier?

When the Heat dumped the Pacers in under seven games this year, one Heat beat writer knew he’d be able to attend his son’s high school graduation. The Panthers second-round win against Philadelphia in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs meant I’d have to cancel my beloved annual trip to the Indianapolis 500. When I got home that night, I shed the tears I usually shed during Back Home Again in Indiana.

(Ironically, that night’s game story would be rightfully criticized for reading as if I wrote it while waving Panthers pompons.)

But Sunday’s 2-2 tie with Portugal did nothing to my day-to-day life. So, why?

Because what the Dolphins are to the AARP-aged born-and-raised in Coral Gables or Springs, what the Heat is to those raised on the current South Florida sports scene, the U.S. national teams in hockey and soccer are to me. And, I’ll bet, some other middle-aged folks disconnected from their other sporting young loves by time and space.

Because my Big Jim didn’t play football, baseball or basketball. He played soccer.

Because I remember sitting on our burnt orange carpet in front of the Curtis Mathes console TV in 1982, catching the one game per day on a special World Cup version of PBS’ Soccer Made in Germany. I wondered, when will we be good enough to be there? When can we come to the party?

Because I still remember the Colombian ranting at me in The Clevelander that the United States shouldn’t even be in the 1990 World Cup. Because I wished I had his phone number four years later when the referee’s whistle blew on a 2-1 U.S. win against Colombia at the 1994 World Cup.

Because I spent much of that July 4 alone in my apartment, hoping my No. 2 team, Brazil, wouldn’t strafe my No. 1 team on our soil on our most patriotic holiday.

However bad the inevitable defeat (only 1-0 as it turned out), I didn’t want to be in public for it.

Because of The Month Without Sleep, otherwise known as the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Thank goodness I spent a chunk of that on the road covering the Stanley Cup Finals, then the NHL Draft in Toronto. U.S. games meant 2 a.m. alarms or all-nighters. I kept my celebrations muted, lest hotel security come a-knocking. Or, my wife come a-growling.

Because I’ve watched the slow, steady growth from domestic and international joke to seconds from advancing in the World Cup before Germany, Brazil, Italy or the Netherlands will. They’re the cousin who has worked hard to get his stuff together and carry the family name proudly.

So, every World Cup and Olympics, people like me are reminded how freeing it feels, yet how much it hurts to be a fan again.

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