The greatest show that never lived, here

Nothing short of ethnic genocide unites and divides the world’s peoples like their football teams.

Adri Mehra

Ever since my first kick at something checkered black-and-white (that wasn’t a dining room table or a spotted Yorkie), I’ve always had two questions:

One, why is it that whenever men see small, foot-sized dogs, they have a momentary but surprisingly trenchant urge to wind up and punt the little mother down the street?

Two, why is soccer (or football to the rest of the world) not even on the radar of the average American sports fan?

Seeing as I’ve already forwarded the first question over to Dr. Date (yes, it may be Freudian or Oedipal and no, she’s not that into you – sorry, dude) let’s tackle the latter question.

For those of you fashionably uninitiated (or so you think, pal), the Fédération Internationale de Football Association World Cup is soccer’s premiere event – an international, 32-country single-elimination tournament held to crown a champion every four years.

Y’all should be aware that this year’s Cup is being held in Germany. And it starts Friday.

What, you say?! Your Ritalin-addled mind is racing. After all, you do fancy yourself somewhat worldly and well-cultured, and yet, how could Earth’s most commonly watched cultural event totally sneak by you?

Forget the Olympics – the Cup is the real must-see TV. More than 1 billion people watched Brazil trounce Germany in the 2002 final.

And how many schmoos worldwide checked into the “Will and Grace” series finale on NBC last month? A paltry 18 million, or less than 2 percent of the most recent Cup final.

Of course, the primary reason for these figures is soccer’s immense penetration of media markets in every land except America.

According to Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s independent 2002 Official Television Report, the 20 most-watched matches that year had an average share of 84.8 percent of televisions that were turned on in the 213 countries that carry the Cup.

What’s more, this year’s Cup is expected to eclipse the last one as the most extensively covered and viewed event in television history.

And for those of us armchair field rats in the United States? It won’t come cheap – we’d need high-definition broadcast or at least middle-size cable (ESPN) to scope any game-length action this summer.

But I digress. How did this happen in the first place? How could human history’s latest superpower get so thoroughly left out of the rest of the planet’s Gibraltar of national unity and, in many cases, zest for life?

I do have one palpable theory on this matter. It’s all about the “other” football.

How ironic that it was in the late 19th century that students at stuffy Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale developed “American football” by combining rugby union rules (carrying and handling) with that of soccer’s running-based game, and adding a scrimmage and the system of a down (not the nu-metal band until much later).

Once “American football” (or “the Boston game” as it was first known) became a university institution in the Northeast, the “other” football was all but finished – there’s only so many 11-man, team-based field sports one can get excited about in a particular season.

It’s too bad America can’t (or won’t) get next to soccer. Think of the geopolitical ramifications of President George W. Bush donning a Juan Arango jersey at a summit with Venezeulan President Hugo Chávez.

Nothing short of ethnic genocide unites and divides the world’s peoples like their football teams. If only Americans could understand. Sigh.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected].