A couple of weeks ago, my friend Pete invited the boys to an exciting game of college basketball (NCAA - Santa Clara University Broncos). That means Nascar is the last of the big N-words in sport I have yet to attend. Upon moving to the US, it is impossible not to get immersed in all the sports happening.
The Celtics - L.A. Lakers NBA rivalery was pretty popular in Belgium when I grew up. When the Oakland Arena was being remodelled, I attended a game of the Golden State Warriors in their temporary home at the San Jose Arena (aka HP Pavilion aka the Sharks tank). The NBA is quiet boring. Sure there is a lot of scoring going on and running up and down the court. But it really boils down to the last couple of minutes of the game. Either the score difference has grown over the course of the game too big to make it exciting. Or the last two minutes are a battle of time outs to stop the clock and deliberate fouls to get possesion of the ball.
In sunny, hot and dry San Jose, ice hockey is very popular. Yep, that's right, San Jose is home to the NHL's San Jose Sharks. Watching a live game of ice hockey at the Shark's tank is very exciting. Also the game is fun to watch. Scoring is typically in the single digits and you should not tune out a moment. For many the real excitements only starts when the gloves come off. Every so often two or more players get in a fist fight. The apperent rules are no helmets, no gloves. So the players will battle a little on the ice, while the referees stand by. After a couple of minutes of letting the aggression out, the fight is broken up and the players typically end up in the penatly box for a while. A turn-off for attending the game is the artificial pumping up the crowd. A big screens around the arena, the eye in the sky will put up signs 'Make some noise' or 'Clap' or 'Shark attack'. And the crowd executes perfect upon command. All and all it takes the natural excitement out of the game for me. But nothing better than taking a picture with some of the teethless players of the game.
Driving up to Candlestick park (now rebranded Monster Park for the highest paying sponsor) in San Francisco to watch the San Francisco 49ers, is more of a culinary event than a sport event. Tailgating, or the hosting of a barbecue and beer at the tailgate of your pick-up truck, is the NFL event to be part of. You show up many hours in advance at the stadium and host a party out of the back of your big american pick up. Some sports fans have gone one step further: big tables with tablecloth and candles. Or even a live band with electric guitars, power generators and a full out drumset, playing 'Sweet Home Alabama'. It is pretty amazing and a lot of fun to get a taste of this side of American culture. As for the game, american football is fun and exciting to watch. More so on television than live. I found the atmosphere in the stadium rather dull. Hey, what do you want, if you just spend the last couple of hours eating and drinking in the parking lot. All you want to do after that is relax, kick back in your chair and dose of from time to time. Supporters of both teams sit mixed among each other. No chanting. Clapping and cheering to get the team going were minimal.
MLS, major league soccer, never seems to be able to take off in the US. The San Jose Clash .. uh ... now called the San Jose Earthquakes, seemed to be popular among the kids. There is still some excitement in San Jose for soccer dating back from the parties of the 1994 World Cup in the US, when the Brasilean team was based in Los Gatos and brought with them every day Samba street parties. And Crazy George tries to keep the crowd engaged at the Earthquakes games with a big drum while running around the soccer pitch. The latest news is that the Earthquakes will be leaving San Jose for Houston ... yep for the money. Can you imagine F.C. Brugge moving to Genk, or Manchester United to London? No wonder the English soccer fans are concerned when Grazier bought their beloved ManU.
Over time, I started to love the game of baseball. The Bay Area is lucky having two fun MLB baseball teams: the Oakland A's (Athletics) and the San Francisco Giants. Baseball, America's favorite passtime, is an acquired taste. It appears boring at first. Especially when games can last a couple of hours. But once you understand the game, the rules, the strategies, it is very interesting. Anything can happen at any time. Similar to real football in Europe. But you have to watch it on television. The commentary is what makes it interesting to watch. I've been to the Oakland A's: Food is terribly expensive. But how will you eat it? You just lost your other arm and an a leg while bying a pint of beer (~$7-9). And you miss the TV commentary and explanation of some of the throws (curve ball, fast ball). You'll see many in the stadium listening to the radio, while watching the game live. During the regular season, I don't follow baseball much. There are just way too many games. Almost every day there is a game. I tune in when it's time for the play offs.
College sports (NCAA) are always more exciting as teams take more risks. Games get more opportunities as the players are still young and make mistakes. For example, NCAA basketball is much more fun than NBA basketball. The Bronco's game was really fun to watch. Especially as the home team made a double digit come back to win the game in the last minutes. Also the students in the stands are much more rowdy, chant, curse, jeer. Much more spontanous than some of the other sporting events I've been to.
But I can't wait for Germany 2006. Even though Belgium didn't qualify. Viva Argentina!