So, as I type this particular second, I have an icepack on my face, bourbon is sweating out of every orifice and I'm fairly certain my Clint Dempsey USMNT jersey has several holes ... somewhere. Also: My bottom lip is swollen, my top lip is split and, I suspect, there is blood in places I haven't come across yet.
I watch so much sports. I watch so much sports. In my lifetime: I have watched my beloved St. Louis Cardinals win three world championships. I have watched the hometown Illinois Fighting Illini pull off one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA tournament history. I have watched my doormat Arizona Cardinals somehow make the freaking Super Bowl. I have done of all these things surrounded my fellow fans --surrounded by my people who are rejoicing and screaming, with me, alongside. But it was not quite like this.
I don't know whether you like soccer, or whether you don't, whether you've been tracking USMNT for two decades or you just popped by the bar after work and oh hey look at the TV that's the country I'm from. I just know that when John Brooks -- who is 21 years old, who was born nine days after Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993 -- scored that header for the United States to take a stunning 2-1 lead against Ghana on Monday, it is worryingly possible that I accidentally made it to second base with every person in the bar. No matter where I was looking, no matter what direction I was pointing … whatever was in front of me was my best friend. It was a collective gaggle of fists and elbows and screams.
So, a couple of those elbows landed on my face, and so there was blood all over everything I used as a mop. SO WHAT. You say this like it's a bad thing. This is what this is all about. This is the point. This is why this is different.
I know this is easily mocked. I know the United States beat Ghana -- Ghana -- and will be lucky to escape the group stage even after this win. I know the U.S. didn't even play well, that the whole game was spent in a terrified defensive crouch, that if we hadn't pulled off a fluke-ish goal in the first minute, we'd have spent the whole evening grousing and bouncing our skull off various blunt objects. I know there is still so far to go. I know this is all sort of silly.
That doesn't change the fact that I'm bleeding profusely from the face right now and it is so fantastic.
You might not like soccer. Maybe you weren't raised with it. Maybe you hate the flopping. Maybe you like American football too much. Maybe you just are trepidacious of what you do not know. This is all fine! So many times, those of us who love soccer act like there's something wrong with you for not being with us, for not joining us, for not recognizing what is coming. You have nothing to apologize for. It's not inherently our sport in the U.S. It's OK! Our sports are great.
But wow, if you weren't with us today … you missed so much. You missed a first-minute goal -- those never happen! -- that had us apoplectic before we even racked up our bar tabs. You missed the terror of the next 80 minutes, the fear that because we were playing so poorly, the sense that a reckoning was coming. You missed the deflation of that reckoning, which meant you missed that amazing Brooks goal in response, which means you missed all of it. But we had so much fun without you. You should have been there.
Which is what all this is about. Most of all: You missed being with us. When my Cardinals win, it is tempered by the friends I have who are not Cardinals fans: I have Nationals fans and Brewers fans and Rangers fans and pretty much everyone that isn't a Red Sox fan that keep me in check: My celebration is not theirs. This is true of all of us: All sports are local. Our tribalism is inherently limited. We are a fractious country. People in Nebraska don't understand those in New Jersey, and jeez, how could they?
But this World Cup, this can transcend all this. This is our thing. No matter where I looked, everyone was on my side. It was a collective moment. This is what the rest of the world is talking about. This is the thing we can all have. This is the thing you are missing.
If you are still fighting, if you are still making jokes about not being able to use your hands, if you still don't get … just come with us. I was once you. I once avoided this. I was so wrong.
The United States might not win another game this tournament. (I think they will. Monday night was the sort of fun that makes one dumbly think they'll win them all.) But you have to get together with the rest of us to find out for sure. This is something all of us can do.
You might get punched in the face. You might hug people you've never met. You might end up getting to second base with someone with whom you have nothing in common other than the fact that you're both Americans and THAT'S ENOUGH DAGNABIT. But join. Because this is different than everything else we're doing. This is something we all have. Let's do this together.
Now, as I ice my lip and wonder if I need stitches … one more time:
I'm not done. I hope you're not either. See you on Sunday.
* * *