Great Day Yesterday

Was looking forward to the rivalry double-header last night. UNC-Dook and USA-Mexico. The right team won both games. It's crazy, our biggest national rival in team sports is in a sport most people don't know about or care about. Our games with Mexico are as fierce as any event with the Russians used to be. The Mexican players hate us, their fans despise us, the entire country went out and bought voodoo dolls that were supposed to look like Landon Donovan (they screwed up the number, it's 10 not 01 genuises), and the hatred bubbles over into the game.

People think soccer is a fairy sport just need to look at the montage of cheap shots the Mexican players have taken against Uncle Sam over the last decade and a half. Rafa Marquez head butted Cobi Jones in the world cup and last night he went studs first into our goal keeper Tim Howard. Go to the around the 5:05 part in the below video to add a new sports villian for you to hate.
Howard is one of the few Americans in the top five at his postion in the entire world. Marquez is the captain of Mexico and the living embodiment of its contempt for the U.S. He's also been one of the better players in the world the last 5 or 6 years. Studs up is standard fare in this game. I'll kick you in the knee with metal cleats and you tell me how much a fairy game soccer is.

The game is everything a competition between two countries sharing a border but little else should be. We are also fairly even. We have the edge at home, and the have a huge edge in Mexico City. They play in a venue so smog filled American players are often time on oxygen ventilators at the end of the game. It's like L.A. in the 70s but worse.

In the game lively action ensued, Michael Bradley burdened with being the son of the coach, scored twice to put his critics, suggesting preferential treatment for daddy's kid, to rest. The fans in Columbus, Ohio gave the game and almost EPL like feel, and despite the small, vocal contingents of Mexicans it was truly a home game (not true when they play this game in L.A.).

So after a hard fought victory, a post game scuffle where a Mexican coach slapped one of our players, I turn to UNC-Dook. Which I've suggested is the best rivalry in U.S. sports. Over the last 20 years the game has had so much national significance with both teams being in the top 5 as often as not and them hating each other as much as they do.

Still, my appreciation of the under-the-radar soccer rivalry only grew by comparison. I could not help but look at Dook-UNC as separated only by shades--of blue literally. That makes for a good rivalry too, no doubt, but I'd argue the more unlike the teams are the more compelling the drama. Dook-UNC has it's roots in such a dichotomy, with Dook being the small private school in an urban setting eight miles away from UNC, a state school in a college town.

The student bodies, therefore the student athletes were as diverse as possible. Rich kids from out of state vs. in-state kids at a public university. Then something happenend in the pursuit of wins on the court Dook laxed it's standards for basketball players.

At one point in the early 90s, a reporter touted Duke's edge in the classroom, and Dean Smith pointed out the higher SAT scores of his two black stars vs. Duke's two white stars as evidence one of the racial bias still prevalent in judging intelligence and perhaps, the state school-private school bias. The truth of the matter, no matter how many geeks populate Cameron Indoor Stadium, and how many frat parties saturate UNC, there is little difference between the players.

Both groups are high-school All Americans, both in academic settings with old-school coaches that make them go to class, and get something out of their four years. In fact, they spend most of their summers playing one another, and Duke players are often spotted at the better parties at UNC or nearby NC State and vice versa.

The players are no longer representative of the rivalry. The same can't be said for U.S. Mexico. Our team still mostly represents everything Mexico hates about the U.S. Most of the players come from well-off families, the type that send their kids to Duke, and it's the most suburban of sports in the U.S. That's changing with guys like Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson coming from hardscrabble backgrounds, and now Mexican-Americans making the team, but our squad is actually becoming more representative of what the U.S. really is.

The Mexicans come from villages, from metropolitan Mexico City, and the team has weathered the kidnapping of family members by rebel groups seeking ransom. The cultures clash. The players are the embodiment of that clash. What's funny is in soccer terms, it's the inverse of cultural differences as Mexico is the regional power, the organization with a better structure, and the side that feels entitled.

As much as I revere the UNC-Dook rivalry, I couldn't help but watching the professorial Coack K and Roy Williams as small kings in their own fiefdoms. It may be interesting on a national level but outside of the U.S. it's as relevant as an Aussie rules football "derby" is to us.

The U.S. Mexico game featured Landon Donovan, who recently went on loan to one of the biggest clubs in the world, who spending like the New York Yankees, have an all-star roster. Rafa Marquez plays for a similar club in Spain. In fact, you could argue, everywhere in the world that Dook-UNC would be greeted with a blank stare, a random person on the street could name you a player on Bayern Munich or FC Barcelona.

There was passion in the Duke-UNC game. There was intensity and an elevating of play that comes with playing your rival but somehow it didn't match up. Two blue-bloods battling. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry lost a little of its venom once the Red Sox starting spending as much as the Yanks. Once they won a World Series or two, it's been like the Sox are Yankees North.

I said lost a little, it's still one of the most intense rivalries in all of sports, the dramatic differences still exist in the fans and the organizations. New Yawker vs. Masshole. IBM vs. dirty uniforms, facial hair, and rebel defiance. But there is a reason the Miracle on Ice is considered the greatest upset ever. The Russians at that time were our biggest rivals... ever. The cold war, the clashing of ideologies, the cultural differences, it's all there.

Switching the channel from one positive outcome to another, I realized just how compelling the U.S. Mexico game is. It's what UNC-Dook and the Yankees-Red Sox used to be but on an international level. It's a shame that most Americans are blithely ignorant of the scale and passion of the game. As a kid, I could care less about certain sports, but if it was U.S. vs. USSR I'd be rooting like heck for the U.S. For soccer haters, there is one game you should tune into and enjoy and that's U.S.A.-Mexico. An Auburn-Alabama for North America.


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