Let me make this clear right at the start: I don't like soccer... and I don't like Twilight either. I don't like soccer because I wasn't born in Germany, Brazil, England or Ghana. I was born in Washington, DC -- where we play baseball, basketball and football (poorly, I might add). I don't like Twilight because I'm not a 13-year-old girl.
That said, I'm not a caveman. Every four years, 30 days of World Cup soccer is perfectly lovely. The rest of the planet is genuinely passionate -- just as we are about the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals or Stanley Cup (I'm just kidding about the Stanley Cup).
Also, the hyperbole from the announcers adds an amusing layer of excess that puts the normal over-the-top faux drama of American sports broadcasters to shame. When little New Zealand played 2006 World Cup Champion Italy to a tie, you'd have thought world history went something like this:
1) Roman Empire falls.
2) Allies defeat Nazi Germany.
3) Kiwis tie Italy.
(By the way, former Nazis will really be torn during the Argentina-Germany game. The Fatherland or the country that sheltered me? Would've been such a tough choice for Eichmann).
Then there's the talk every four years in the U.S. that the excitement surrounding the American World Cup side will be the genesis of a new soccer craze. Never mind that it didn't happen in 2006, 2002, 1998 or any time in recorded history. I'm reminded of a National Public Radio story on a North American Soccer League game played at the Rose Bowl in the late 70s. The Tampa Bay Rowdies fell behind the Los Angeles Aztecs, 1-0, on a goal early in the 2nd half. The TV announcer conjured up all the drama he could -- "The Tampa Bay bench is disconsolate," he said.
"Well of course they're disconsolate," said the NPR reporter. "They're already one goal behind and there's only 42 minutes left to play. How do they ever expect to catch up?"
Sports in America is about hope. Every Sunday, down 17 points with three minutes to play, I develop a scenario in my head where the Redskins score twice, recover two on-sides kicks and score again to pull out a dramatic victory. In soccer, if you're down 2-0 with an hour to play, forget it. Thirty-nine times out of 40, you're done. Go rake the leaves.
As for Twilight, I may not be the target audience, but as a film critic, I'm still capable of judging these movies on their merit. And in that regard, the first two films were lackluster portrayals of vampiric teen angst -- teenagers frowning and pouting without much story or identifiable characters. The third movie -- Eclipse -- is better, but nonetheless full of righteous self-importance and a surprising lack of clarity for those who haven't read the books.
Since I saw it in the middle of World Cup fever, I naturally drew instant comparisons, of which there are many (and by many, I mean three).
1. The Rules are confusing. In Eclipse, why is it dangerous for Edward to have sex with Bella? Will their offspring be a dangerous hybrid? Will Edward devour her during coitus? Please explain. In soccer, I defy you to explain the off-sides rule succinctly. Also, please note that after 90 minutes of play, the referee randomly allows for extra time based on injuries and other stoppages. Then, in the knockout round, if the score is still tied, extra time is followed by what's also known as extra-time. Really? Extra time followed by extra time?
2) Both have annoying soundtracks. If you're a grown-up, listening to the constant buzz of 60,000 vuvuzelas is the worst development in sports since ESPN put Rush Limbaugh on its NFL pre-game show. And if you're older than 16, the Eclipse soundtrack achieves the impossible: it's sappier than the dialogue. Individually, many of the tracks may be grammy-worthy. Together, it's as painful as Uruguay and France playing to a 0-0 tie.
3) No one scores. In the Twilight movies, there's an abundance of severed heads but no sex, even between two people who can't wait to spend the rest of their lives together. Our sex/violence priorities remain horribly out-of-whack. Meanwhile, at the World Cup, the only scoring comes after the matches, when I suspect every one of these guys is getting more action than Tiger Woods at Jesse James' birthday party.
Overall, I'll take the World Cup. There's slightly more action. And you can gamble on it.