UA basketball

The great announcer Vin Scully once told a story about these two guys. One guy asked the other what he thought was the most incredible invention of all time. The second guy thought about it for a while and then responded, “The thermos.” 

The first guy, somewhat befuddled, asked, “Why the thermos?”

“Well, it can keep hot stuff hot and cold stuff cold.”

“Okay, so?”

“Well, how does it know?!”

I tend to think that an even greater invention is TiVo, which allows you to record something with the press of a button and then watch it later (or, quite often, see the program/sports event on the list of playback options and wonder why you ever recorded it).

Such was the case last Thursday when the University of Arizona men’s basketball team was taking on Houston in the Sweet 16 and the USA men’s soccer team was facing Mexico in a World Cup qualifier and both were starting at 7 p.m. The UA game was on television, but there were soccer viewing parties all over town, including one at the Tucson Convention Center.

A good friend of mine who likes soccer (and, I found out later, sour cream, which is even worse than soccer) asked me to go watch the soccer game with him. He sounded sad and a little desperate (like most soccer fans), so I said okay. To be honest, having been an Arizona fan forever, I was not feeling particularly confident about the Wildcats’ chances, so soccer gave me an excuse not to watch the basketball.

I’ve been an American all my life, so I basically don’t really like soccer. Actually, there are three things to like about soccer. First, it’s a great gateway sport for 5-year-olds to wear uniforms, get out and run around, and dream about playing a sport where you can use your hands.

Second, soccer highlights are great. They used to have a thing on ESPN on Christmas Eve that was an hour of the greatest soccer highlights from around the world that year. It was amazing.

I could watch soccer highlights every day of the year. Great scored goals, great saves by the goalkeeper, great dribbling and passing. The only problem is the other 89 minutes of the game, when nothing happens.

The third thing…well, I can’t really remember the third thing. Oh yeah! Ted Lasso.

So, I TiVo-ed the UA game and we went to the soccer viewing party. Man, I wish something exciting had happened. Heck, I wish that ANYTHING had happened. 

The game was played in the legendary Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, where the Mexican national team pretty much never loses. The home-field advantages are many. For one, Mexico City sits at an elevation of 7,200 feet. No matter how well-conditioned visiting athletes are, they begin to wilt in the second half from oxygen deprivation. Then, like Humble Pie once sang, it’s hot and nasty. Temperatures and humidity levels both in the 90s are not uncommon. 

And then there’s the crowd. The official capacity of the stadium is a whopping 89,000. But on the stadium’s opening night in 1966 they drew 107,000 people. A couple years later, they squeezed in 120,000 people for a game between Mexico and Brazil. Just imagine the UA’s football stadium filled to capacity, every seat taken. And then double it.

In nearly 60 years, Mexico has lost only twice in World Cup qualifying matches in Estadio Azteca (to Costa Rica in 2001 and to Honduras in 2013). Before Thursday, the USA team had managed two ties in 11 games in Azteca. Going into the game, both teams trailed surprising front-runner Canada, with the top three finishers in the group making it to the World Cup. The U.S. missed the 2018 World Cup after being upset by Trinidad and Tobago in the qualifying round.

The whole night turned out to be underwhelming. The game was played at night, with temperatures in the 60s and a light breeze. Plus, because the World Cup will be played in sweltering Qatar this year between (our) Thanksgiving and Christmas, the qualifying game was played the first week of spring, instead of last summer. The stadium was also only about half-full because authorities have put severe limits on fan attendance in Mexico because of bad behavior. (Some “fans” insist on shouting homophobic slurs at opposing players. In 2004, not long after the 9/11 attacks, people in Azteca were shouting “Osama! Osama!” at the American players.)

It got so bad (and dull) that the PA announcer at the stadium was exhorting those in attendance to make some noise. It was subdued at the viewing party, as well, as the two teams played to a lackluster (and completely unsurprising) 0-0 tie. 

At least I didn’t have to watch the UA game.

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