No tech today. No business. No politics. It's Columbus Day so we'll pretend it's your day off.
Instead it's something completely different. American football. Specifically its analysis, and the best guy working in that field. Tony Dungy (right).
In his first year Dungy has taken over NBC's Sunday Night football show with his quiet authority, with his knowledge and with his humanity. The network found a perfect sidekick for him in the recently-retired Rodney Harrison, but this is Dungy's show and we're all the better for it.
Football needed a new face when John Madden quit, and while it's a surprise to find it in a studio show host you take what you can get. Everyone on the set defers to Dungy, and it's easy to see why. Everything he says is letter-perfect for the moment. He knows the people, he knows the game as very few do (which he's proven) but there's something about his air of calm, reflective authority I find fascinating.
I actually preferred watching the USA-Mexico match yesterday on Telemundo, even though my Spanish is horrible.
Andres Cantor is one of the world's great announcers, the vocabulary of the game is sparse (pelota is ball, partido is game), and they concentrate on what is in front of them.
What was in front of them yesterday was some good football. For once I can't fault USA coach Bob Bradley for either his game-day selection or his second-half tactics. The players just didn't execute.
(Notice how in this picture from SoccerbyIves both fans are smiling, and they're not segregated from one another. An example for the rest of the world. I love Mexican soccer fans, by the way -- really enjoyed them during the recent AC Milan-Club America match in Atlanta.)
The USA got a small lead when Charlie Davies got a through ball from Landon Donovan, beat the off-side trap, got behind the defense and finished brilliantly. (The Usher-at-the-microphone celebration was also first-rate.) That was the idea. Long balls from Tim Howard (brilliant all game long), from the defense, anything to get over the midfield fast and hit them on the break.
My daughter and I watched last night's U.S.-T&T tilt and for me the big news is we found a center at last.
Football players come in three varieties -- forwards, midfielders and defenders. The first two are sometimes called strikers, the second sometimes wingers. The strikers are the important ones. They put the ball in the onion bag most often.
The game illustrated the two schools of soccer, or futbol, or football -- the beautiful game. Brazil played beautifully. They had better players. They passed us silly the first half, back-and-forth across the pitch. They looked deadly early in the second half, firing shot-after-shot at goalie Hope Solo (right). It was one-way traffic until they tired, and the Americans gave up their own short passing game for long breakaways up the middle.
The U.S. goal, by a girl named Carli Lloyd, came seemingly out of nothing, a quick flip to get space and a screamer past the goalie, across the face of goal. Then it was back to hang in there baby, Brazil coming in from all angles, attack after attack, corner after corner, the issue not decided until their last missed by inches less than a minute from time.
We call this grinding it out. When my daughter Robin played, through high school, she became a specialist at this sort of thing. It's not pretty. It's exhausting to watch. It's physical, tackling and getting in front of people, banging the ball downfield just to get a breath.
But it works. At all levels. The balance between the beauty of a Brazil and the grinding it out mentality is what makes the game so compelling. Because you can see the same balance in a U-10 rec game as in a game played by pros.
Over the weekend my daughter and I decided to visit a local bar and watch the footy. Italy was playing Spain somewhere in Austria, and we thought it would be fun to spend time together before she travels to Italy for a summer semester later this week.
The place was mobbed. We couldn't get a view of the TV. Had to come home.
This is no longer unusual in America. It's seldom remarked upon, but it may be the most important sports story of the decade here. Ordinary Americans are dropping their obsessions with baseball, NASCAR and basketball to cheer on a bunch of guys in shorts doing what their kids do on Saturday mornings.
Now some of these people are immigrants. Some of these people are kids who grew up on soccer. But I'm beginning to believe, increasingly, that some of it is political.
The game was over by the time Landon Donovan was scratched, ostensibly with a groin injury, but in fact so as not to detract from teammate David Beckham getting his 100th (and last) cap for England. Becks later set up the first English goal, then showered and wore a nice suit during the second half.
He wears a suit well. More on that later.
Without Donovan, we had nothing to offer in attack. We had Euro-scrubs, guys like Eddie Johnson and Carlos Bocanegra who couldn't play for Fulham, guys from minor leagues in Belgium, Holland and Germany. Our back line of Cherundolo (too old), Bocanegra (too slow) and Onyewu (too ponderous) could do nothing with the English attack, and Coach Bob Bradley did nothing about it.
It's no longer enough for me to come up on a big occasion and watch our coach act like he's scared of the upcoming Barbados encounter. We've practically got an automatic, every quadrennial bid to the Big Dance now, and it's past time we got to the next level.
The next level, in this case, is beating teams like England, and Spain, and Argentina, in their own buildings, in front of their own fans, with fancy, fast, entertaining, high-energy stuff.
England fell behind, came back through an incredible individual effort by Kelly Smith (who pulled off her shoes to celebrate the goals), then was tied at the death by Japan. The game featured several hard collisions, with one goalie nearly knocked out and another player lying injured while play continued around her.
Football, or soccer, can be a dangerous game. Some great players from the past have died from the impact of repeated concussions with the hard leather balls used in the 1960s.