Think we’re nuts about our sports?
Now hold that thought for a moment.
In the Vail Valley we have learned to be excited once every 10 years about this event called the World Ski Championships. Except for a few valley members, most of us never actually followed the event with any true interest until it began to affect us directly in 1989, and only then because the potential for financial gain was tremendous. Granted, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so, as that is how many of us make a living.
But to the rest of the free world with peaks high enough for frozen water crystals, the elaborate winter ski races held every two years are the epitome of the sport, pitting a country’s downhill elite in a climaxing battle for world supremacy every other year.
However, as Alan Braunholtz mentioned so eloquently a few weeks ago, the absolute King of the Mountain for worldwide sporting events is the World Cup held for futbol (fotbol, soccer, whatever) every four years by a different hosting country.
We had the pleasure (my friends call it luck, thine enemies use the word audacity) of being in Europe four years ago in 1998 when France hosted, and won, the World Cup. The grip that the games have over here on these people during the games can only be compared in Vail to staring in awe as the Austrians yelled while screaming and ringing those dang cow bells each time Herman Maier’s name was so much as mentioned while he set yet another world record on the Birds of Prey back in 1999.
For those of you who remember that specific moment, now take that memory and the aforementioned fantasy involving the NFL and multiply it by 100 million-plus EU members, and you begin to understand the emotional intensity that has overtaken this section of the world for the month of June.
Yes, we are lucky enough to be over here (Denmark at the moment) again during the same time period, and again we are witnessing the overwhelming fanaticism in all its personal glory.
These folks are absolutely ga-ga nuts over futbol.
The quarterfinal match last Saturday night involved my wife’s adopted homeland of Denmark versus the Sons of Satan themselves representing the Supremely Evil British Empire, or at least that’s how it appeared to the Danes.
The game, taking place in Japan (this year’s co-host with South Korea), was to begin promptly at 1:30 p.m. By 1:15 not a retail establishment in Copenhagen could be found with open doors, as the owner and their employees were busy painting their faces red and white and wrapping their bodies in Danish flags drenched with bottle after plastic bottle of Tuborg and Carlsberg.
The Crown Jewels could have been stolen, the queen’s personal carriage trashed, and the Little Mermaid’s head chopped off (again) and nobody would have been the wiser until halftime, at which point some guy named Lars probably would have noticed, but only if he wasn’t too entrenched with the halftime highlights being satellite-beamed to 17 Danish channels at once.
Remember the giant purple Swiss Milka Cow that disappeared during the ’99 World Championships? I saw it sipping a latte during the first half alongside Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa, who was bouncing up and down atop a streetside cafe table screaming at the top of his lungs about why no Kennedy would ever again be president.
No one heard him but me.
The Danish equivalent of an Eagle County commissioner could have been inciting riots over the need for tougher immigration laws (most of THEIR illegals are from, believe it or not, Turkey), and although it is an incredibly “touchy” subject at the moment over here, not a soul would have listened.
They were too busy watching the futbol match.
Every TV with an unbroken screen was on, every Danish flag ever sold was flying, every bar with a working spigot was open and every street was silent.
At games end the score read: Lucifer’s Malevolent Offspring from England, 3, and the Talented But Not Quite Enough Danes, 0, but did not deter the determined from enjoying a rousing version of the Denmark national anthem, which was blasted countrywide to all six million Danes spontaneously.
While we do it before a game (when we’re still loyal), these guys also sing it afterward, even after losing, for the sole purpose of jamming their national pride down the winner’s throats. And then most of them continue to watch the other matches, because even though their team lost, the sheer excitement from rest of the games is worthy enough to demand their attention.
But lo and behold as I finish these very words, I witness Team USA, who wasn’t supposed to make it past the first round, as they just defeated Mexico in the quarterfinals. International pundits said we would not win that one, either.
Maybe it’s just me, but although there are no 300- pound bone-crushing linebackers with names ending in “ski,” perhaps there is something to this sport after all.
Richard Carnes of Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org