miller's musings

    There is nothing so great as a rivalry.

    For a sports fan, it is the reason to root and love your team. The victories are sweeter and the losses harder to take when the game is against a rival. Rivalries exist on all levels of the game. In high school, you blindly despise the crosstown school; in college you get Cal-Stanford; and in the pros we rely upon history for our rivalries.

    In the United States, these professional rivalries are created through acts like the Dodgers and Giants both moving to California, and the dichotomy between Yankee success and BoSox melancholy.

    But rarely, if ever, does a rivalry extend beyond our borders. It has never even made it to Alaska or Hawaii. The rivalry is pretty much a citizen of the Lower 48.

    Within these bounds, rivalries are tied up with other kinds of competitions, like state-to-state and city-to-city, so that when the teams play they are not just fighting for sporting glory, but for interstate bragging rights.

    What happens when a rivalry goes international?

    Can we as Americans even fathom an international sporting rivalry? What would it be like if the biggest game of the year for football was the United States versus England and not a Super Bowl between two teams you probably don’t give a hoot about? We have never even had anything close to an international rivalry.

    We have international players, yes. The NBA is riddled with them, as is baseball. Funny, though: The NBA’s talent comes from Europe while baseball draws upon Central America and, lately, from Japan.

    America takes these players in, but never creates cross-national competitions with other teams. Even many of the leagues abroad for basketball, baseball and especially football, are overwhelmed with U.S. athletes trying to make it to the next level back in the states.

    In sports where teams compete internationally, no one cares. When the U.S. Eagles, our national rugby team, played England and South Africa, among others, last year, who really cared? How many Americans are actually going to stay up into the wee hours of the night to catch the United States play in Japan and South Korea in the World Cup? Two, maybe three people?

    Having international rivalries completely redefines the way a sport is played. For instance, the rugby ranks abroad are dictated in such a way that the season culminates in the times of international play.

    One of the greatest sporting events in the world for pure adrenaline and flat-out excitement is the Tri-nations. New Zealand, South Africa and Australia brawl it out in eclectic forums from Cape Town to Sydney for international bragging rights. The whole season leads up to this event, and the European tours that come afterwards. The domestic season is followed by the Super 12, which is but a precursor the main event: the mano-a-mano wars of national dominance.

    Titans like Jonah Lomu and Mark Andrews are more than sporting figures, they are national heroes and international plagues. The lens through which a player is viewed is intensified beyond belief when the press of several nations searches for cracks in the armor.

    The Tri-nations is just one example of such an event. Cricket has the same sort of international appeal, as does soccer, the grand-daddy of them all. Countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, which have dominated the youth world cups of the last 20 years, rally behind their teams.

    The World Cup has more fans than any other sporting event, excluding perhaps the Olympics. France and England have a soccer rivalry that goes back 100 years.

    It is sad that America has none of this. We root for our teams in our sports. Others are welcome to appreciate what we have and participate in it, but that’s it. The sports stay in the country.

    It’s a shame, really: America is rife with people we could throw behind the cause of an international sporting colossus. There are more sports-crazed, statistic-obsessed maniacs in this country than almost anywhere. The crazed fans of Argentina’s Boca or Natal’s Sharks have nothing on a ‘Bama fan in heat or a Cubs fan’s sorrow.

    So until our soccer team wins the World Cup or we upset England next time we play them in rugby: Go Giants and I hate L.A.

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