Getting Your Howdy On: SIV Week Is Here

It’s my mother’s birthday. Were she still shuffling, flat-footed and bunion-aching, along this mortal coil of frayed and ravelled rope, she would be turning 95 today. She would be steamed. I’m so angry I could spit! she used to mutter when one of us, not always me, would race heedlessly past the wide but certainly finite fields of her patience. She loved life, doted on her family and especially those teeming crowds of grandchildren gathered around every Howden turkey. She’s a woman who suffered, and yet got pretty much what she had hoped for in life. In her last months, though, she’d had enough, and was quite-content-thank-you to be DONE with sleeping and waking and eating and all these things. One day in a hospital bed, she awoke, looked around with confusion and (at least the way I read it) growing dismay, and said, “Am I still here?”

Today is Enid Day. She died in 2006. (I remembered her, in one of my favourite and least-saleable pieces in JHdotCOM history, here: . Sorry, still unable to hyperlink.) Her birth-day is when we most remember her. I got a note from Big Sister that looked forward to her third Enid Day in Nunavut, where she her last few years of “retirement” teaching some of the damaged and despairing children and youth of Cape Dorset. She was enticed there by my ex-wife, with whom she lives. (That’s a pretty good story, I figure, though not mine to tell, not yet.) So, happy Enid Day to them, to all my relations, and to you and me.

In memory of her, I have declared this SIV Week. I’m not sure who was more stubborn, Enid or my Dad, though I’d say both changed astral planes more easily than they often changed their minds. The stubbornness I rue with such arm-waving in my fourth son informs me — eventually, ruefully, guiltily — of just how cement-headed I so often and so chronically am. Solution? StubbornnessIsVirtue Week. SIV. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; if you can’t alter it, exalt it! Winston Churchill was stubborn. So were Gandhi, King, Teresa. So am I, if only I could beat that adamantine forehead of mine against more meaningful walls.

Therefore, this having been declared SIV Week, I’m taking several half-finished things that I’ve written over the past while — and, for various reasons, chief among them cowardice, fatigue and cerebral untidiness, haven’t had the poop to complete — and I’m GETTING THEM BLOODY WELL DONE. (I also remain, certainly, cursed by Enid’s endlessly repeated counsel that if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, which has led to more procrastination and dismayed unfinish-ing than either of us can abide.) So, first you’ll see, in the It’s All About Sports section, my final Final 4 basketball thoughts, though that American college hoops lollapalooza finished three weeks ago. Other gottawritems are even older, but won’t look so obviously out-of-date because they’re less particular.

So: I’m finishing stuff. I’m clearing the decks. Spring cleaning of the neocortical kind. Purging. Loosening my load, in hopes that new and fresh things might follow, but mainly out of brute determination to do-stuff-my-way-even-if-it-makes-no-sense-to-readers-’cause-Mum-never-gave-up-and-mulishness-should-sometimes-bear-fruit-even-if-it-looks-like-a-dungpile. It’s MY dungpile. I made it all by myself! Happy Enid Day, and Happy StubbornnessIsVirtue Week!!

The rest, below, is in explanation of what this site has done and does when it’s not SIVW.

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Dr. Jay Saves Soccer

Let me not be the last I never played the game North American pundit to step forward with some Golden Bull to save le foot from itself. Shoot, five billion people aren’t necessarily always right.

The Jim Rome Show normally saves its most juvenile smack for ridiculing the game North America forgot. “How very soccer of you!” is Rome’s favourite word of dismissal for any example of mob violence, shameless fakery or terminal dullness in sport. But the sportswriter John Feinstein was a guest host on the Rome radio show this week, and he actually has some intelligent regard for the game without being blindly attached to its traditions. He had a couple of interesting suggestions to make if FIFA ever decided it wanted to appeal more to North American audiences.

First, he said, eliminate the offside rule entirely. Or, follow the dearly departed NASL with its 35 yard lines that marked attacking zones within which offsides are allowed. Second, whatever you do, Feinstein argued, you can not decide a championship-calibre soccer match with something other than soccer. (You don’t decide a baseball series with a home run derby, or the Super Bowl with a field-goal competition. And now the Bus. Jerome Bettis once kicked a field goal in junior high, and now he’s doing it for all the marbles…) Feinstein was a bit vague on how you’d solve the Game Without End phenomenon, except to suggest that teams knowing they have to score to win will, well, try to score. There’s some truth to that.

Dona and Paul and I watched the 3rd place game, Germany/Portugal, together. I pay occasional attention to international soccer news, but almost never watch anything in between World Cups. What a pleasure to watch with these guys – one from Haiti, one from Togo – who know and love the game so well. (Good practice pour mon français, aussi!). Starting at halftime, I tried out Mr. Feinstein’s ideas, and a few of my own. No offside? My buddies just grinned. Silly idea. (The game would get all stretched out of shape, the beautiful buildup would dissolve into full-pitch dump ‘n’ chase; hockey with no icing, only worse. I could see that.) But what about no offside once a team has crossed midfield? They still weren’t too keen on the idea, though the 35 yard “freedom zone” seemed to intrigue Dona, at least briefly. Hey, would a 4-3 game be so bad?

No life and death by penalties? The guys had cautious agreement with the idea of deciding the game by playing the game, but how to do it? To my surprise, Paul and Dona were interested in hockey’s regular season (partial) solution, opening up the ice by going 4 on 4 for the overtime period; they also hesitantly admired the post-season “however long it takes” approach to deciding tied games. We kicked around the idea of removing a defender in extra time, the need for freer substitution, or at least a greater number of allowed changes. (By the way, how would you like to be Guy Number 23 on a World Cup squad, knowing that you’ll get 10 match minutes – if you’re lucky – in a month-long tournament?) But beyond all that, I also argued that the mentality of the game would change. If teams gotta score to win, then they’ll score. Or give up a goal in pressing to get one. Clearly, the Italians were content to go to penalties, even with their disappointing history in games decided by them. In a way, the penalty lottery ends up being an escape from risk, even though it is such a nervous affair.

Hey, how about simulation scoring? You know, if a guy’s going to dive, he should be scored by the judges. I’m like a lot of North American sports fans in finding the “simulation” of fouls and injuries bloody disgusting. If FIFA goes to two on-field officials, maybe that will help, but so would a video replay panel. Not during the match, mind you. The flow that FIFA maintains by refusing to allow commercial timeouts is a marvellous blessing. (I’m a basketball guy, but the TV timeouts, in addition to the strategic ones teams are allowed, makes the pace especially of pro ball infuriating.) Athletic matches complete in under two hours. WOW! How wonderful is that? No, here’s my plan: a team of judges watches match video, including replays. They count the number of times players are caught, as replays so regularly did, trying to draw a penalty by diving, writhing in badly-acted agony when there was NO CONTACT. Then the scores are made public. In yesterday’s match, Germany’s Michael Ballack received a mark of 3 from the simulation judges. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo still holds the single-game high, with 7 certified dives. I suggest that 2 dives in any match equals an automatic retroactive yellow card. Or a scarlet letter on the match jersey. ‘D’ for ‘dishonour’, ‘S’ for ‘shame’, ‘W’ for ‘wuss’. I’m not particular.

In contrast to the worst of the football world’s fakery, all respect to Thierry Henry, star striker of the French side. He plays through fouls, still trying to score. “He never dives,” Dona told me during the championship game today. Alongside his strong anti-racism efforts, here was the Man of the Hour for me. And here, Fédération Internationale de Football Association and soccer lovers everywhere, are one Canucklehead’s prescriptions for what ails your sport. There’s so much right with the beautiful game – its simplicity, its universality, its accessibility to the poor, the often-genuine sense of fair play that is such a contrast to the blot of diving – that I can’t help throwing my suggestions your way. (You’re welcome!)