As Super Bowl LVII approaches, I find it worth mentioning that when the game begins I will be watching for and cheering on the one and only team that has not let me down over the past 26 plus years. That team is the Philadelphia Eagles.
I lived in New York from July 1985 till January 2022. On October 27, 1986 the New York Mets won the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Now that you know where my baseball loyalties lie, you may or may not know that the Mets have not won the World Series since that day. So we can check the Mets off as a team that has come through for me.
Next, we have the Philadelphia Flyers. Having lived in Philly between the 1969 and 1976, I can confidently say that if you were a fan of Ice Hockey during the 2 straight years the Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 you are a Flyers fan for life. But with no Stanley Cup victory since, it might as well be called a life sentence.
I am a New York Knicks fan. No need to elaborate there.
I lived in London from 1976- 1980 at which time I picked Tottenham Hotspur as my team. I didn’t pick Chelsea, a team that has won the Premier League 5 times in the 21st century. I also didn’t pick Arsenal, a team that has won the league 3 times since the late 90s and is on track to win it again this year. No. The London team I chose to support is Tottenham Hotspur, arguably the most consistently mediocre team in the Premier League, and certainly less successful than the other 2 London teams I just referenced. In fact, the last time they won the championship was 1961, when I wasn’t born yet and the Premier League was yet to be formed. Thanks a lot Spurs.
And finally, as a fan of international Soccer, and the son of Dutch parents, I have had the pleasure of cheering on The Netherlands men soccer team, widely referred as the best team to never win the World Cup. While their victories to get to those finals brough me some joy, ultimately, they too let me down in the game that mattered most.
So that brings me to the Philadelphia Eagles. When the Eagles beat the New England Patriots and Tom Brady 5 years ago, they became the first team since 1986 to give me a championship to celebrate. Since then, while all the other teams I root for have been back to their old tricks, the Eagles have rebuilt to the point of being considered the better of the 2 teams to play in Super Bowl LVII. Although I am perfectly aware that the Kansas City Chief and Patrick Mahomes, coached by former Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid are no joke, just getting to this point is something that brings me and many other fans of the team great joy. I expect victory tomorrow, and will not be happy if we lose, but regardless of the result, they’ve done more for me than any other team I’ve invested time in supporting.
So I finish this self-indulgent, somewhat narcissistic piece with just 3 words.
Let me tell you about the life of a World Cup fan. 30 hours from the time I finish writing this I will either be happy, ecstatic, or miserable. The World Cup has captured the attention of people everywhere. While countries with teams in the tournament have the most at stake when following the results, there are those among us with split loyalties. It so happens that I am one of those people, as my loyalties coming in were not only split, they were split 3 ways.
In a tournament that is played every day, situations with various teams are always changing. If I had written this 7 days ago, all my favorite countries would still be playing. 30 hours from now, all three may have been eliminated. Be that as it may, I am going to share which teams I support, and why, as well as tell you what would be not only my dream final-if it is even possible in the brackets-and why I rank my teams as I do.
I was born in the United States to Dutch parents. My first soccer memory, while faint, is of Holland losing in the final of the World Cup to Germany in 1974 by a score of 2-1. When I was 14 I started 4 years of High School in London. I was once married to an Argentinian, and Argentina was the second team to beat Holland in a World Cup final in 1978, in a game I felt Argentina manipulated unfairly. While some people think my desire to beat the Argentinians is connected to having an ex wife from there, that is not the case. It doesn’t help their cause, but it is more about 1978. If you want to know more about that game I suggest that you go on You Tube.
While I was berated by some, lovingly of course, for wanting the Netherlands to defeat the U.S. last week, Holland is my number one team. It’s not about loyalty or patriotism, it’s about emotional investment. However, I do admit that if the U.S. had won, while I would not have been as happy as I am, I would still have been happy. And last weeks victory for Holland set up what will be a very intense, potentially remarkable next 30 hours. In one hour Holland will play Argentina in the quarterfinal, 24 hours before England will play France. What makes this next day or so potentially even more speoial, is that should Holland and England win, and then go one to win one more game each, they would face each other in the World Cup final, an event that would be my personal ultimate in sports joy.
There is one final twist to all of this wonderful drama. My father, who passed away 15 1/2 years ago at the age of 87, was an enormous fan. Back in the day when it was not easy to call overseas, if you would call my father in the middle of a game he would immediately say, “Call me back. I am watching football”. Naturally, as a man born and raised in Holland, his favorite team was the Dutch national team. Because of the fact that this World Cup is being played in Qatar, for the first time ever the final is not taking place in the summer. If Holland is to win their first ever World Cup, it will happen on December 18th. A day that also happens to have been my father’s birthday.
The stars are all aligned for the perfect ending. Of course 3 1/2 hours from now that dream might be over, but whatever happens, the great thing about sports is that it is wonderful to dream.
Hup Holland! (You understand that if you are Dutch or a fan).
This post is a follow-up to my open letter to George Clooney. I’ve probably received more comments on this post than any other till now, possibly with the exception of my Lionel Messi post during the World Cup. It is fair to say that even though the greater percentage of the comments have been positive, this post has received more negative commentary than any I have ever written. And I find that quite fascinating.
First of all, I stand by the letter 100%. I believe it is justified to ask his views under the circumstances and even more justified to apply pressure when Jews are being unfairly targeted. What fascinates me is how this letter struck a nerve with so many people. There are those who may have disapproved because they felt the letter useless or disagreed with my tactics. I can respect that even if I don’t agree with that. But I believe that some who disapproved did so because I crossed the line. I attacked a movie star, and movie stars are meant to be honored, even worshipped. Each individual knows the truth about what makes them feel as they do, but some comments show that in attacking a matinée idol, I just went too far.
My response to that is as follows. I’ve been a fan of certain musicians and actors my entire life, but I will never allow my appreciation for their talents cloud my judgment. If they take stances that are bigoted, show bias against Israel and the Jewish people, or a disdain for the good people of the world, I will stop being a fan quicker than Hamas breaks a cease-fire. Sadly I can prove it. One of my favorite rock bands used to be Pink Floyd, and till a short while ago one of my favorite actors was Gary Oldman. The following links show you how my feelings change when you slander my people.
In some ways it feels like we are watching the first 45 minutes of an epic disaster movie. Of course we all know about the war in Gaza. Israel, a free and democratic country fighting a government controlled by the terrorist organization Hamas. That in itself is bad enough. But my friends, when you look at today’s events, and what tomorrow is on the Muslim calendar, it could get a lot worse. It is not in my nature to be alarmist or sensationalist, but we also live in a time when all things need to be considered, no matter how frightening they may be.
Earlier today we get word that Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the spiritual leader of Iran made the following comments regarding Israel: “As said by Imam Khomeini [the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran] Israel must be destroyed…However, until that time with the help of God for this cruel and murderous regime to be destroyed, strong confrontation with steadfast armed resistance is the only solution against this destructive regime.” He also stated, regarding the United States: “The anti-American and anti-West view in Iran is a logical view based on experience and a righteous calculation.”
His sentiments are not news. We know he feels this way, as do millions of his followers. What is different is the timing, and hopefully not, but possibly another difference is the biggest news story of the day.
First the timing. Tomorrow is “Quds Day”. Quds, Arabic for Jerusalem, is a day created by Iran since its revolution in 1979, celebrated on the last day of Ramadan, as a day to express solidarity for the Palestinians against the State of Israel. Comments made by any Muslim leader today are at least partially designed to motivate and instigate the people into not only protesting and demonstrating, but to do so as violently as possible. There is no question that Khameini is looking to incite as much violence against Jews as possible, not only in Israel, but throughout the world.
And then there is the biggest news story of today. A plane taking off from Algeria has gone missing. Yes, you read correctly, gone missing. Algeria, a North African Muslim nation that donated money made in the World Cup to Hamas and a people who make up the majority of France’s Muslim population committing brutal acts of anti-Semitism. It is from that country that a plane has gone missing on the eve of Quds Day. It’s an awful day in world history when one must say, let’s hope the plane only crashed.
It is possible that tomorrow comes and goes and is a repeat of many of the days of the past few weeks. Awful, but not catastrophic. But the days of underestimating the enemy’s brutality and capabilities are behind us now. We no longer have that luxury.
The publishing of Ulysses by James Joyce; The first swimmer crossed the English Channel; Calvin Coolidge became president; the first Winter Olympics took place; Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean; Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse; Herbert Hoover became president; the Stock Market crashed;Penicillin was discovered; the planet Pluto was discovered; Empire State Building was completed; Amelia Earhart crossed the Atlantic; Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party became ruling party in Germany; Social security was established; Golden Gate Bridge was opened; Japan invaded China; Germany annexed Austria; World War II; Japan attacked Pearl Harbor; Atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; 60 million people killed in World War II; 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust; Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier; the State of Israel was founded; United Nations was formed; NATO was formed; Korean War; Elvis Presley; Polio vaccine created; Disneyland Opened; JFK became President; I was born; Cuban Missile Crisis; JFK assassinated; The Beatles; Vietnam War; Star Trek series; first Super Bowl; Apollo 11 landed on the moon; Terrorists Killed Israeli Athletes at Munich Olympics; Watergate scandal forced President Richard Nixon’s resignation; the movie Star Wars; John Paul II became Pope; Iranian Muslim revolution; CNN was formed; AIDS discovered; Personal Computers were invented; Soviet Union collapsed; Apartheid ended; Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa; 2 different Bush’s became Presidents; Bill Clinton became president; the Euro currency was formed; 3,000 killed in 9/11 attack in New York; Iraq War; the Internet was created; Holland lost 3 World cup finals; Justin and Kim got married.
These things happened, in the 92 years between the birth of these 2 people, my mother Sipora Groen and my youngest family member and great-niece Jara.
Behind every perception of destiny, irony sits waiting and ready to pounce. But I will get back to that. The title of this post is by no means rooted in self-pity. Pity is never the feeling I have regarding the futility of the teams I support. As a somewhat well-adjusted individual, I generally get past the pain of my sports teams’ demise within an hour of it happening. I must say I am pretty good when it comes to that. After all, and this is the root of the title, I have a lot of experience with it.
We can of course start with the most recent result of which irony played a major factor as well. But again, I will get back to the irony later. When the Netherlands lost to Argentina yesterday in the FIFA 2014 World Cup semi-final, I knew that another World Cup would be played without Holland lifting the trophy. I watched Holland once again secure its position as the best team to never win the World Cup. I took solace in the fact that they lost with class to a team with class, but nevertheless, once again, their World Cup ended in defeat.
I move on to the National Football League. I credit the great New York Giant linebacker Lawrence Taylor with getting me into football. Sure I watched the game and followed the playoffs and Super Bowl, admiring the skills of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in particular, but it was LT who got me excited about the game. And living in New York I cheered on the football Giants when they won their Super Bowls with Taylor, Simms, etc. But it was not till I began to admire the tough character and skill of Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Donovan Mcnabb, and enjoyed games with my family that I considered myself a true fan of a team. The Eagles would go on to 4 straight NFC Championships and one Super Bowl, but would never win the big one. And as football fans know, they still haven’t.
In 1976 I began what would be 4 years of school in London, England. I picked a team. Sure, I could have picked Arsenal just as easily, a team that won titles and cups, but no, I picked Tottenham Hotspur, probably the most consistently mediocre team in any sport in any country. And since they are exceedingly mediocre, that’s all they are getting in this piece.
Being a marginal Basketball fan I put my allegiances behind the home team New York Knicks and watched as they always came up short against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Except of course for the times the Bulls were without MJ when the Knicks came up short against Hakeem Olajuwons’s Houston Rockets. Whatever, they came up short.
Then there is the team I am most emotionally invested in on a yearly basis, the Philadelphia Flyer of the National Hockey League. Having lived in Philadelphia during their 2 glorious Stanley Cup victories, I will always be a devoted fan. Even if we end up never winning another cup. Does it count at all when the Los Angeles Kings win? Flyers fans and educated hockey fans understand that question.
Lastly I will speak of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets. In 1985 when I moved to New York I picked a team as my local team. I picked the very charismatic and entertaining Mets. In 1986 I got my immediate reward, s the Mets not only won the World Series, they won it in the most dramatic and exciting of fashions. The 1986 Mets have been the reason I have remained a fan of theirs till now, despite the fact that they are generally not very good. And since I am a fan, when I say it that way, I am being nice. The greatest overall significance of my support of the Mets now is that their 1986 team is the last team I am a fan of to win a championship in their sport. Yes, that is almost 30 years.
And on it goes. Yes I pushed the idea of Holland’s World Cup destiny, and the fate surrounding the teams they would need to beat, and of course started the online campaign of “Win it for my mother”, but in the end it was not to be. My mother, whose maiden name was Rodrigues-Lopes, or in every day use, just Rodrigues, was the son of Marcel Rodrigues. My grandfather’s nickname was Max. So he was indeed known by many as Max Rodrigues. So when Argentina needed just one more goal in penalty kicks to put them through to the finals and send Holland packing, I looked down, smiled wryly, shook my head and mumbled to myself, “of course”. Stepping up to take the kick was Argentinian football veteran Maxi Rodriguez, who subsequently put the ball in the back of the net and guaranteed Holland would once again not the win the World Cup. I guess I was right. Sports destiny did play a factor. It just did so with a tremendous sense of irony. Good thing it only takes me an hour to get over it.
As a Jewish American I felt somewhat guilty focusing my attentions to the triviality of the World Cup. My guilt made me pause before posting anything about my excitement and enjoyment surrounding the efforts of The Netherlands in this year’s tournament. Yes I paused, as I did not wish to be insensitive to the harsh realities facing all of us, but in the end I rationalized or justified my decision, not all will agree on which one it is, and chose to enjoy Holland’s World Cup victory. It made me question the morality of putting importance on those things that clearly do not hold the same importance as our most pressing personal and communal issues.
There are some events or activities no one questions as important nor do they question the joy these events bring to individuals and families. Weddings, childbirth, recovery from illness, even special moments with friends and family, are all occurences no one ever disputes as important. Sure there are people who have emotional issues that may prevent them from getting joy from these moments, but as a general rule people agree that all of these things are important and therefore should bring one joy, even when surrounded by unpleasant realities.
I am one of those people who believes life is made up of moments. Many are good, many are bad. Unfortunately the bad moments seek us out, finding us without mercy or timing. The good moments sometimes do the same, just not with the same persistence. I am not being negative in this statement, merely realistic. I am also using it as a springboard to make the point I wish to make. The moments in life that bring us pleasure, the movies we love, the meals we savor, and yes the sporting events that thrill us, are the moments we need to seek out. These moments fuel us, strengthen us, and yes indeed, even if only momentarily,can make us happy. Brasil is a nation struggling with discontent and yet it comes together in excitement to celebrate the FIFA 2014 World Cup. Do I believe the World Cup matters when mothers are mourning the murders of their teenage sons? Of course I don’t. But I also know that the day will come when they may turn to something as unimportant as a soccer match to bring them some needed joy. Not today, but when the time is right. Maybe that is why we sometimes call our athletes heroes. Not because they live by higher standards, but because they sometimes give people a very necessary respite from the more difficult moments in life.
Just take a moment to think about how much better the world could be if everyone worried a little bit more about those things so many deem as unimportant.
I’ll be brief. Those who watched the quarterfinal game between Brasil and Colombia in the FIFA 2014 World Cup saw one of the most disgraceful performances by a Ref you will ever see. Thanks to his inability or lack of willingness to control the game, Brasil’s best player Neymar was ruled out for the remainder of the World Cup with a broken vertebrae. With fouls spiraling out of control throughout the game, it was just a matter of time before someone got seriously hurt or a fight broke out. Why FIFA continues to allow the degree of incompetence and likely corruption in soccer’s biggest football stage is beyond me, but once again officiating has tarnished a great tournament. It may never change, but I for one refuse to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
Even though this is a post to address the heroics of the Dutch National Soccer team earlier against Mexico, I want to start with a rant. I am sick and tired of my fellow Americans bitching and moaning about players diving in the World Cup. Seen an NBA game lately? Half the fouls take place when the offensive player moves into the opponent. And flopping is a term coined for actions committed in the NBA. How many players can even get off the ground without putting their hands out? And don’t even get me started on how many superstars get away with travelling. So enough already. You like that sport. Teams win and lose and everyone has the option to use the rules to their advantage. I’ve seen my teams lose often enough that I feel it was fair to see it go my teams way for once. Especially when talking about The Netherlands in World Cup play.
The great thing about being a sports fan is that it allows you to put all your emotions and hopes out there without the fear of devastating consequences. Everyone can pretty much say that when they follow a sports team they will see their team win or lose. What you don’t know is when you will have that moment. That moment when all seems lost, and quietly you know it is all over for your team, even if you tell yourself there is still hope. That moment is complete when against all odds your team comes back from the dead with a performance of historic proportions. I experienced it as a New York Met fan in 1986, as a Philadelphia Flyer fan when a few years back when they came back from 3-0 down in a series against the Boston Bruins, and then from 3-0 down in game 7 , and I experienced it in this World Cup with Holland’s miraculous comeback against Mexico. At the 85th minute of the game it felt like all was lost. I already knew that I would have no more Dutch team to follow in this 2014 FIFA World Cup. And then, Wesley Sneijder scores in the 88th minute tying a game that seemed lost, and 4 minutes later Arjen Robben makes something from nothing and draws a penalty shot, comfortably put away by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Yes I know this is just a game, and I know that these Dutch heroes don’t come anywhere near to matching the Dutch heroes I speak of in the book Jew Face: A story of Love and Heroism in Nazi occupied Holland, but on this day these Dutchmen gave me, many close to me, and millions of other people moments of pure joy only that moment of joy in sports can bring.