The World Cup. Where do I begin? Perhaps the best place is in the men's restroom at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on the night of the 18th.
As I stood at the stahl, taking care of business, some of the men next to me began to chant. "USA...USA...USA, USA, USA," and so we stood there, about thirty of us, some with our faces painted, some with U.S. flags draped around them like capes, some dressed as 18th century pioneers, and cheered for our country as about ten Slovenians tried fruitlessly to drowned us out.
I think that's it. I think that's a decent symbol of the type of character and pride the World Cup brings out. I don't know that I've ever felt so proud to be an American. As our national Anthem was played, my family and I screamed out the words at the top of our lungs, not to impress the British fans that surrounded us (and yes, one of my brothers did call them "Bloody Brits" in a small dispute we had), but because the World Cup brought out something deep within us, which I think might have been a pride, a thankfulness, a gratitude for the land we've been allowed to grow up in. I think a similar pride was felt in all the countrymen of the competing teams. We watched as English fans flicked us off in support for the Queen's land, heard Slovenians tell us Yanks to, "GO HOME," heard the echos of the Dutch as they boomed the voice of, "Holland...Holland...Holland" off the stadium walls, and got drenched in a shower of beer as Mexico celebrated a 2-0 victory over France.
The World Cup was more than I ever could have expected and my heart was entrenched in the game like I couldn't have anticipated. Nowhere was this as evident as in our last day in South Africa, where we sat right by the field as USA battled Slovenia. When the Yanks went down 1-0 with an early Slovenian goal, I was frustrated, angry even. Then, when they slid a second goal in, to go up 2-0, I was deflated. My family sat next to me, American flags on their backs and faces, vuvuzelas now resting silently on the ground. There were no answers at half-time. But what history remembers, sport sometimes reveals, and at the onset of the second half, the spirit of America swept through the stadium; a spirit of courage, discipline, and a never-say-die attitude. That's the sound that reverberated through the countless fans wearing red, white, and blue as our early second-half goal exploded in the back of the net. That's the aroma that wafted through Johannesburg as we tied the game with a late second-half goal, and that's the sight you could have seen had you looked into Ellis Park the night of the 18th when America struck a third straight goal in that same half. It's true, this last goal was called off on a weak foul call by the ref, but the spirit remained. As we walked out of the stadium, as red, white, and blue swamped the streets that cool evening, that's the spirit that flowed with us. For a 45 brief minutes, this spirit was accompanied by something else I've rarely seen. Absolute pandemonium!
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