A couple of weeks ago, just before the World Cup started, there appeared in this space a promise of sorts, that anyone who would just give it a legitimate look would fall in love.
If you took that advice, admit it. You're not just in love with the World Cup. You're head over heels. And rightly so. The World Cup has always been the most rigorous, compelling and true world championship that sports has to offer, but this particular version has been particularly compelling, to the point of spectacular.
Beyond spectacular, really. Especially from a casual American sports fan's perspective.
One of the musts of the World Cup were it to resonate with Americans not already inclined to tune in was a great showing by the U.S. men's soccer team. Not a decent showing. Not a good showing. A great showing. And a great show, to boot. That means drama, tension, mind-blowing action and, of course, success.
Done, done, done and -- yes, already, even though a loss this morning could mean the end of the line -- done.
The sports fan who considered soccer boring, tedious, etc., prior to the U.S. opener against Ghana didn't just want a win. He or she wanted the type of win that gets talked about while people wait around for BART, or for their half-caf latte, or for the cable guy to show up within that 14-hour window.
Got it. It couldn't have been scripted much better. Perhaps the only U.S. player of which a non-soccer fan might have previously heard, Clint Dempsey, scored in the first minute. The first minute! As if to say, "OK, guys, we know you need the excitement of actual goals, so here. Here's the fastest in U.S. World Cup history. This is how we do it [even though it isn't]."
Sufficiently hooked, the casual American sports fan then got a taste of the anxiety that true soccer fans know all too well. The U.S. seemed to almost encourage repeated attacks on its goal, generating regular palpitations, from the moment Dempsey found the back on the net. Ghana dominated the ball, yet the plucky Americans, considered a long shot at best to advance out of the Cup's "Group of Death," repeatedly dodged bullets, literally and figuratively.
Despair is a big part of big-time soccer, too, and casual American sports fans got a hefty dose of it when Ghana tied it up with less than eight minutes of the 90-minute regulation clock remaining. But just as the casual American sports fan likely was thinking, "This is why I hate this stupid game," some guy named John Brooks Jr. comes off the bench to score four minutes later.
"Who's John Brooks Jr.? Who cares? This is AWESOME!"
Of course, then the casual American sports fan had to be schooled on -- and then deal with -- the maddening ambiguity of stoppage time before celebrating the victory. But celebrate they did, and the love affair sprouted. The Portugal game instantly became a must-see deal, and by kickoff, the casual American sports fan didn't just know of this Cristiano Ronaldo guy. They despised him. They mocked him.
"I am Ronaldo. I am the world player of the year in the world's most popular sport, I am built like a Greek god, I have the looks of a supermodel and I have a curl that sits so perfectly on my forehead that it seems held in place by glorious hair fairies. I am Ronaldo ... and you will love me!"
Then came the Portugal game itself. The early agony of a brain-fart goal, the late ecstasy of two sublime U.S. scores, the really late ball by Ronaldo that took agony to a new level.
"I am Ronaldo, and you will love me!"
Sure. It stung right then and there, but over the next day or so, the casual American sports fan realized how special all this has been. The U.S. had already proven it belongs, and it had done it in gripping, world-class style.
What happens against mighty Germany can't possibly spoil that, because by even after the tie with Portugal on Monday, the love affair was raging, right?
If it wasn't, it was by Tuesday night. That's when the World Cup gave the casual American sports fan, who loves controversy and violence as much as anything else, all it was missing for a full buy-in.
Someone bit a guy!
And, said the World Cup, "You will love me!"
Mychael Urban, a longtime Bay Area-based sportswriter and broadcaster, is the host of "Inside the Bigs," which airs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on KGMZ "The Game" (95.7 FM).