Monday, June 19, 2006

With Brazilian women as my muse, I'm sure I could do the same

I took many of my reasons that you can't hate Brazil in a real-world discussion the other day from an article, including that they breed rather than buy their players, that World Cup happens only every 4 years so they're technically in a 4-year drought, and that most famously, they play joyfully; joga bonito. Quite an achievement for a team with Ronaldo, who's fat, and Ronaldinho, who sports jerry curls worthy of two Members Only jackets, and whose face resembles a horse's more than any man I've ever seen.

They play not just joyously -- haphazardly, which is why I love them. I don't care if they win or not, but I love them. Watching Brazil is like watching the antithesis of what high-level sports have become.

I'm almost finished with Stephen Jay Gould's book Full House, in which he uses some charts and graphs to dismiss the widely-held misconception that evolution is a forward march whose end jamboree is necessarily humans. And for a more easily understood example, he, one of those scholars who just can't get over their intellectual tryst with baseball, uses some of the same charts and graphs to theorize the reasons for the disappearance of .400 hitting. In short, it's this: hitters aren't worse, as is believed by the cronies like Ted Williams and Musial, because .400 isn't an absolute measure, like a 10-second 100 meters. It's a competition with other humans, and is therefore an inherently relative measue. Ballplayers have gotten not only better, but also closer together. In reality, batting averages are a bell curve centered on .260 and always have been, but as the years have gone on, both extremes have been pushed together, making .400 a much more remote possibility, and therefore a much greater achievement.

High-level sports have all gotten like this, whether you visualize it as the NFL head coach sleeping 3 hours a night to study as much film as humanly possible before his eyes burn out like a Nintendo cartridge, or the MLB manager who has every statistic on the other team from turn-ons to nose hair density on the clipboard in front of him (that's right, I just pulled out a false range. What're you gonna do about it?)

Variation withers not only between the best and worst performances, but the kind of performances. All NFL teams run essentially the same offense. If Mike Leach dies suddenly from food poisonign and the service academies give up the triple option, all college teams will too. The DH rule is the only things that keeps the AL and NL from playing exactly the same way, every single team. Teams like the Suns and Mavericks tried to challenge the NBA's convention, but Dallas didn't really get where they wanted until they sucked it up and assimilated part of Piston mentality into their system.

Which brings me back to the Brazilians. Let's face it -- World Cup is inherently unfair. Playing far from their best, Brazil still coasts to victory. Everybody in the world wants to be a part of World Cup, but only 7 teams have actually won it, and the FIFA system perpetuates their advantage in several ways. Those teams, except early winner Uruguay, all have the same ego complex as old college football powers -- entitlement. Considering the tournament happens every 4 years, that doesn't offer a lot of trophies to satisfy the lust (France finally broke through in 1998, now they're all whining at the 2 sub-par performances that have followed it). And then consider countries like Holland, Spain, Portugal, Mexico and others -- brimming with soccer tradition and talent, but having never popped the bubbly. Add on top of that the African and Asian countries, and some the other European countries for that matter, who for the moment are simply happy to be there, but are improving every time. Slowly, the same talent compression will occur, and the fortuitous deflections and strokes of luck that seperate the very best teams will be all that seperates most of the teams.

For now, though, it's not even, or fair. And though this might be unfortunate, it's what allows for the glory of Brazilian play. Against equal skill, they would have to initiate a Dallas Maverick compromise, employing tactical defense and mature caution on the attack to eake out a victorious margin. They are like the high school team from one city over where all the best players have been held back a year or two; not to call the Brazilians less than smart, rather to point out that they're talent, combined with the nature of the game of soccer, makes them flat-out superior in a way the Yankess could never approach in they had a billion-dollar payroll. They play in a way departed from any other team -- constant pushing and pushing, accepting a slower pace of play or the giving of defensive intensity only as a begrudging necessity, with the body language of Midwestern fatalism.

Enjoy it. If you ever want Togo to win, it'll have to go.

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