It’s not the name of a motivational seminar. It was another sprint to Denver and back for the sake of the game. In 2013 there was the U.S./Costa Rica blizzard bowl. Today was the haul-ass that was Manchester United/AS Roma. The tickets were a birthday gift from family, and it was a worthy spectacle in terms of cost and effort.
My sister and I agreed to meet at a parking lot at 1:15 so that we would have ample time to walk over to Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and you’d think we would have the logistics down by now. We both left our homes in different cities, we figured we’d given ourselves enough time, and each of us was late for the 2PM kickoff. She was late to the meeting place but early enough that she’d have gotten into the game with plenty of time, if it weren’t for the fact that I was much later. Some days the trip to Denver is an hour. Today it was two, and my trip was more special than usual this time. The clogged interstate is nothing new, as are the inevitable rear endings when traffic stops and starts. This afternoon, I had the pleasure of being the furthest car back in a three-car chain reaction. We all pulled over and got out, shook hands, agreed that while I was considered at fault in such situations (for following too closely), I was also the only one with any damage to my vehicle. It lasted five minutes. No harm, no foul, and we got in our cars and kept moving.
I found my sister and we hustled to the stadium on foot. It was already 2:15 when I parked, but there were plenty of other latecomers who had likely been stuck in traffic as well. We approached the steps and were met by men with clear plastic bags for my sister to transfer the contents of her purse. That was a new development, which we later learned is something now done at NFL stadiums. (Warning to any of you who plan to attend an American football game in the future: this sucked.) The catch is that anyone with a bag bigger than a baby’s fist must turn in the bag to a bag check station, and then walk around the game with the contents of said bag displayed for all the world to see in one of the clear plastic bags. At least the clear bags were free, but I can imagine a fee being imposed soon enough. At the bag check there were signs: “No weapons. No marijuana.” What about opium? No time for clarification.
We entered, found our seats, and the game already had progressed to the 30-minute mark. My family had come through with some decent tickets, though. They couldn’t have planned it as well as it turned out, but they turned out to be pretty good indeed. We were in the corner, but in the 8th row. For the next hour, we’d see five goals end up in the net at our end of the field. Not bad at all.
I don’t like United. I really don’t like United. But I’m learning to respect Rooney, at least in neutral games. I definitely can’t be mad at Mata, and I’m fine with Wellbeck and Valencia. Others on the team I’m not so fond of, and others more aren’t really worth the emotion or have recently departed. The scoring started just as we sat down, and those familiar United faces were making it look easy. We chatted while watching, I didn’t catch much in the way of tactics but I rarely do anyway, and our timing turned out to be pretty darn good. Rooney scored with a nice floater from the edge of the box into the upper left of the goal, and we’d barely had a chance to figure out if all the fans in attendance were United fans or if it just seemed that way because they were sitting all around us.
The next 15 minutes saw Rooney drop a nicely lobbed pass right in front of Mata for an easy dink into the net, and Rooney completed his brace by converting a penalty. Halftime, and with it came three advertisements on the big screen, all for United. Two of them were identical, played right at the start and again at the end of the break, and they looked like they were corporate ads. That wasn’t the intention, or maybe it was, but that was the feel of the ads. They featured players “training” indoors, doing a conditioning work, perhaps? They featured a good amount Giggs and van Persie, so maybe the ads were for skilled nursing facilities for all I know. Players were shown getting in shape while messages flashed on the screen. “Teamwork.” “Development.” “Religious Symbolism of Gothic Cathedral Sculptures.” “CHEVEROLET!!!” Hell, I don’t know what they said, but it was bizarre. Gag. What, still no opium?
The second half featured the predictable substitutions, like that sissy pants Ashley Young. I used to like that guy until he turned. And then I noticed the very obvious absence of mismatching pink and turquoise Puma footwear. Adios, World Cup. We chatted, United’s 8th-string keeper Amos shanked passes out of bounds and screamed at his own players for not having the forethought to know he was going to kick the balls out, and I laughed. Suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, the ball went flying more than half the length of the field, over Amos’ head, and into the same goal we were sitting near. What the hell was that? Fans took to their feet and roared, and it became clear that if you weren’t for United today, you were against United.
Pjanic’s 70-yard strike was hilarious to see on the big screen replays. Poor Amos. By the 60th minute, the large Spanish-speaking contingent of United fans had struck up yet another “Chicharito” chant, the (Mexican?) wave passed us by a couple times and eventually we joined in by throwing our hands up each time even if we didn’t stand when it went past. Too cool for that! At far at the other end of the field, the best 12th, 13th, and 14th man in soccer started warming up, which caused the expected reaction among the fans. I can’t hate on him either. As a matter of fact, I have a feeling there isn’t a single person on earth that doesn’t like Hernandez, regardless of who he plays for. Poor guy can’t get a start. He was clearly going to see some action, but first the crowd cheered for a different reason.
Enter Totti. Very cool. I don’t watch Serie A, but I suddenly felt like there was finally a superstar on the field. No disrespect to United (ahem, for now), but there was freaking Totti. We had ample Totti in our corner toward the end of the game, and it seemed like a good time to take some pictures. Hey, no disrespect for United (ahem, for now), but I don’t need any of those guys taking up memory in my phone. My phone takes star pics only, bitch, and Giggs was too far away on the coaches bench to warrant any attempts until now. I got a few Totti pics, and eventually my sister realized his name wasn’t “Toiti”.
Another observation, which always catches me off guard when I get a chance to see top level players from a closer distance: some of these guys are pretty thick. Valencia looked like he could bench at least two and a half Amos, and Totti had the whole Sylvester Stallone can’t-keep-arms-down-at-sides-because-too-huge thing going on. He took the armband when he took the field, not by waiting for the exiting Roma player to remove it from his own arm, but by ripping the guy’s arm clean from its socket. He then turned toward the crowd while holding the bloody stump outward, then thumped his own chest with the lifeless hand of his teammate as the crowd roared, “Maximus! Maximus!”
A small band of dedicated Rome-ite fans just behind the nearby goal made as much noise as they could whenever the Rome-ite subs passed during their warmups. “Is that why they run all the way over there?” my sister asked, clearly implying, so they can have someone in the stadium cheering for them? Then the place erupted. Chicharito was on, and with him came one of several opportunities for me to be bothered by so much of the United fan presence and then calm down and remind myself that it’s just an exhibition match. Dominated by Chevy branding.
Eventually I noticed a lot of booing whenever a Romish defender touched the ball. I couldn’t see clearly, but I figured it was the player responsible for bringing down what appeared to be United’s large, center forward halftime sub whose name I don’t need to know. There were howls from the crowd for a penalty midway through the second half, but United were denied their second chance from the spot and the ref gave them a free kick just outside the box. The booing of the culprit continued and then it hit me: they were booing Roma’s new left piece of poop, Ashley Cole. I have a feeling there isn’t a single person on earth that likes that guy. Too bad he was as far from our seats as any player could possibly be. I would have un-photographed him. I don’t know what that is or how to do it, but it’s very disrespectful.
There was a flurry of activity as Roma tried in vain to narrow the margin. Crosses dropped in the box and we were treated to a bit of a frenzy right in front of us, even a nice shot cracking against the United post and a beauty of a Romium half-volley a few yards to the right of goal. But to no avail. Eventually, Totti brought his team within one more goal, courtesy of a penalty awarded after the ref deliberated for about five seconds, clearly swayed by frantic Italian hand gestures. (It was easy to see how he was persuaded, for Italians very rarely employ hand gestures when speaking.) The ball had smacked a United defender’s hand in the box, the call seemed accurate enough for a friendly, and Totti put it in the net from the spot. The goal was followed good amount of respectful applause for the national and club talisman. It was a nice moment.
The game ended, and we beat it from our seats before the United players’ slow victory lap reached our corner of the stadium. While that wretchworthy annoyance was developing, some Romulan subs were subjected to some light sprints by one of their coaches. It was a strange sight, and with many of the reported 54,000 in attendance remaining to applaud United, it felt like kind of a haves versus the have-nots moment. I really don’t like United. Really, really.
We left the stadium and stood in line for at least half an hour in order to retrieve my sister’s bag. There were no less than five Denver police officers standing there, making absolutely sure that the bag checkers caused as much confusion and delay as possible. Five cops, serving and protecting by monitoring a bag check. Well, what else should they do?–half the city is stoned anyway. I think their badges said “Chevy”. I passed the time by turning to watch small packs of United fans passing by while chanting–three hordes in total, comprised of between four and ten fans each time, not really conjuring up proof that they root for the most popular sports team on the planet–and looking through my pictures. Turns out I got a smidge of Kagawa and a dash of Nani stuck in my phone. Eh, those guys are also all right in my book. I swear I don’t like United.