Contrasts

Three World Cups
In New York City

* After the 1994 World Cup final in the U.S., the one when Brazil wound up beating Italy in penalty kicks, an unscientific survey of East Village sports bars failed to produce a single one showing the game. It would’ve been easier to hear crowds roaring all the way from any of those two countries than to find a waving flag, a yellow or blue jersey, someone so happy for the game’s outcome or so deeply devastated it went the other way.
A trip to so-called Little Brazil, 46th street, didn’t improve things. It seems that what a former girlfriend of mine used to call the “Brazilian putas” had been too much for local enforcement who decided to cut the celebrations short and close down the street early. So much for a then record-breaking Brazilian fourth time victory in the World Cup. Maybe it would’ve been different if they’d played the game with their bare hands.
* After the end of Brazil 2X0 Germany in 2002, at about 8 am, a different crowd, punch happy drunken, headed to the same 46th street. For those of us who chose to take the subway, it was an exquisite experience feeling the train floor vibrating to the rhythm of the samba. It took almost as much time to get there underground as by walking and when the crowds finally merged, even the cops seemed happy to see us all.
I can’t remember another time when I didn’t feel too embarrassed wearing the loud yellow Brazilian national team jersey. It felt almost like a personal achievement. As if I had been the one who scored the winning goals on that distant Tokyo field of grass. Even now, when little, intimate happiness moments sparingly take over me from time to time, I’m not sure they compare favorably to that morning in midtown Manhattan.

* 16 years after that final in California, the picture is even more different. May we say strikingly different? Everywhere in New York and throughout the U.S., you could see games from the World Cup in South Africa that ends this Sunday being played on high definition TVs in bars, restaurants, even public parks. One of the reasons may have something to do with the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Whatever. Crowds seemed glad to follow theirs and their friends teams and it all became a great excuse to party, get together and a bit drunk.

Has soccer finally broken through American audiences? Only time will tell. This time though, Brazil or Italy or Germany are not playing the final. And for supporters of these teams, even the allure of state-of-the-art 3D broadcast, all the rage these days, is not enough to make them forget the fact their beloved jerseys won’t be seen any time soon worn with pride in the streets of Manhattan.

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