This morning in twenty or so spare minutes I had before heading down to Citizens’ Bank Park to watch another desultory Phillies loss, I put on for the third time this week Manchester City Football Club’s 3-2 at-the-death win over Queens Park Rangers from last Sunday. City’s win through two goals scored in stoppage time, that purely subjective and indefinite period of minutes the referee adds to account for injuries and other sundry delays, was the soccer equivalent of, well, I don’t know. City had not won the league in 44 years. QPR was in 17th place out of 20 Premiership teams going into the game and had the worst away record in the league. City, conversely, was 17-0-1 at home when the game kicked off. They were 1-7 favorites, i.e., you had to wager many hundreds on them just to win a hundred back if they won. As these things tend to happen, City spent most of the first 90 minutes of the game dealing with, as Terry Murray would have called it, “a little bit of a choking situation.” When the 90 scheduled minutes were over, City was down 2-1. A loss – or even a tie – meant hated (understatement, could use a stronger word than “hated” here) rivals Manchester United would steal City’s long-awaited title and with it would inflict a loss from which City’s fans could reasonably be expected to never recover from. And then, two minutes into the elastic time – bang. Three more minutes later, as the game had more than likely winnowed down to its last seconds – BANG. 3-2. Win. Title. Disaster averted, panic in the streets of Manchester; a good panic.
At some length previously in this space I described how I ever came to start watching Premier League soccer in the first place. In summary: my brother moved to Manchester for his work, started watching soccer there, and faced with the choice of rooting for traditional powerhouse United or traditional also-ran City, he did the only decent thing and started following City. “I’m not going to root for England’s New York Yankees.” And if it was good enough for him it was sure good enough for me. Mind you, neither one of us got into this for the “2012 CHAMPS!” t-shirts. When my brother started following City they were still the Premiership equivalent of the Mets or the Jets. By the time I got fully on board, Sheikh Mansour had bought the team and immediately started pumping hundreds of millions of pounds – no, really, hundreds of millions of pounds, the type of money most “rich” American sports team owners have never seen and will never see – into player acquisitions. Still, even with all that new talent, 10th place in 2009, 5th place in 2010, 3rd place in 2011. Better, yes, but probably not $1.4B US better. So they have now broken through, in the most logic-defying manner imaginable. I was thousands of miles away when City won. But in the moment, and in the week since, it has put a spring in my step and it has brought me joy.
For the past week I have been replaying the deciding minutes of the game, watching and re-watching it, breaking it all down, figuring out how this miracle happened. And for much of the week I could not for the life of me discern why I was doing this. Why did this matter so much to me? I have no friends I watch these games with. I only ever talk about these games with my brother. Sure, tens/hundreds of millions of people follow this league worldwide, but none of those teeming masses are sharing the experience with me other than as part of the Good Ship City. What the hell was wrong with me?
Then I realized: I was just happy to once again see a team I had chosen to support not throw up when its moment came.
And being fair, how many such failures have I lived through? Have we all? What would you give to turn the clock back and have Ron Jaworski stop throwing interceptions to Rod Martin in Super Bowl XV? I was nine then and I still remember Rod Martin’s name. What would it be worth to you to get one more needed save from any of Ron Hextall, John Vanbiesbrouck, Brian Boucher or Michael Leighton? How about the chance to tell Jim Fregosi not to let Mitch Williams pitch to Joe Carter in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series? To tell Billy Cunningham not to sleep on that rookie Magic Johnson playing center in place of a hobbled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals?
Or, I hate to say it, to go back in time and tell Andy Reid that no matter how good Donovan McNabb looks to him, just don’t draft him, because it’s going to end badly. McNabb had more chances to make “the play,” to play “the game,” to thrive in “the moment” than any Philadelphia athlete in my lifetime. Apologists emphasize that all the playoff games McNabb won were by definition “big” – but realists know different. The last drive against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the entire games against Carolina and Tampa Bay as a favorite at home, even the last gasp against the decomposing corpse of Kurt Warner and a plucky-but-flawed Arizona team in the desert. So many chances to get it right, and he never did.
This 2012 Manchester City Premier League title certainly will never approach the 2008 Phillies World Series crown in my heart. The Phillies are part of me. If the Eagles were ever to crack the code and win a Super Bowl, of course that would supersede it all.
But I will not apologize or shy away from this City title. It means more to me than anything the Eagles did in the last decade. Some will say “you’ve watched this team for like ten minutes, this is ridiculous, you’re a fraud.” OK. If you say so. But just because I have never heard “Carmen” does not mean that if I listen to it tomorrow and it becomes my favorite opera that “Carmen” sucks or that I cannot appreciate it because I came late to the party. No, I am going to buy the “2012 CHAMPS!” t-shirt, I am going to buy the silk necktie with the MCFC crest to wear to work. I am going to revel in the title defense, and hope they start a dynasty.
And I’m not erasing MCFC 3-2 QPR from the DVR any time soon.