Column: USA? OK!

Sports editor Mike Smith thinks the real reason Americans cheer our international squads on is for a welcome respite during the work day.

Sports editor Mike Smith thinks the real reason Americans cheer our international squads on is for a welcome respite during the work day.

Call me crazy but, as a sports fan, I enjoy nothing more than watching games being played at odd hours. Now I’m not advocating that Major League Baseball starts scheduling more 11 a.m. starts during the week or that Knicks games should only be aired in the coveted 3 a.m. time slot—although such a move would ensure only diehard New York fans are subjected to the unique sort of misery the Knicks create. I’m just saying, in certain instances, non-primetime games have a special aura about them that’s tough to replicate.

Obviously, unusual airtimes most often come into play during international events. As I’m writing this, the USA Men’s Hockey team is taking on Canada in the Olympic semi-finals. In the Hometown Media offices, 50 percent of the reporters here are tuned into the game on an online NBC feed, muttering audibly when the U.S. botches a solid chance or when the internet connection slows, halting the action at an inopportune time.

Now, one might consider this a gross dereliction of duty on our part, but I assure you, we’re not alone. All over the country, scores of workers trapped at their cubicles are similarly keeping tabs on the big game while pretending to file TPS reports, or whatever it is office workers do. Plus, it could be worse. We could have all called in sick and spent the afternoon at Buffalo Wild Wings, cheering the USA on a big screen with a couple of ice cold draughts in hand, as many others opted to do.

And it’s not just the Olympics; check out YouTube videos of American crowds watching Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup and you’ll see a lot of crowded sports bars, despite the fact that the game took place in the late afternoon on a week day.

Of course, any time you have an American team competing against foreign opposition, it brings supporters of the red, white and blue out of the woodwork. In a sports world that sees a lot of divided loyalties, that much is a given. It doesn’t even matter that soccer and hockey don’t normally capture the imagination of the American sporting public in the same way the NFL does; I would almost guarantee that a good 35 percent of fans who dug their USA sweatshirts out of the backs of their closets today to go hang out at Bennigans and lustily boo a bunch of Canadian skaters probably came into today thinking Jonathan Quick’s finest accomplishment was the publication of “Gulliver’s Travels.”

But once the puck drops, none of that matters. It’s not the names on the backs of the jerseys that bring people together, it’s not a genuine love for the sport we happen to be watching. What brings us together is community, national pride and the possibility that we are all part of an experience that will truly be a special one.

But more than anything, what brings us together for games like this is the shared knowledge that, if our boys just keep it close, we probably have at least two hours before we have to get back to work.

And that’s something worth celebrating.

 

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.