Sunday, December 07, 2008

(Women's) Football on a Sunday in December

It's the first Sunday in December.

In the past, I've spent many Sundays like today's hanging up Christmas ornaments, stoking the flames in the fireplace, and watching football.

And after following this routine since obtaining my very first Patriots football card - which, I believe, could have been a super rare 1989 Pro Line Marc Wilson card - Sabbaths in December have always centered around Christmas and American football.

But today, I found myself on a complete deviation from that particular mix of holiday and sport. I admit, I did partake in some Yuletide consumerism after a light brunch, but scurried back to the couch just in time for some football. Women's football. Ok, women's soccer.

My arrival coincided with the final five minutes before the half of the NCAA Women's College Cup between North Carolina and Notre Dame. With the scoreboard at 1-0 Fightin' Irish, I immediately hit the "record" button on the remote, and sank into my cool leather couch for the long haul.

And what a match it was. It was the kind of match every other final - soccer or otherwise - should imitate. Both sides assumed control of the match before relinquishing it to their opponent. One minute, it was Melissa Henderson racing down the left flank, the other, it was Tobin Heath barrelling into the box. Back and forth. It was as if the wide green plain tilted like a see-saw at razor-even intervals.

Because of the constant flow, I hadn't pondered who to root for. I watch the Notre Dame-Stanford semi-final early Friday evening, and perhaps because of my Irish heritage, shamelessly cheered for the my fighting sistren. Plus, I was equally awed and tickled by Michele Weissenhofer's acrobatic flip throw ins.* But because the soccer was so crisp and engaging to a spectator like myself that, even from a distance, my allegiances were temporarily vacant.

(*I cannot understate how absolutely ga-ga I am for the flip throw in. I think it's a due to a combination of 1. the agility it takes to nail one successfully, and 2. its rarity. In my three years as a soccer journalist, I've seen only one such throw in live, and it was during a R.I. Stingrays game last year. I am, even to this day, still taken by it. Acrobatic brilliance.)

Although the Irish held the slightest of margins, Casey Nogueira's sledgehammer free kick from twenty yards officially affixed the phrase "classic" over the match. From there, it truly was either side's match.

I savored each minute. The Tar Heels hit the gas. Brakes. The Fightin' Irish mashed it. Stop.

And on it went. I silently prayed for a pair of overtimes. Penalties. I was watching theatre of Shakespearean quality. That is until, with just a hair over two minutes remaining, Nogueira took a ball near the edge of the box, took a touch, and left-footed an exquisite shot into the right upper 90. The dagger into heart the Irish. 2-1, Tar Heels.

My allegiances were rebirthed. They belonged to Notre Dame simply because I craved more than ninety. Overtimes, please.

I recalled the storylines told in the semifinal. Brittany Bock, torn MCL and all, badgered on with a bulky knee brace, willing her and her team to the dizzying heights. The determined look of Kerri Hanks. I urged them to press on. Two minutes was theirs. However little time it was, they could do it. I needed them to.

But, the credits were cast shortly thereafter. A sea of Carolina blue converged upon the wood and glass trophy. They bounced, and screamed things like, "We the BEST!" Pure elation.

And not far from there were tired and fallen bodies. The Irish gave it their all. Tears snaked down the cheeks of a solemn Bock. Her teammates cupped their hands over their eyes. They lay catatonic on the pitch, as if waiting to be reanimated. Pure heartache.

Thus it ended. No overtimes. Just the culmination of some of the best football I've ever seen on a late-autumn Sunday...American or global.

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