Nowhere is the generation gap between my 16-year-old son Will and me wider than when it comes to football. Football, for me, is that most American of sports, pitting helmeted warriors colliding with one another across the line of scrimmage. Football for Will is of the global variety, the “beautiful sport” consisting of touch passes and bending corner kicks, commonly referred to on this side of the Atlantic as soccer.
Will plays on his high school’s JV soccer team. Last weekend, he invited a few of his teammates for a sleepover at our home after their Friday night game. The next morning, Will and his teammates gathered around the television to watch an English Premiere League soccer game. Comparing players on their respective fantasy league soccer teams, they rattled off the names of players I’d never heard of… Mesut Özil, Yaya Touré and Mathieu Flamini, to name just a few.
While impressed with their knowledge of EPL players, I wondered how many professional football players they could identify, so I asked them to name as many players they could from the National Football League.
The first five were easy for the boys — “RGIII, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Richard Sherman.”
An awkward pause ensued before another boy finally piped up with “Ray Rice.” I groaned.
When my son and his friends finally bogged down at eight, I asked, “Why do you know so much about soccer but so little about football?”
The gauntlet had been thrown down, and my son quickly took up the challenge. “Soccer is way more fun to watch and play than football,” he said. “There are so many commercial timeouts during football games on TV that you can die of old age waiting for play to resume.”
I had to give him that one. While I had lost one battle, I wasn’t about to concede the war. I told him that football had more offense, and that watching scoreless soccer games for ninety minutes was as dry as watching C-Span with the volume off.
Back and forth the arguments flew like headers on a soccer pitch.
Will: Soccer is followed by millions more fans than football and is the most popular sport in the world.
Dad: The 2014 Super Bowl is still the most watched in U.S. TV history.
Will: Soccer is a more fluid game, requiring skill, endurance and grace.
Dad: Football has all that, too, but the players don’t act like they’ve been mortally wounded every time an opposing player brushes against them!
Will: Soccer enthusiasts are the most passionate fans in the world, singing songs and standing on their feet for entire matches.
Dad: Ever been to a Seahawks game in Seattle or a Broncos game in Denver?
My son got in the last word. “Soccer is a sport whose time has come. It’s the sport of my generation.”
I suddenly remembered a conversation I had with my own father when I was my son’s age. My father, the starting catcher on his college baseball team, spoke passionately of why baseball is, and always will be, America’s national pastime. I argued just as fervently that football was now America’s national game. I even recall telling my dad that football was a sport whose time had come.
Every generation has its own collective character, its likes and dislikes, its passions and indifferences. While baseball was tops in my dad’s day and football in mine, many youth today are embracing soccer as the new “in” sport. Maybe it’s time for me to take a new perspective on “the beautiful game.”
My son and I came up with a compromise. I watch an EPL game with my son on Saturday mornings and he watches an NFL game with me on Sunday afternoons. Not only do we have the chance to spend more time together, but we teach each other the finer points of futbol vs. football. Along the way we even discovered that football is derived from soccer, with rugby providing the missing link. Who knew that both sports were in the same family? Just like in ours.