David Hirshey writes regularly for Deadspin about soccer.
Wide right. Are there two more magical words in the English language aside from perhaps open bar? But for a New York Giants fan and Chelsea-hater, wide right is a thing of poetic beauty. First Scott Norwood misses from 47 yards against the Big Blue in the '91 Super Bowl and now John Terry misses from 12 yards against ManU in yesterday's Champions League final.
Of course, there are differences. When Norwood planted his foot, the rain wasn't lashing down, turning the field into a watery bog. And to the best of my knowledge ol' Scotty wasn't an arrogant, bullying dick who tried to intimidate referees and parked his car in spaces reserved for the handicapped because he couldn't be bothered to drive his Bentley to the lot across the street.
So, please, spare me the tears for England's Brave John Terry. Yes, he's a warrior who, in the last two months, has shrugged off a dislocated shoulder and a broken foot to soldier on for club and country. And yes, he is a defensive collossus who yesterday saved a sure goal in overtime when he contorted his body to get his head on Ryan Giggs point-blank shot. But as far as I'm concerned Terry's tragic slip couldn't have happenned to a nicer guy.
To me, he is the gleaming hood ornament of a Chelsea team that feels titles are their divine right because they are all international superstars who make more money than God . But less than Roman Ambramovich.
So yesterday, in the packed and boisterous bar of Playwright's Tavern, my Champions League watering hole, I rooted against Chelsea openly, loudly, and unapologetically. It's not that I , an insufferable Arsenal fan, love ManU—flying pizzas, anyone?—but to me, they are the lesser of two evils . Sort of like if I were watching Hitler and Stalin go at it in the Octagon, my money's on Big Joe.
So,yes, I was cheering for ManU in public and have been hearing ever since that I'm no longer worthy of wearing my Arsenal thong. But if being branded a traitor means that Chelsea had its heart ripped out yesterday in front of a billion people, then I say bring it on. You Duke and UNC fans know what I'm talking about. Or, as my friend Will Blythe says, to hate like this is to be happy forever.
Inspiring me in my temporary ManU affection was my friend Robert Lewis, a lawyer and star striker for Maccabi Manhattan, who makes Leitch look like a Cardinals bandwagon jumper when it comes to pimping for your team. Lewis not only brought along a small set of speakers that he set up on the bar to blare the actual recording of his beloved United winning their last Champions League title in 1999 , he was wearing the same vintage ManU jersey he first sported 18 years ago — when he was 12
But Lewis's was by no means the tightest jersey in the bar yesterday. That honor belonged to the late shift bartender who started slinging shots with a black halter top that was stuffed with what I assumed were overinflated soccer balls. But I digress.
This was the kind of game that could make footy fans out of Lupica, Kornheiser, and Daulerio , the Holy Trinity of soccer bashers. It had everything you could ask for: drama ( Ronaldo missing, Terry slipping, Van der Saar saving), controversy (Drogba being sent off for his bitch slap on Vidic); moments of genius (Rooney's 60 yard diagonal ball from deep in his own half to the foot of Ronaldo on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area); moments of high hilarity (Ronaldo kissing the ball before taking his penalty kick, then doing his ridiculous stutter-step approach, and telegraphing his shot so that Cech could save it ); shots that hit the post (Drogba's howitzer in the 78th minute); shots that hit the crossbar (Lampard's rocket in the second minute of extra-time); bloodied noses (Scholes, courtesy of Makelele's elbow) ; a near brawl (Vidic going after Drogba to show why the United fans chant "Serbia, it rhymes with murdera " ); acrobatic saves (Cech parrying Tevez's bullet header in the first half); and the comforting sight of a Russian oligarch who poured a billion of his petrol dollars into assembling a band of high-priced mercenaries realizing he couldn't buy the prize he most coveted and covering his eyes with his hands during the shootout.
How fitting that the Chelsea player who would ultimately miss the decisive penalty would be the well-traveled (this was his eighth club and and he is surely on his way to his ninth any day now) hired gun Nicolas Anelka, whom Abramovich bought for $30 million in mid-season for his Midas goal-scoring touch. The sulky Frenchman repaid the owner's faith with a whopping two goals in his 23 appearances for the Blues. Is it any wonder that when he stepped up to take the PK yesterday, he looked almost indifferent as if this was just another payday and win or lose he was going to cash his fat check.
It was , as the cliche goes, a game of two halves plus, of course, one leg-cramping, lung-busting overtime, not to mention the sphincter-tightening shootout. With Ronaldo dancing past Essien with arrogant ease on the flank and then outleaping him to power in a header, United were at their swashbuckling best for the first forty five minutes and should have been up 3-0. Instead they were tied 1-1 after Chelsea took advantage of a lucky deflection and a slip by Van Der Saar for Lampard to score what ESPN's Tommy Smyth astutely summed up as "a very important goal."
Chelsea began to impose their physical style in the second half with Lampard, Ballack and Makelele owning the midfield and driving the Blues forward. Drogba, however, could not break free of Vidic or Ferdinand who velcro'ed themselves to the big Ivorian and grappled for every ball. The game was on a knife's edge of tipping over into outright mayhem as it lurched into extra-time and it was five minutes from penalties when Drogba finally revealed himself to be even more of a woman than Ronaldo. Squaring up to Vidic, he thought better of it and caressed the defender's cheek with an open hand. It was no more than a love tap and yet it was enough for the referee to send him off. Considering that this was probably the last we'll ever see of Drogba in a Chelsea shirt, you'd think he' d want to go out on a high note. At least Zidane head-butted that motherfucker Matterazzi to the turf.
But Drogba's blow won't even have wobbled the knees of David Archuleta.
Would Drogba have made a difference in penalty kicks? Possibly. He might have replaced Terry in the rotation and not let the trophy fall off his foot. But it did. And so today, I celebrate not ManU's victory but Chelsea's soul-crushing failure to buy their way to two championships in the space of a week.
As for that Octagon between Stalin and Hitler, the Gunners and I will be ready to kick the shit out of them both next year.