Thursday, January 12, 2012

Classic Sports Thursday

Have you ever noticed how many times people use the phrase, “I could care less,” when what they really mean to say is, “I couldn’t care less”?

Think about it. If it is true that, as Rush Limbaugh often says, “words mean things,” then it’s only fair that we look at how these words are used. To say “I could care less” in essence means that there are indeed things that would be even less important to you than that in question. Now, if someone told me I’d just won a million dollars, I doubt that my first reaction would be to say “I could care less!” but it would be true – there would be many things that I suddenly cared much less about than having won one million dollars. My job, for instance.

So when I say that I could not have cared less about the election returns Tuesday night, I may be guilty of a slight hyperbole; no doubt the New Hampshire primary carries more interest to me than, say, the latest episode of “American Idol.” Nevertheless, the foregone result of Tuesday's vote was far from the most important thing in mind – not when one had the option of watching Thierry Henry’s return to Arsenal.

Henry is probably one of the greatest soccer players ever, and likely the greatest ever to play for Arsenal, so given the choice – well, there was no choice, really, between watching Fox News’ election returns and Fox Soccer’s replay of Monday’s FA Cup match between Arsenal and Leeds United at London’s Emirates Stadium. (Especially when I hadn't seen the live broadcast Monday.) It was a triumphant, and storybook, homecoming for Henry, who came on as a substitute for the last 25 minutes and ten minutes later scored the only goal in the Gunners’ 1-0 victory over Leeds, advancing them to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

It was also a rare opportunity to see an all-time great return to the scene of some of his greatest triumphs, even more rare if those previous moments occurred beyond your memory. Being a relative latecomer to the world’s most popular soccer league, England’s Premier League (sorry, MLS), I knew of Henry’s exploits in Arsenal only through highlights on retrospective shows: the three FA Cups, the two Premier League titles, the undefeated season in 2003-2004. No, the Henry I was familiar with was the one from Gillette commercials, from his time with Barcelona , from the disastrous French play at the 2010 World Cup, and his late-career move to the New York Red Bulls.

A very good, perhaps exceptionally good, player – but not the great Henry. The one voted greatest Arsenal player of all time. The one memorialized with a bronze statue outside the Emirates. The one who would sit in the stands during MLS’ off season, wearing his red-and-white striped Arsenal scarf.

The prospect of Henry’s return to Arsenal, even if for only a couple of months while on loan from New York (whose season doesn’t start until March), was something akin to what the younger generation must have felt when Schumacher came out of retirement to race again in F1. But with that anticipation also came concern: would Henry wind up the same way as Schumacher, not even very good (relatively speaking) but only good enough to not embarrass himself, which would in itself be embarrassing? Would the crowd's roar as Henry prepared to enter the match be the highlight of the evening?

Well, as it turns out, it was more than a night for nostalgia. As Steve Rushin pointed out in this terrific article, Henry's match-winning goal, coming as it did, was a reminder of why we watch sports on TV. Because for just a moment it was as if time had stood still, and for someone who had never appreciated the Arsenal years, that was time enough.
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