As I’ve said before, our family loves the World Cup. My daughter got us started during the 2006 tournament. Now we look forward to it each and every four years.
And this year was no exception.
However, when the sporting event you love takes place during the summer, sometimes, you have to check schedules, coordinate travel, be willing to travel at 2:30 in the morning, and let your 10-year old son drive on the interstate.
The staff at Applebee’s in Brandon, Miss, was kind enough to let us get our World Cup fix while eating . . . and not throwing us out for cheering too loud.
Well, I may be exaggerating a little bit. We never left a minute before 3 a.m.! I figure at that time there won’t be nearly as much traffic for my son to maneuver around. And through. And over . . .
This year’s edition of the World Cup has been very entertaining. We cheered wildly during the U.S. win over Ghana. Then we cheered on the U.S. win over Portugal . . . until our cheers turned to disbelief in the final minute of the game.
But then the group play was over and it was time . . . for us to take a trip.
Ahhhhhh! How can we travel during the World Cup? It turns out it’s easy – if you meticulously study both the tournament bracket schedule, your travel plans, and consult a Magic 8 Ball.
The first game of the Knockout round was on Saturday with Brazil and Chile, and it was a game we really wanted to see.
So we knew if we left at a certain time, we could hit Jackson, Mississippi, at just the right time to eat lunch and watch the second half.
Our timing was almost perfect. Almost. As we passed through Jackson, we didn’t see a place to eat.
But we did find an Applebee’s in the city just past Jackson. In fact, it was so close, that I thought we might still be in Jackson.
As we entered Applebee’s, the hostess asked us if we wanted a booth or a table. Our reply was one she had probably never heard before – we want to sit somewhere so we can see the World Cup.
I have to hand it to this particular Applebee’s. Every one of their chain establishments is housed with a number of TVs. However, the serving staff went out of their way. They found a table right next to a big TV, turned to the channel we wanted, and let us watch to our heart’s content.
I’m sure customers are accustomed to hearing people cheer for Ole Miss football or Mississippi State football. But this is probably the first time they have ever heard someone like my daughter Oooooo and Ahhhhh over ever close play in a soccer match.
As it turned out, a middle-age couple sat next to us, and they were big soccer fans too. We struck up a conversation and cheered the game on together. As the game approached penalty kicks to determine the winner, the wife informed us that their son had also played soccer. And that she hated penalty kicks because her son was always one of the last to take a kick. And usually the game, to win or lose, rested on his foot.
And I was reminded again of what it must be like to be the parent of a kicker for a college team. I can’t imagine my son being the object of either instant glory or historical hatred, all depending on whether he makes a field goal.
We loved the colors of the crowd in the Brazil-
Chile match, where the fans wore bright yellow to support their home Brazil team.
And our group talked of what we would do on the way back. After all, if the U.S. won, we would need to stop somewhere to watch the game. I suggested we could stop here again, although I didn’t really know where we were.
“We’re in Brandon, Mississippi,” my daughter said laughing, while pointing with her thumb like a hitch hiker toward a mural on the wall behind her. The mural featured a number of sporting scenes with the word “Brandon” printed in large letters. I’m embarrassed to admit, I thought Brandon was the name of the football player above the words. Then I realized it was the name of the local high school, which was also the name of town.
“Oh yeah, I knew that,” I said casually.
Staying with family in Alabama, we found some time each day to watch World Cup games, some better than others. Of course, we all had marked the calendar for Tuesday afternoon’s game featuring the U.S. and Belgium. We would ALL watch that one.
As we kept awaiting the start of the U.S. game, my aunt asked why they needed an hour-long pregame for a soccer match. I told her this game was just like an Alabama football game, only not quite as big.
Ahhhhhhh, she said. Now I understand.
A large group of us gathered around the TV and cheered and sat on the edge of our seats as the U.S. fell just short of advancing to the quarterfinals.
It was a disappointing loss. But it was a great experience with family and friends. It wasn’t quite college football (where we’ve spent a week together eating and watching bowl games together) but it was just as much fun to me.
Even though the United States isn’t playing anymore, my kids and I are looking forward to watching the rest of the games in this tournament. And I’m sure we’ll get some strange looks as in Appleby’s once again, this time as we cheer on Germany and Argentina.
And we’ll start counting down the days until the U.S. plays in its next World Cup . . . in just four years.