Last May, FC Barcelona won the Champions League for the third time in six years. On the two previous recent occasions that the club won the title, the trophy was presented to team captain Carles Puyol. Puyol is an iconic figure, a native Catalan who came up through the team's youth ranks and is noted both for being a great leader on the field and for looking like a caveman (or at least a Dokken roadie). When Barcelona won the title last May, Puyol gave the honor of lifting the trophy to Eric Abidal, the team's French left back. Abidal had had an excellent season for Barca, playing both left and center back because of injuries, before he was felled by a liver tumor early in 2011. Abidal recovered in time to play in the Final, where he shut down Manchester United right-winger Antonio Valencia. Thus, there were few fans around the world who weren't a little touched by the scene of Abidal receiving the Champions League trophy from his countryman Michel Platini, himself a French legend who led the French side that won the European Cup in 1984 and made the semifinals of the World Cup in 1982 and 1986.This leads to a complaint about the Falcons having the gall to ask for a new stadium to replace the Georgia Dome, a facility in which they have all of twenty seasons under their belt. The overall point is that the NFL is a perfect illustration of crony capitalism, an entity that socializes profits by extorting concessions from local government and minimizing the incentives for good management. Somehow, the awarding of the Lombardi Trophy to the Giants' owners and the Falcons' chutzpah in asking for a $700M new stadium seem linked in my head, although I'm not sure that I properly explained why.
Forgive me for sounding like a Eurosnob* for a moment, but the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy last night didn't quite have the same flair. (Watch trophy presentation video here.)
Instead of a football icon handing the trophy over, we get Roger Goodell, a life-long NFL suit who is most noted for giving himself the power to suspend players for any reason he sees fit and for persuading Peter King to write the most sycophantic cover story that I can recall reading in Sports Illustrated. Instead of a club totem like Puyol or a cancer-survivor like Abidal accepting the trophy, we had the New York Giants' owners getting the honor. Puyol and Abidal got the right to hold the trophy aloft because they established themselves as some of the best players in the world at their positions; John Mara and Steve Tisch got the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy because they inherited the team from their parents. On the list of individuals about whom Giants fans were feeling very strong affection last night, I doubt that the team's owners were in the top 20.
Other thoughts for the director's cut:
1. You'll notice that there is an asterisk with no footnote. That was going to be a paragraph where I list all of the reasons why the US is better than Europe, including the fundamental contradiction that is the EU (putting Greece and Germany under the same roof isn't a recipe for stability) and our bad-ass technology for blowing things up. (Generally speaking, I could have just said "our technology.") When I was done with the footnote, it read like a loyalty oath, so I took it out. But, just in case you are concerned, G-d bless the USA! (HT: Lee Greenwood.)
2. I was also going to include a footnote to the effect of "I'm not saying that everyone should love soccer because of the way the sport is structured in Europe. I grew up playing and watching the sport, so I'm not offended by a nil-nil. Your mileage may vary. In the old days, I would get mad at Americans who didn't like soccer because that sentiment kept it off of TV. With the Internet and digital cable, that's no longer an issue, so if you find the sport desperately boring, that's your choice and I respect it."
3. Is there anyone out there who thinks that the Georgia Dome needs to be replaced? Seriously. I know the selling point is going to be that the new stadium will be funded by a hotel tax, but a significant number of Georgians will end up paying that tax. Additionally, if we are going to raise $700M, then I can think of 20 better ways to spend the money. For starters, how about a moratorium on plunking metal plates down on our roads? $700M would pay for some pretty smooth surface streets. The public gets this, hence the significant opposition to a new stadium. If there are any Polisci students out there, this issue would make for a really interesting thesis.