At Candlestick Park by the third inning of the Giants’ game against the Philadelphias, the smell of garlic permeates even the cheap seats. This is most unusual to even a sports freak, since the stench of overdone onions is the usual olfactory delight at baseball epics.
But this is San Francisco, the cutting edge of the wedge, and the odor comes from the concession stands. A specialty is french fries rolled in garlic. The memory of Paris escargot even rolls to the third baseman, which may have accounted for his booted ground ball.
This is California, where another delicacy—Hotdogs? Who cares?—is black-beanand-smoked-pork chili. The kid yelling his wares through the stands is not selling beer. He offers iced cappuccino. This is California.
Home of the World Cup finals. Educator of America, trying to convince the world’s most powerful nation that the world’s most popular sport is one that is played without using the hands. Is this logical? No. Are Americans puzzled? You betcha.
In Pasadena, snug up against the San Gabriel Mountains that helped to keep Los Angeles tucked in wall-to-wall smog, in the parking lot outside the Rose Bowl, there are Brazilian ladies dancing on the pavement, dressed only in Brazilian flags that are so small as to cover only the unmentionables.
Californians who own swimming pools the shape of their ulcers walk primly by, not accustomed to nations that wear their soccer balls on their sleeves. The natives from Hollywood and Beverly Hills are here because their 11year-old daughters now play in a soccer league and the parents, not knowing whether the ball is square or inflated with smoked-pork chili, feel anything that costs 300 bucks to watch Brazil humiliate Sweden with 26-3 shots on goal must be worth the moola.
There is only one pure genius in California. That would be Gheorghe Hagi of Romania, who has lost his calling. He should be at La Scala in Milan. The most brilliant footballer in this 24-nation fandango, he faints at the touch of an ankle, writhing on
the grass as if done in by an AK-47.
His histrionics would put Barrymore to shame, not to mention Rudolph Valentino. If his tiny country, only recently escaped from the Iron Curtain, had advanced beyond its remarkable quarter-final status, prime-time television would have made him as popular as Rush Limbaugh, the fakir of all time.
In Irvine, in Orange County, computer-controlled red lights last so long that a creativewriting student from Gimli, Man., claims she can complete reading Beowulf before the lights change.
On the way to Pasadena, a battered pickup truck at a stoplight displays a bumper sticker: “Real men love Jesus.” Well, true, I guess, but is this aimed at all those guys kicking a round ball at the Rose Bowl? Who knows? This is California.
In the parking lot, neat Californians in Bermuda shorts and designer sunglasses are
looking askance at goofy Swedes who are wearing Viking horns as the fashion statement of the day. Americans, non-understanders of soccer, watch crazy Dutchmen wearing orange foam wooden shoes on their heads, and wonder what is going on. They obviously have forgotten their last fraternity party.
What is going on, of course, is a clash of cultures. A large sign outside the Rose Bowl lists the approximately 78 items that will not be allowed in the stadium. They include “smoking” and “weapons.” No smoking in an outdoor arena? Brilliant. Weapons? What about those Viking horns? Let’s get serious.
Italy’s squad enters each match holding hands in a single line, rather like kindergarten kids on a crosswalk. This was especially popular in San Francisco, for reasons the Italians knew not what.
The 1990 census shows that there are exactly 6,759 Bulgarian-born bodies in the United States. How did this Communist refuge of nine million souls, which most Americans couldn’t find on a map—the map showing it tucked between Romania and Turkey on the Black Sea—make it to the quarter-finals by beating not only Argentina but world-champion Germany?
Simple. It’s part of the process to educate Americans, since before this month-long tourney through nine cities, the ordinary Americans (there are a lot of them) didn’t know if the Cameroons were Snickers and if the Vulgar Bulgars were a dance act or a rock band.
The World Cup, watched by four billion eyes around the globe last Sunday— more popular than even the Olympics—is not going to turn the Excited States of America into a soccer nut-
ball. All it will do is something more useful: open American eyes to the realization that what they call the “World Series” each autumn is a sham. Sport, as all of us old jocks know, is the great equalizer. It is the precursor of politics. Four years from now, in host France, the web will be expanded. As the chauvinistic European powers have had to concede, Africa and Asia will be allowed more qualifiers.
Just as middleand long-distance running has been taken over in recent years by African nations—goodbye there Roger Bannister and all you white guys—the world’s most popular sport will surrender its impetus to Africa and Asia. Just as such upstarts as Hungary and then South America took over the dominance of the game that fading England gave to the world.
And the smell of spice, rather than garlic shall reign over all.
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