Thursday, June 17, 2010
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Buzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...

Been watching the World Cup? Wondering what that constant buzzing noise is? The culprit is a horn called a "vuvuzela." The horn isn't the problem -- it's the people who blow them.

Our beef isn't with the horns. Really, it's not. Oh, there's been plenty of ink spilled on how awful the "vuvuzelas" are, how their constant, tuneless humming is making the World Cup matches unbearable to watch unless the TV is on mute.

And the noise IS awful, mostly because of what it drowns out. Gone is the chanting and singing that makes soccer special, replaced with a cacophony of buzzing.

This has led to a worldwide plea for a ban on the plastic nuisances. This week, FIFA's president said there will be no such ban. And we should be OK with that. Like I said, the problem isn't the horns.

The problem is the people who blow them.

After all, we don't blame the kitchen knife for the madman's slashing spree, and we don't finger the oil for heaving itself into the Gulf of Mexico. (If you think those comparisons are extreme, put down this newspaper, turn on ESPN right now and crank up the volume. Then we'll talk -- provided you haven't reached for the kitchen knife yourself.)

Seriously, what's with these people? Why do they never tire of honking? The average price of a World Cup match ticket is $139. And this is how they choose to experience their two hours at the biggest sporting event on earth?

Granted, it's not everyone. ESPN cameras have captured images of people beating drums, people singing, people clapping. Only we can't hear a lick of it. The horn people win, every time.

Fan A: "Great match, eh?"

Fan B: "HOOOOOONK!"

Fan A: "Wonder how much stoppage time they'll add here."

Fan B: "HOOOOOONK!"

Fan A (backing away slowly): Easy, mate.

In 2005, ESPN.com's Bill Simmons wrote a very funny article entitled "Bane of the Ballpark," where he counted down the 20 most annoying fans you'll encounter at a baseball game. He included such notables as "The guy wearing a replica jersey of someone who isn't on the team anymore," "the guy who keeps score and keeps telling you about it," and "the guy sitting near the visiting on-deck circle who yells unfunny insults at every on-deck batter."

But even those guys shake their heads at Honk Fan, the deserving target of our ire.

Other observations after watching nearly every minute of World Cup action thus far:

- That last sentence indicates I might need to get a life.

- Flopping is way down this year. No matter what you hear or read in the American media (outside of the soccer mecca that is Roanoke), it's down.

- Switzerland's 1-0 victory over Spain on Wednesday was roughly the equivalent of Washington football beating USC last year.

- One of the great things about soccer is the uninterrupted nature of the TV coverage, made possible by small ads that pop up at the top of the screen. This created an interesting twist on Monday, when a Japanese player scored while a banner advertising Hyundai graced the screen. The player's name (which, of course, was repeatedly hollered by the play-by-plan man)? Honda.

- Japan also has a starting midfielder named Daisuke Matsui. Baseball fans call him "Dice-zilla."

- Does anybody else have a bad feeling about Friday's U.S. match against Slovenia? The Americans are favored to win, but not as much as you might think -- you'll get about 1-to-1 odds on a U.S. victory if you consider a draw a loss. The U.S.-England game was the highest-rated first-round World Cup match in U.S. history; a letdown seems inevitable, doesn't it? And Slovenia has a real chance here. This isn't Virginia Tech football playing James Madison the week after opening against Boise State.

- Save your e-mails, Dukes fans. I know you've got an excellent I-AA program. But I'll give you 20 points on that Sept. 11 matchup right now, letdown or no.

- With every team now having played one match, Germany and Switzerland have been the most impressive. Outside of the aforementioned Spain, Italy and Portugal were the biggest disappointments, although both did escape with draws.

- European announcers really seem to dig the word "joy," often whipping it out in situations where we might say "success." Example: "They have found no joy with their set pieces today." I get great joy out of this.

- If anybody tells you scoreless soccer can't be interesting, they didn't watch the first half of Brazil's 2-1 win over longshot North Korea on Tuesday. The goal-free period was fascinating in the way North Korea dodged trouble. As chance after chance went unfulfilled for Brazil, you can almost hear the "ooohs" and "aaahs" from the crowd.

Almost.

Catch Aaron McFarling's Daily Sports Briefing on weekday mornings on the Press Box Blog at http://blogs.roanoke.com/rtblogs/pressbox/

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