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Crazy Things Happen

June 06, 2002|by DAN SPEARS

Sport does strange things to people. It stops entire nations in their tracks. It makes normal, low-key individuals go stark-raving mad. For a while, it gave people in Sacramento, Calif., something to cheer about.

And therein lies the beauty; it can turn a first-hand failure and a victory halfway around the world into the same I-wouldn't-trade-this-for-the-world experience.

n About a month ago, my friend Kevin and I made the trek to Bethpage State Park on Long Island in hopes of playing, "The Black," the notorious golf course where the U.S. Open will be played next week.

How tough a track are we talking about? Sam Snead once called it the most unfair course he'd ever played. Oh, by the way, he won that day.


My quest started at 10 a.m. when I left the house for New York. Kevin took off from Connecticut a little later and made the golf course around 2 p.m.

The deal with The Black is this: Anyone can play, as long as you're part of the first six foursomes waiting in line. I call Kevin when I'm about 30 miles from the course.

We're No. 7. The guys at No. 1 have been in line for 24 hours already. "Yikes" and "Uh-Oh" go through my mind simultaneously.

Our only hope is if someone has cancelled their tee time (If you're a member of the New York State Parks, you can try to get a tee time via a phone lottery. It is easier to win Powerball than to get a tee time at The Black.). The guy in Car No. 6 lets us use his phone to keep calling the hotline and check on cancellations.

This is fruitless, but it's what hope, a passion for golf and slight wackiness will do to you.

Our chances of getting on the course are slim. But do we leave? Heck no! We're here, let's enjoy it. We get out the grill. We're the talk of "The Line," as it is called. And while no one would trade places with us (unless there were a couple C-notes involved), they most certainly are good people. Great people. Fans of golf. Addicts of golf, actually.

We had a blast, allergies and all. When 4:30 a.m. came around and we learned that, no, we aren't going to get to play The Black, we're bummed. We played the Red Course instead and got a look at a couple of the holes on The Black.

Boy, is that grass tall.

On our way out, we saw a reporter who had talked to us in line the previous night. She asks if the whole experience was all worth it, despite driving six hours (for me) for essentially nothing.

I think the smiles on our faces, and the glint in our sleep-deprived eyes, said enough.

n It's the same feeling I had just after 7 Wednesday morning when the United States shocked Portugal for a 3-2 victory in its first game at World Cup 2002.

You're darned right I watched it live. As the sports department's resident soccerhead, I may have been strung up by my ears or called a communist or something if I didn't.

Needless to say, the sleep accumulated from a two-hour nap vanished from my eyes in the fourth minute when John O'Brien gave the Americans a 1-0 lead.

Then it was 2-0 on a pseudo-own goal. Sam's Army, the Americans' cheering section, begins to chant,"Ov-er-ra-ted! Ov-er-ra-ted!" to the Portuguese, ranked No. 5 in the world to our 13th.

Like they knew what we were saying or something. Guys, they speak Portuguese.

Then it's 3-0 and I'm rolling on the floor like I'm having a seizure. Down 3-1 at the break, the Portuguese bring the house in the second half. We give back the own goal; it's 3-2. Oh sugar.

But suddenly, with about 12 minutes to play, the Americans wise up. They weather the storm of a now-exhausted Portugal side, attack a little and stall a lot.

I'm laying on my floor, telling Pablo Mastroeni to kick the ball far. Very far. Like you did in sixth grade. I'm pleading with defenseman Frankie Hejduk - the U.S.'s most schizophrenic player - to just do his job, sort of like you tell the power forward on your basketball team to PLEASE not shoot 3-pointers.

ESPN play-by-play man Jack Edwards understates it perfectly for a bleary-eyed American public: "If you know a soccer fan that's not watching right now, call them."

Then the whistle blows. We win. Holy cow, we win.

When the U.S. beat Colombia at the Rose Bowl in 1994, I didn't get to watch because I was at a picnic or something. When we didn't win a game after that, I wasn't sure if we'd ever win again in my lifetime. After all, we'd only had four wins ever in World Cup play, and two of them were in 1930.

But therein lies the beauty of soccer, or any sport for that matter.

Sometimes, when you lose, you still win. And sometimes when you win, you just can't lose.

Dan Spears is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131 ext. 2334 or

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