by Rick Rantamaki
GAINESVILLE, GA – We journeyed to Gainesville, Georgia this past weekend to watch a collegiate soccer match. I know what you’re thinking, “we were just looking for another excuse to drink merlot in public,” but, au contraire, we were there to watch our future brother-in-law play an out-of-conference game against a team we’ve never heard of in a sport we know little, if anything, about. Besides, we’re out of merlot.
It was a typically hot September afternoon in Georgia; so hot even the wind refused to move.
On one side of the field was a grandstand that could seat maybe a thousand people, if they were willing to get cozy. For this game, however, only about two-dozen fans were huddled near the top of the bleachers beneath a colorful array of umbrellas – they were slowly baking to a golden brown. Fortunately, we brought our own shade. I setup our canopy in an area beyond the “end line” (if that’s the proper term).
The players and officials stood at midfield for the opening ceremonies, which consisted of player introductions and the playing of the national anthem (which sounded like a ring tone of a military glee club …a glee club that was told to hurry up).
The game started and almost immediately the players starting shoving and yelling at each other. Each shove was accompanied by a half-hearted plea to the official. I, being unfamiliar with the game, figured that’s how they greet each other.
To the untrained eye (i.e. me), it appears as though the teams are giving the soccer ball a rapid tour of the entire field. I don’t know how these guys are running around in this heat. If I were out there, I’d just pick a spot and wait for the ball to come to me, then at halftime I’d be at the concession stand loading my shorts with bags of ice.
At some point, a player on the visiting team fell to the ground in obvious pain. Yet, everyone seemed to ignore him. Play continued as the helpless young man was writhing in agony on the ground. Eventually, the officials stopped the game long enough to permit someone to tend to the fallen player. By the looks of it, I think they’re sending in the team’s bus driver.
The bus driver sauntered onto the field like a hobbled old sea captain. He was carrying what looked like a lunch pail. With some effort, he knelt over the injured player, who, by this point, must have gone into shock. The salty old man spoke briefly and, suddenly, the player rose to his feet and trotted off the field…healthy as could be.
“That…was no bus driver,” I thought, “that…was a miracle worker.”
I was astounded.
He mended that young man simply by the power of his words. We were obviously in the presence of a greater power.
What kind of man possesses such amazing healing powers? Why isn’t he at a hospital using his remarkable gift to heal the sick and wounded? Better yet, why doesn’t he heal himself? And why is he driving a soccer bus?
Strangely enough, this miraculous feat went completely unnoticed by everyone present. The once-injured player returned to his bench where even his teammates seemed unimpressed with his amazing recovery.
Perhaps the bus driver’s miracles have grown routine to them?
But as the game progressed, I began to understand the lack of wonder. Because, on two more occasions, players crashed to the ground in absolute agony and, after a brief stoppage of play, they too left the field miraculously healed.
As it turns out, I was not witnessing a miracle, but rather, a common soccer strategy.
Apparently, soccer players perform a maneuver known as the “flop”. It’s a simple, yet effective tactic used to help control the tempo of the game. With careful observation, the maneuver’s sequence becomes almost predictable.
There are a number of ways to begin a “flop”. Chief among those is to charge into a crowd of opposing players, preferably near their goal, and as soon as you are challenged, throw yourself into the air as if you’ve just stepped on a landmine. Another popular method is to hurl yourself to the ground whenever an opponent steals the ball from you (you might remember seeing this move performed on the kindergarten playground).
To ensure your maneuver gets noticed, you must grab your leg and scream in agony, as if someone just peeled a wax strip from your leg. (I’m sure a little practicing in front of a mirror can really sell your performance.) If the official fails to stop the action, you must then shift to screaming expletives and roll about in an eye-catching manner.
Once play is stopped, the bus driver - who I later discovered is the “team physician” - will then come out and give you your accumulative score (based upon technique, execution, and creativity, as determined by your teammates). I imagine that at the end of the season, the team presents an Oscar-like award to their top “flopper”.
Perhaps next time we should bring our own scorecards so that, like poolside judges, we too can rate the performance of the “floppers”.
By game’s end, we learned a lot about soccer…and we were as melted as our M&M’s. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to reload at the concession stand
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Rick Rantamaki is a humor writer from Georgia who works in the field of Information Technology. You can read more of his writings in his blog, Rantin' Lackey