"Futbol is life."
Updated: Oct 10, 2021
Note: There are no Ted Lasso Season Two Finale spoilers in this article.
About six months ago, before I had seen the light, my wife, Holly, was trying to convince me to watch Ted Lasso. Initially, I had no interest. I have always considered myself a "serious soccer person," and on the surface, the show seemed goofy to me. I figured the premise of the show about an American college football coach who somehow Forrest Gumped his way into coaching soccer in the most respected professional league in the world was sacrilege to the beautiful game. I am happy to say I finally relented and have since fallen in love with the show. In fact, I would go as far to say that It is my favorite show of all-time.
Like many Americans of my generation, I started playing soccer as a kid in the 1970's. (Yes, I said "soccer." That's what we call it over here. I will make no apologies since the term soccer is derived from "association football," but I digress.... We can save this debate for another day.) My father introduced me to the sport at an early age, and I fell in love with it immediately. Soccer remained an integral part of my life for a long time. Over the years, I ended up coaching on various levels, including small college (NAIA), high school, middle school, and the club levels.
One of my soccer highlights was that I ended up coaching at my alma mater, Montverde Academy, which is traditionally one of the strongest high school programs in the nation. It was quite meaningful for me to coach that storied program ten years after I played there. During my playing days there in the 80's, I had the distinction of being the only American in the starting eleven. It would be an understatement to say that a boy from Memphis, Tennessee playing on a top squad at a boarding school in Florida with teammates from all over world experienced a most impactful cultural education from this. Many years have since passed, and we have all long returned to our countries of origin, but I still consider these guys my brothers.
Every time I see the locker room scenes with the AFC Richmond guys speaking with various accents and dialects, it makes me fondly remember my Montverde mates. When I look back, it's kind of funny that during that time I had a crash course in the languages of soccer. Due to the international make up of the team, we rarely spoke English on the pitch. Therefore, I learned to ask for the ball and how to tell my teammates to mark up in choppy one word utterances in Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, and German.
My experience at Montverde was where I first learned that soccer had the power to bring together people from different reaches of earth. While it has been quite a while since I have been involved with the sport on a regular basis, the game still sometimes connects me with people in often unexpected ways. Case in point: the other day, I was chatting with an Uber driver from Cameroon. I had the best ride with him talking about Roger Milla, the legendary Cameroonian striker and his Indomitable Lions. Two weeks ago, I ate at a Columbian restaurant, and the waiter and I had a blast talking about the passing and dribbling acumen of Carlos Valderrama. It never fails to delight me when this happens. In a world that seems so divided these days, I am grateful that soccer still enables me to connect with a vast array of people.
Another reason this shows resonates with me so strongly is because much like Ted Lasso's father, my dad was a loving man who ended his life prematurely. For many years, I tried to make sense of it. Seeing Ted deal with this brought back a flood of memories from my similar experience. Also seeing Ted make peace with the pain he felt from his father's suicide by thinking about their good times together made me think of an article I wrote two decades ago about how soccer formed a bond between me and my dad. (The article, Upset of the Century, appears below. It was written in 2001 for the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies website.)
Watching Ted Lasso the past few months reaffirms to me not only how beautiful the game is, but also how special the relationships born out of the game can be. It seems that for me this was the perfect show at the perfect time, as it rekindled my passion for the game I grew up loving. Last night as I watched the season two finale and Danny Rojas appeared on the screen, a smile came across my face, because futbol is indeed life.
Upset of the Century
Yesterday was my father’s birthday. He passed away a few years ago. Usually when his birthday comes around, it’s a time for me to do some reflecting. And it’s kind of strange that usually on his birthday, I think back to one of my birthdays.
The date was May 24, 1978. It was my birthday. At the time, soccer was my life. For my birthday surprise, my father took me to the Liberty Bowl to see our hometown Memphis Rogues play the world famous New York Cosmos. Quite arguably, the Rogues were the doormat of the North American Soccer League. The Cosmos were the class of American soccer. International stars like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and Carlos Alberto had played for the Cosmos. The Rogues were a rag tag assembly of rookies and washed up veterans from Great Britain.
What I witnessed that night was amazing. The Rogues were at least a four-goal underdog. In what must have been the upset of the century, the Rogues’ Tony Field (a former Cosmo) scored a beautiful goal, and the Rogues held on by tooth and nail to shutout and soundly defeat the mighty Cosmos, 1 – 0. The screaming roar of the 10,000 or so fans at the Liberty Bowl sounded more like 50,000 to me. What a birthday gift! My father and I talked about it until the day he died. That small moment in Memphis’ sports history cemented a bond between us that will last throughout my life.
In retrospect, that experience taught me that sports are a microcosm for life, and anything is possible in life with hard work and determination. If the Rogues can beat the Cosmos, anything can happen. Sports can be used to bring a father and son together.
What does this have to do with basketball, you ask? Where will you be on December 21? I hope you will be with your son or daughter at The Pyramid when the world champion Los Angeles Lakers make their first regular season visit to Memphis to play our Grizzlies. It’s kind of like the Rogues versus the Cosmos or David versus Goliath. Wouldn’t it be great to say that you were there when the Grizzlies upset the famous Lakers? Wouldn’t it be neat to have all kinds of memories about how our native son, Lorenzen Wright, dominated Shaq in the paint? You and your son or daughter can talk about this forever. It isn’t supposed to happen, but it could. Thanks, Dad. Happy birthday.
Postscript: The Grizzlies ended up defeating the mighty Los Angeles Lakers in this game! My father would have loved it.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness and Social & Emotional (SEL) skills to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, a frequent keynote speaker, currently serves as the Director of SEL at Lausanne Collegiate School. He may be contacted through his website: www.greggraber.com