“...Now I'm in the limelight 'cause I rhyme tight”*
The experience of turning forty years old and the assorted mythos that accompanies the male panic attack of the onset of midlife is something that, I’m sure, better writers than I have tackled. Simply put, I am the prototype of a middle-aged man: wife, two kids, mortgage, student loan debt; I earn just enough money to be ok, but not enough to ever stop worrying that s*%t would get real if a sudden setback befell us. It is a good life, and I ain’t complaining. But it is mostly a life of obligations and responsibilities. It is good to be counted on, to be needed. But it’s hard to be counted on all the time. A guy needs a break sometime.
For my fortieth birthday, I wanted, essentially, to not be forty. I wanted to be ten years old again. To be carefree and full of wonder. To experience a moment or two of unbridled joy. To move effortless around heroes.
And that is why I went to Seattle in a funky dual capacity as both Rapids fan and journalist. And I’ll tell you: it was every bit as wonderful as I’d imagined.
I threw on my ebay-purchased discount Rapids kit at 5:16 AM early Tuesday morning, and drove to DIA, emerging hours later in Seattle at 10AM with basically no significant plan other than killing 9 hours until kickoff. That, of course, was slightly amended when the grounds crew at Olympic Park in Montreal inexplicably couldn’t figure out how big the 18 yard box should be, pushing back both MLS games on the night by 40 minutes. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the grounds crew at a stadium with artificial turf, which doesn’t need to be watered, or mowed, or anything, couldn’t do the one thing they needed to do. Hashtag You Had One Job.
Coming off the plane, three guys in Rapids regalia were standing at the end of the gangplank: a towering beanpole named Greg who I’d seen bopping around in the C38 scrum on occasion, a ski-capped dude with a Shkelzen Gashi-like beard named Chris, and a gent with a Beatles-eque bowl cut named Matt. They had nearly the same plan as me: there is no plan. But whatever we were going do, we were certain that we should be drinking some beer while we do it. Then we caught the light rail into town.
Got two rides, a limousine with a chauffeur / Phone bill about two G's flat / No need to worry, my accountant handles that / And my whole crew is loungin'
We dropped stuff at a hotel and went to fish place in Pikes Market and ate rockfish tacos and drank local beer. It was a good reminder that, as snooty and indignant and elitist as we get about how amazing the local craft-brewing scene is here in Colorado, beer in other places is pretty good too. We proceeded to swap stories and hang out like old friends, because we’re all Rapids fans, and because beer. We also each shared a story that began ‘One time, Richard Terry was so drunk that...’ This is an activity, I think, that any Rapids fan can play with any other Rapids fan, at any time. The legend of #DareToTerry is truly remarkable.
Then we walked into Pike Market, saw the first Starbucks, which looks like every other Starbucks, but older, looked around and a bunch of touristy crap for 15 seconds, and went ‘Right. Enough of that. When does the game kick off again?’
After beers we journeyed to Ace Hardware to get Greg a 3 1⁄2 foot pole for his Colorado flag, and then I checked into my hotel and watched the only movie on TV, ‘The Hangover II’, which is 70 minutes of stupid followed by 15 minutes of Ken Jeong being hysterical. Yeah, and also, at no point during the movie did a four-year old ask me to wipe their tush. So that was cool.
At 5:00 PM I went to go pick up my press pass and meet up with traveling Rapids fans at a bar called Elysian Fields. Matt, Greg, and Chris were there before me. I got some really bad falafel and another beer, and we watched the Montreal-Toronto game on ESPN. Scratch that. We actually just watched paint dry. Riveting. But there was more micro-brew.
Birthdays was the worst days / Now we sip
champagnecraft-beer when we thirst-ay
At 6pm I went up to CenturyLink to get settled into the press box. A twenty-five piece Sounders brass band was playing The Offspring’s ‘Self-Esteem’ at the entrance, which was awesome. Sorry the camera work gets gets bouncy at the end. I was bobbing my head to the beat. Don’t call me a traitor, I just like music.
As I hit the door marked ‘Media Only’, Denver Post sportswriter Daniel Boniface was headed up too. Boniface would be my spirit guide through the mysterious netherworld of sports journalism for the next three hours, since I don’t know the protocols of what to do or where to go in the pre and post game scrum of journalists. Daniel is not only a helluva good writer: succinct, witty, thorough and clear; he’s also an incredibly nice guy. As your standard liberal egghead from one of the coasts, I’m inclined towards a standard liberal egghead paper like the New York Times, but I’d buy a stack of Denver Posts from Daniel if it mean supporting his work.
In the elevator up, MLSsoccer.com personality and former Houston Dynamo striker Calen Carr got into the elevator with us, and I chatted him up, which was a celebrity-sighting thrill for a soccer interloper like me. I introduced myself as Mark Goodman from Burgundy Wave. He said, ‘Oh, I’ve read Burgundy Wave.’ He’d read Burgundy Wave!
I’d never been in a press box of any kind before Tuesday, let alone an NFL/MLS one at one of the biggest stadiums in the league. It was quite a sight. Five rows of gleaming white desks, with space for maybe one hundred and fifty writers and photographers overlooked a sea of rave green and astroturf on a drizzly Seattle night, with each spot marked by a little card with your organization posted on it.
My spot was sandwiched between Boniface and Patrick Shea, former MLS player turned full time soccer correspondent and videographer par excellence. His blog is currentofcolorado.com He was a warm, excitable, chatty bloke. Dude had just driven up from working video on a tournament down in Los Angeles, and by the sound of it, long-haul drives with a hundred pounds of camera gear from youth tournament to youth tournament was pretty much dé riguer for him. Gotta give respect to the working grinders of the soccer world like Patrick.
I took a walk and said hi to Diego Garcia and Richard Clarke and Richard Fleming, from the Colorado Rapids media team, all of whom were happy to see a familiar face in a room full of mostly Seattle-based journalists. I got a Sprite (they have free Sprite! and an on-site barista! and spaghetti and meatballs! OMG!). I met MLS ‘This Week in MLS’ co-host Susannah Collins, who is a sure-thing rising star in the media team for the league. I set up my laptop. Game time was pushed back 35 minutes because of the line-painting fiasco in Montreal; Boniface groaned. The game would now end after the Denver Post’s print deadline: Daniel now would have to file a story about who won... with 30 minutes left to play. Mild panic set in. Phone calls were made. Somehow, an arrangement was reached. I took some notes and headed out in fan regalia to stand with the away supporters, still reveling in a sense of how the hell any of this had happened to a blogger from a tiny website in fly-over country.
You never thought that hip hop would take it this far / Now I'm in the limelight 'cause I rhyme tight / Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade / Born sinner, the opposite of a winner / Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner / Peace to Ron G, Brucey B, Kid CapriFunkmaster Flex, Lovebug Starsky / I'm blowin' up like you thought I would
Down to the field. About 80 Rapids fans were crammed into a corner of the field, lustily chanting away with C38 standards. Greg Chris and Matt were there, and Stout Street SG super-fan Richard Bamber, and a host of other hard-core fans.
You might want to feel a tiny bit disappointed that our traveling support isn’t as robust as for other clubs. That’s fair: I wish we could have brought two or three hundred, too. But remember the date of the game: the days immediately before Thanksgiving, and we had to buy those tickets with only 10 days notice. The airlines and the hotels rogered us right good on those prices. Airfare for me, on the cheapest flights, was double what it would be any other day. These people bleed burgundy. Or as Chris, a Johnny-lunchpail Customer Service rep told me ‘Yeah, it was really expensive. But this is my one vacation of the year.’
The players came out of the tunnel. The Emerald City Supporters dropped a fantastic tifo. We screamed our heads off. The kickoff went. Seattle pushed the Rapids back for 13 minutes, but against the run of play, Kevin Doyle scored first. Pandemonium ensued in the burgundy pit.
Seattle equalizer five minutes later. The Rapids absorbed pressure till the half. I took my damp but exhuberant self onto the packed concourse to muscle my way back up to the press box. As I arrived, I changed from my burgundy kit into a more professional-looking checkered shirt and grey blazer. I resisted the urge to bring a fedora, but I have to admit that the pull to go full sports journo cosplay was strong.
I spent the first fifteen minutes of the second half feverishly trying to whip up a game recap for the Wave, which is not my forte. I’m slow and deliberate when I write, and I like to ponder and re-watch the game in order to form a deeper understanding when I do ‘Backpass’ on Tuesdays. That’s all out the window for a recap, and all the more-so when you don’t bother to take notes for the first forty-five. Oh well.
I spent the second half try to muffle my own screams of excitement and disappointment, because Mile High Soapbox told me so. Even when Marc Burch bumped Nicolas Lodeiro in the box and the Uruguayan crumpled like he’d been hit by Von Miller.
@rapidsrabbi Remember, no cheering in the press box. Have fun.— Peter Soeth (@milehighsoapbox) November 22, 2016
Lodeiro converted, the Rapids grinded, and I banged out a so-so game recap in figurative crayon while Daniel Boniface was creating a post-game oil painting fit for the National Gallery.
The press all piled into the elevator to head down to the vast underbelly of the stadium to find the post-game press room. Seventy five writers, photographers, and videographers piled in to ask Pablo Mastroeni, then Brian Schmetzer, questions of all varieties. But mostly different repetitions of ‘How great is Nico Lodeiro?’ Apparently, everybody fanboys a little when they report. When I raised my hand to ask a question to Mastroeni about his pre-game talk to the players, and Diego Garcia called on me by name, a flush of pride ran through me. Yeah, I’m a dork. Pablo opined about the bump in the box, the return of Gashi, and stopping Lodeiro. Brian Schmetzer did the same, although the only great thing of interest he said in my opinion was calling the league ‘the MLS’, which, ok.
Then I tried to follow Boniface into the lockerrooms, but got lost and ended up in the home team locker room with the scrum of thirty Seattle reporters. I found my way backwards to the away team lockers just as Jermaine Jones was wrapping up *the* question that every USMNT player was getting asked: what did he think of the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann. In short, no comment about the firing, but Jermaine was not happy with the unappreciative attitude the sports media had shown him as the axe came down.
I rode shotgun with Boniface as he interviewed Shkelzen Gashi and Sebastian Le Toux, and asked Diego if I could get a few words with Dominique Badji. Badji was moving too fast and blew by us in a hallway to grab a post-game carbo load of beans and rice, and I was still in need of getting back upstairs to add a line or two to my recap and hit ‘publish.’ So I parted ways and went back to finish the work.
I made the change from a common thief /
To up close and personal with Robin Leach
I wanted to ask Badji about his roller-coaster ride over the past two years; about going from being a nobody-fourth-round SuperDraft pick with little hope to make the team to starting a playoff match as the Rapids striker in front of 47,000 fans. Which, to be honest, is me projecting my emotions into the Rapids narrative. It is I that felt suddenly awe-struck and out of place by my unfamiliar surroundings among the great writers and professional athletes and television personalities.
Three years ago I was a guy that had been to a handful of soccer games in my entire life. Who’d never written anything that reached an audience of more than a few dozen congregants in podunk mountain town synagogue or two hundred bored parents at a Jewish day school’s back-to-school night. Here I was, on my fortieth birthday, living the dream of every ten-year old of being in the locker room of a playoff game, chatting with the elite and getting free sodas to boot. Normally, my birthdays are a ginormous letdown. This one was every bit as fantastic as I had imagined.
I’ll add that if I had done that whole day over without the press pass and the backstage access, it still would have been one of the best days of my life. Soccer fandom is about total commitment to passion: about the willful abandoning of logic to allow yourself to be purely consumed by the moment. Of the joy and anticipation that gets pent up after seasons filled with losing and disappointment. Going away to a game is an amazing experience in MLS, and you should do it at least one time in your life. There is camaraderie and ecstasy and wonder and beer and infamy in being burgundy in a sea of green. Win or lose Sunday, we have played our final road game of the season this year, and I was there. You should be there at some point in 2017 or beyond.
It was just as well that I didn’t get to talk to Badji. The night needed a final note of savory to finish off something so sweet - other than the obvious fact of not winning. An imperfect finish meant that I could seamlessly transition back into a real world where I’m a father and husband and rabbi and employee without the bright lights and the all-access pass to coolness. I hope I get to do it all again someday. But if not, I am still blessed to be able to watch this amazing run of the Colorado Rapids with both a proverbial and literal front row seat. I hope the dream season for the Rapids continues, that the passion and joy carry us to the Cup this season, against logic and all odds and the prognostications of all. Dream of the biggest of things, Rapids fans. But stop to enjoy the dream while you are in it, right now, before morning comes.
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* All lyrics from ‘Juicy’, Notorious B.I.G. And if you don’t know, now you know, ‘Pids fan.