Happy one year. At first I didn’t know what to get you. I googled some things though. Apparently, the internet says the one year anniversary is the paper anniversary.
“Get them paper, to represent how one year means that even though you’ve written part of your story, there’s still so much further to go,” the internet explains. The internet also attributes that quote to Chris Evans, so the internet may be wrong here. Either way I thought I’d get you something to remind you of the day. I cut it out myself. And I love you.
Alright, I had to bring you in with that first part. We’re talking about the very bad game. And now you’ve already sunk this much time into this article. Your mind is telling you that bailing now would make the previous minute a waste of time. You have no minutes to waste. In fact the more you read this paragraph, the more time you’ve sunk into this. You have to stay. You can’t escape. And that’s ok. Because I love the very bad game. And...uhh...you, I guess.
I won’t make you watch the highlights. The box score should at least trigger something. I won’t even mention that Chicago put up 24 shots. This will be painless. Just like this transition.
One time I went to a bad movie night. A screening of a movie called “Stickfighter.” The premise of Stickfighter being of course that there is man who uses a stick to fight. It is not a good movie. It includes moments such as the climactic scene where the hero and the villain meet for a final confrontation that begins when the hero—who is in no way associated with journalism or any part of the fourth estate—takes stock of his surroundings, looks into the eyes of the villain, and says, “Let’s make the news.” Then they punch each other until the hero wins. It is not a good movie, it is a great movie.
What made it my favorite movie I’ve ever seen in person though, was the fact that the lead actor, he of “Let’s make the news” fame, unexpectedly showed up to the screening.
The audience cheered and laughed through the entire thing. I’m not sure if that happened because the movie had the right mix of cheesy dialogue and choreographed fight sequences or if we all felt uncomfortable that the person who made the movie (a 1,000 time black belt or something) could absolutely choose to roundhouse kick every single one of us into the sun for our opinions of his art.
Afterward, he stood in front of the crowd. The muscled, world-class kickboxer got choked up as he tried to explain what it meant to see people appreciating what he had made 20 years ago. Not what it meant to see us forming opinions of what he’d made, but to see us enjoying the experience as a whole. Despite the fact that the movie itself was the cinematic equivalent of giving up five goals in the first half to one of the worst teams in the league. The transitions are getting better.
I talked to some fans that were at the very bad game. The ones who actually traveled to the Chicago suburbs and paid hundreds of dollars to watch it. The stories were mixed. But some of the stories were like Dave’s.
“We were supposed to be on a chartered bus that picks up at different pubs to go to the stadium. My (lovable, stoner) friend that lives in Chicago and organized this got the time wrong and we missed the bus. Next, we googled what public bus to take and hustled to the nearest stop (only a 30 minute ride on the L away!) and got to the stop to find out that particular bus isn’t running that day,” Dave said.
“So we (along with a rando Austrian guy that was in the same boat) got an Uber XL and sat in traffic all the way to the stadium. Luckily, we had built in tailgating time so we actually arrived just before kick, but the very few concessions there took so long to serve (much needed) beers that by the time we sat down 15 minutes in it was already 3-0. All three goals happened while we were in beer line and I traveled the full spectrum of fury, to confusion, to acceptance and laughter before even taking a sip. From there it was just grins and giggles at the whole ordeal and when we scored we sang louder than ever and got high fives from all the Fire fans around us. Overall, had a blast but would never go there again.”
And like Kyle’s.
“We should’ve been there about an hour before kickoff but the traffic in that area is so terrible that we almost missed kick off. It was also Dollar Dog night and they ran out of dogs before the 60th minute I stood in line for 15 minutes to find out there was none left. A few Chicago fans laughed at us as we left the stadium, which was nice,” Kyle said.
“I still sort of enjoyed it because there was nothing I could do but try and laugh it off after the third goal.”
I asked everyone I talked to if the would have preferred going to this game or a close game that Atlanta lost or drew. The large, large majority ignored the clear narrative I was trying to push for personal gain and picked the close game. I think they’re wrong.
There are only a few kinds of games worth writing about a year later. None of them are run of the mill losses and draws in the middling parts of the regular season. And they were there. They got to sit back and laugh and interact with others as a micro-disaster unfolded in front of them and they get to say they were there. I’ve forgotten so many games over the last few years, but I remember the very bad game and still cackle at the DSS staff agreeing to post the match recap at halftime and having it be nothing more than this clip:
I think a famously terrible movie scene is perfect here. I get a shock of joy each time I see the clip. And I think about the people at DSS who laughed at it with me.
Usually before a big match, I’ll try to write something naive and optimistic and saccharine about hope and the future and the beauty in potential. About how maybe, just maybe, something immediately and tangibly spectacular will happen and we’ll all get to celebrate. For Atlanta United, it’s an easy sell. Those kind of things actually do tend to happen from time to time.
But I don’t think I can give you that right now. Not earnestly.
As our existences continued to be consumed by a black hole of horrible that seems to be swallowing itself over and over, it’s hard to maintain the important illusion that what happens on a soccer field actually matters in the damn slightest. Even for those of us who need to do it to maintain a livelihood.
We’re all still gonna watch this tournament though. So...now what?
From a purely sporting perspective, the whole thing might be an entire collection of micro-disasters. And when so many important and serious things are swirling around those, they’ll feel more insignificant than the micro-disasters that come with following a team normally do. Or it all might go off without a hitch and Atlanta might win the whole thing without losing a game.
I’m not being optimistic this time though. I’m wondering about what we can do if Atlanta gets thumped each time they step on the field. If each game turns into a new edition of the very bad game.
If that happens, I think we can simply be glad we’re there. Not in the hellscape that’s currently burning around us, but in a 90-minute moment where we can sit back and laugh and interact with others as it unfolds in front of us. Because what turns bad movies and bad games and bad existences from bad to bearable is surviving them with others.
Or something. I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m pretending to have any answers here. I can’t act like I’m not concerned about player safety, I can’t say that those 90-minute moments will make any of it worth it, or better, or whatever, and I definitely can’t pretend like the world isn’t on fire and the universe isn’t going into halftime with a 5-0 lead while humanity is down to 10 players. All of this is happening and there’s not much we can do to stop it. But maybe sometimes when everything is trash and you’re in a bad situation you never asked for and there’s so little you can control and it seems like you have no chance, all you can do is try to get whatever joy you can out of the bad by looking the bad in the eye and quoting Chris Evans by saying, “Screw it. I’m here. It’s as fine as it’s gonna be. Let’s make the news.”
And then you punch each other until the hero wins.