We watched some championship football, American football, right in the middle of Stockholm Sunday, about 2,000 people filling up a small stadium on Söder, which is sort of like the Brooklyn of Stockholm. As I write this, about 15,000 people are singing in unison down the street watching a soccer game involving the league’s worst team, so, well, that tells you all you need to know about sports in Sweden.
I choked up at the game yesterday, the whole thing had the feel of an intense small college game, or maybe a high school playoff game. This was not like the World Baseball Cup last week, with international teams and curious fans. These were real football fans watching their team – either the Stockholm Mean Machines or the Carlsbad Crusaders – and there was a cool, blue collar, almost old school Oakland Raiders-like vibe to the crowd (before all the craziness of the Black Hole).
I choked up because watching reminded me not only that I love football, but that I loved playing football. I get ambivalent about it now – I blew out two knees and spent years stuffing myself to gain weight and wasted summers in the weight room when I could have been learning to write or learning to surf, take your pick.
But I wanted out there, even after I realized I was older than every single player on the field. There is just something about a football game on a fall afternoon, whether in Marin County, California, or Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, or the Brooklyn of Stockholm.
The football was pretty good too. It was a little weird. The players were big, like Division II or Division I-AA big (I know the names have changed) but the speed was Division III (these are all college levels in the US) or good high school.
The quarterbacks were both American, and provided another good comparison. The quarterback for Carlsbad, Cedric Townsend, was a Division III (small college) two-time Offensive Player of the Year for his conference (he went to North Carolina Wesleyan). Townsend was big, as in NFL quarterback big. But he was slow, at least for high-level football. His release was painfully slow, and he accelerated slowly, picking up momentum gradually. Now he had a big offensive line, which means time, so he had a chance to get off his throws and pick up that momentum, and then he was a load.
The quarterback for Stockholm was Taylor Bennett, who once started games for Georgia Tech, which is a very big university indeed. That did not work out, really, so he ended up at Louisiana Tech, which is only slightly smaller. That did not work out either, his career petering out in what can only be called disappointment. But he was a big time quarterback for a reason. On the field, he was not the physical presence that Townsend was – tackling him would have been no problem – but he got rid of the ball fast and threw it on a line to the right guy. His offensive line looked smaller and fatter, but Bennett simply did not need the time, and his line held up surprisingly well as the game went on.
Anyway, Stockholm won 24-20, though it was not that close. Carlsbad was undefeated coming in but their loss was not unexpected. Carlsbad has made the Swedish championship game eight times in the past ten years (I think). They have lost each game, five times to Stockholm. Not to pick on amateur Swedish American football players, most of whom could crush me without thinking about it, but this redefines choking. It must permeate the whole Crusader culture, especially on a team from a smaller city that keeps losing to the team from the big, bad capital.