The Critical Mass

The Abby Wambach bobblehead and the electric chair

Our hometown U.S. women’s World Cup star, Abby Wambach, returned Wednesday night, and Kerry managed to secure tickets to the game. Nearly a dozen women who played in the World Cup were on the two teams, Wambach’s Florida-based majicJack (I guess that’s named for some kind of phone service) and the Western New York Flash.

He's alright: "I will take your place and DIE FOR YOU."

He's alright: "I will take your place and DIE FOR YOU."

Now, when I say Kerry got us seats, these were Bob Uecker specials. The very top row of the stadium. We were likely the first humans to sit in those seats, as part of not only a record crowd for the stadium, 15,404 people, but a record crowd for the relatively new Women’s Professional Soccer league. I’m still mulling this over in my head: Was this the first record I’d ever been a part of? Can my life have been so mediocre?

Wambach is nursing a tender Achilles tendon, so she didn’t play, although she was healthy enough to kick soccer balls into a taxi on Late Night With David Letterman the previous night. But she did address the crowd at halftime, and we enjoyed watching her walk around the packed stadium on this beautiful summer evening, accompanied by two burly body guards, signing little girls’ T-shirts and doing TV interviews.

It’s been less than a week since the World Cup championship game. A game that millions of people believed the U.S. was entitled to win. Even people who never pay any attention to soccer. American sports fans seem to think we’re ordained to win everything. During the Winter Olympics, you’ll hear sportscasters wailing about how America is not devoting enough time and money to developing curling competitors. That’s not a joke. They were actually saying that. People track national pride on a scoreboard rather than how our kids are doing in the classroom.

As the two women’s World Cup soccer teams battled through the overtime period tied 2-2, TV commentator Julie Foudy, once a World Cup player herself, exclaimed “The U.S. still has six minutes!” As though there wasn’t another team on the field putting on a similarly inspiring performance,  and with an equal chance to score. A team of underdogs in search of good news to bring home to a country that in recent months was hit by a devastating tsunami and has been trying to contain a wayward nuclear plant. Japan ruined our storybook finish!

Don’t let it be said that you can keep America down for long. Wednesday night, we couldn’t get to the stadium quick enough to be among the first 1,000 adults pushing their way into the gates and brushing aside hero-worshiping kids so that they could get one of the Abby bobblehead dolls (hers looks a little like Dennis Leary)  and put it on eBay this morning (one seller was asking $50). But as I entered the stadium, a callow-faced kid did hand me something for free. A publication called Set Free.

It tells the story of a convicted criminal, John. “Regretfully, John wished he would not have to go to the electric chair but he knew death was inevitable,” it reads. Clunky grammar aside, the tale moves swiftly. John is strapped into the chair, “his heartbeat pounding in his head. John frantically cried out…. IS THERE NO HOPE?”

Maybe you’ve already figured out what happens next. The door to the execution chamber opens and the warden walks in, accompanied by a man named Bill. The warden orders the security guards to release John. Bill announces, “I will take your place and DIE FOR YOU.” Wow, I’m thinking. Who is this Bill fella?

Alas, I’ve been tricked. This little scenario actually never happened, Set Free admits. But, it warns severely, it could.  “Just as John was condemned to death because of sin, all of mankind has received a death sentence.”

So now they’re dragging all 6.93 billion of us into it. Even you Muslims, I guess. And I’m left with two questions:

1, I’m guessing the Set Free target audience is largely conservative. So I’ll ask you: If that wasn’t John sitting in the electric chair, but John Wayne Gacy, would you still applaud Bill’s offer to take his place? And…

2, Why does Bill look like Kenny Loggins?

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