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It was a Saturday afternoon, sunny and summery, on the shore. And yet the beach might as well have been math class. They preferred, instead, to shoehorn themselves into the Harp & Hound, the home office of Mystic, the place where everybody knows your name and they're (usually) glad you came.
It was four years ago now when it's a good thing the fire marshal was elsewhere. If they'd all been jammed any closer together, there might have been yellow cards. Or free throws, depending on your sport of choice. Except there was no denying the sport of choice that day.
They were there to watch the United States play Ghana in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Pat Grater, once a soccer player at Fitch, was draped in Old Glory. Pat Edgecomb, who played at Ledyard, wore his Capt. America suit. And hat. There were at least six choruses of God Bless America, two Star Spangled Banners, a few hundred "USA! USA!" chants and one "ole, ole, ole."
And unlike pub scenes where people gather because it's a social event, these people hung on every lovely diagonal feed. It was their day, their game. They hollered and howled. Sang and chanted. All the way to Edgecomb's memorable line to the referee that sent a good old American hissy fit into a crossing pattern with one of soccer's customs: "are you bleeping kidding me, sir?"
They are in Brazil now, Grater, Edgecomb and several other locals are, four years later, almost four years to the day. They are in Brazil for the World Cup. For the U.S. vs. Ghana. Symmetry. Not to mention some solid representation for our corner of the world in an entirely other corner of the world.
Roy Collins, the former high school coach at Montville and Ledyard, is there, too. Collins is another Harp & Hound guy. Loves the game like Mickey loved Minnie. Still involved, too, running the east coast wing of UK International Soccer.
"Everyone has a bucket list," Collins was saying before leaving for Manaus, a large city in northern Brazil, home to the England-Italy match on Saturday.
Atop Collins' bucket list: watch England in the World Cup. He was born there. Played semi-pro soccer there. Still says ta-MAH-toe instead of ta-MAY-toe. And frankly, Collins thought he had a better chance of seeing Elvis walk into the Harp than seeing The Mother Country play for the whole Newcastle truck.
Turns out that this is just another example of how behind every good man …
Collins' girlfriend, Therese Kelley, works for Johnson & Johnson, a major sponsor of the World Cup. Collins' phone rang one day recently. It was his better half on the other end of the line.
"I bought the tickets," she said.
Three rows from the front.
"I thought I'd be 90 and still never have seen it," Collins said, about as excited as he's ever been for anything in his life.
They'll see England-Italy and U.S.-Ghana, among other games, before returning.
This is why soccer fans are different. They take ownership of their game as no other fandom does. Or could. Fans in our country just want their sport to forge on, if for no other reason than to keep the game on the front page a little longer.
Soccer's momentum grows like nature: slowly, consistently, patiently and without much expectation. You don't have to like it. But you'd be purposely obtuse if you didn't appreciate the passion. As John Walters of Newsweek tweeted earlier this week, poking fun at the anti-soccer crowd, "I don't like soccer, but here's my opinion on … NO. Stop right there. You don't have to like soccer. It's cool. But, just stop."
Appreciate the passion. It's Grater wrapped in Old Glory. It's flying to Brazil. Collins' bucket list. Bars and clubs filled with people who are supposed to be at work … but aren't. Because it's their game. The Melting Pot alive and well, hearkening customs and traditions and passions.
This year, the U.S. has the world's most intelligent soccer player (BC grad Alejandro Bedoya). So I'm off Italy for the time being.
And now in honor of Grater and Edgecomb, shall we sing "God Bless America?"
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.