Unable to watch the fitba or the rugby of back home I have been forced to take up new sport viewing habits. We tried to take in a Major League Soccer game a couple of months back by going to the home of Real Salt Lake. Throughout the game we were not impressed by the standard of play, its clear that Real are nothing like their Madrid namesake, but lets be fair we didn't expect that they would be.
For our first MLS game we could probably have chosen a better game to attend than the boring game against Colorado not helped by the tactics of the teams playing. The game only livened up in the final 10 - 15 minutes when it looked likely that Real were going to lose at home for the first time of the season. Finally the players found some urgency and seemed interested in playing directly towards the opposition goal.
Then came an incident in the box. The whistle goes. Its a penalty! The home fans are ecstatic. Right on the stroke of full time Real can score and keep their home record intact for another game. But no wait its not. It must be a corner! No. That can only leave a goal kick then. But no, the referee pulls back the players. The fans are confused. The players are confused. And so is the referee! He chickens out of making a decision and throws the ball up in the air and tells the players to work it out.
I've seen that happen in basketball, its part of the game. But in all the 27 years I have played and watched football I have never seen a referee do that. I was livid. That decision or lack of decision by the referee makes the current Scottish refereeing controversy look lame by comparison. It spoiled the game for me completely, the fact that Real got angry and went on to score a goal in injury time didn't improve my mood or opinion of Major League Soccer any.
We've tried going to the baseball, its the national game after all but the best thing about it seems to be the hotdogs and the end of the month fireworks display. Even the fans who go regularly don't seem to pay much attention to the game, they mostly seem to chill, hang out, talk with old friends and eat and drink.
I've tried watching football of the American variety, but even during the Superbowl my stamina levels have waned by the 3rd quarter. Too many breaks and my attention goes else where.
For me its in the NBA where the excitement is found. Over the past couple of seasons I've taken an interest in the Utah Jazz.
I wasn't holding out much hope for this season when they let two of their better players leave in the summer, and seemed to have no interest in spending money improving the squad when other franchises were showing just that level of ambition. Then preseason started and I was preparing to eat my words. 8 preseason games and 8 victories, including one against the LA Lakers which traditionally seem to have the help of a voodoo doll when it comes to playing against the Jazz. It was starting to look good.
Then the season started proper, with 2 losses from 2 games played. Ouch. But then they steadied the nerves with a couple of victories. Then promptly lost again. The jazz seemed to have no rhythm or fluency to their game, with one home game to go before four road games in five days things were not looking good for the season, and it was early yet, if the Jazz couldn't find some rhythm before they flew to the east coast the season might well be a write off before it had even begun.
The home game against the LA Clippers if played last season would probably have held no fears for the fans but this was a new Jazz side seemingly struggling for confidence. The Clippers took full advantage of this, getting ahead by as many as 18. Then the Jazz found some spirit and tied the game at the buzzer. Then Double Overtime resulted in a victory. It should have been an easy bankable win but I was left scratching my head trying to work out whether it was lucky or well deserved. In the end I was just relieved, The rest of the week was not looking good.
Miami was the next game on the agenda on Tuesday. Miami unlike the Jazz spent big in the Summer recruiting the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. And again Utah seemed to struggle getting baskets. Miami turned up the heat and built up a lead of 22 points in this one. But then it happened again. The Jazz found their rhythm, baskets were being made where earlier in the game they had been missed and it wasn't the big three from Miami that was destined to make the headlines in this game but Paul Millsap of the Jazz with a career high of 46 points including 3 threes in the last 30 seconds on the way to another astonishing nerve wracking comeback.
Utah couldn't enjoy that game for long as Orlando was waiting for them the very next night. Miami might have been the big spenders of the summer and they might have been having a good start to the season before the Jazz came to visit but Orlando had started the season with an even more impressive record.
The previous night's exploits seemed to take their toll on Utah, Orlando quickly built up a lead and the Jazz seemed powerless to stop it. They were down 18 points this time but then they came back again, to win by 10.
The Jazz became the first team in the shot-clock era to win three straight games in which they trailed by at least 10 points at halftime.
Two days later they had to fly to Atlanta. And this time they had a comparatively mild 11 point deficit to overcome. It was starting to look like it was a tactic to give the opposition a false sense of security before hitting them when they sleeping when they went on to win this one too.
Three unlikely victories on the road but at least the following game the next night would be easier. The Charlotte Bobcats weren't having as a good a start to the season as the previous three teams. But for the Jazz this was the fourth trip on the road in five days and the Bobcats took full advantage by building up a lead of 19 points in the 1st quarter. Yet again the Jazz had a fight on their hands if they were to get the win. And win they did, by 1 point with 0.8 of a second on the clock.
Is it any wonder I'm a basketball convert? But I'm starting to wonder if this isn't a young mans sport. There are still 70 odd games of the season to go and I'm aging by the day.