David Hirshey is a contributing editor to Esquire magazine and former soccer columnist for ESPN.com, 2010-2017.
The morning I’ve been dreading for the past 32 days, 64 games and 2,687 close-ups of boisterous fans with painted faces smeared by tears and beers looms before me like the ferryman at the River Styx. Monday means no more outrageous back-heel flicks, no more defibrillator-defying penalty shootouts, no more Brazilian divas with blond highlights hilariously writhing in faux agony. In other words, no more reasons to live. Or, at least, live like I have since the World Cup kicked off June 14.
That’s when I hung a sign on my front door: “Closed for the World Cup. Seriously.” I felt compelled to append that last word because I recently moved from New York City to Santa Monica, Calif., which is more interested in green juices than red cards. I didn’t want anyone to mistake my intent as some sort of ironic jape mocking all those soccer-mad lunatics who were putting their lives on hold until the final whistle was blown in Moscow and a new champion had been crowned.
Because I am one of those lunatics. And proud of it.
No, I was hellbent on keeping reality from crashing my favorite sporting event, which I’ve been following with religious zeal since I attended my first World Cup in 1982. How determined was I to shut out the quotidian distractions that might have diminished, even in the slightest, the joy and torment of watching the tournament live? My shoulder surgery was scheduled for June 18; I postponed it until late July. When the England-Colombia game went to overtime, I tried to justify the last-minute cancellation of my therapy session to my shrink, a UCLA basketball fanatic, by asking him what he would have done if his beloved Bruins were locked in a down-to-the-wire struggle to advance to the Final Four. He was sympathetic but still charged me for the hour.
Did I mention that my long-suffering wife moved in with friends for the first two weeks of the tournament, when the games were running three per day and the frat house atmosphere under our roof — air mattresses strewn over every foot of floor space to accommodate my degenerate soccer buddies who flew in from Brazil and England — became unfit for human cohabitation?
Remarkably, the World Cup mania exploding behind my front door was not raucously apparent to everyone outside of it. Take the FedEx and UPS drivers who repeatedly hit the buzzer while I was bunkered in my TV room two floors up, transfixed by games like that six-goal thriller between Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo. Evidently concluding that no one was at home, the delivery people tossed packages over the gated entrance. As a jumble of boxes and oversize envelopes accumulated, my place began to look like someone had moved out months before or the body inside hadn’t been discovered yet.
And in some perverse way, I was dead to the world outside my door. I did overhear a neighbor saying President Trump had picked a new Supreme Court justice. Oh, and I would have liked updates about those Thai kids trapped in the cave, but if I’m being honest, it’s because they were soccer players.
In retrospect, I did make one tactical blunder before entering my World Cup cone of silence: I had forgotten to set up an automatic “out of office” response on my laptop. I simply assumed that by now family members, friends and colleagues would be well aware of my self-imposed World Cup quarantine. And yet they grew increasingly testy or worried as their emails went unanswered before they remembered that, no, I hadn’t fallen off the face of the earth, I had once againsimply fallen under the intoxicating spell of the World Cup.
I blithely let my inbox overflow, confident that nothing in the emails would give me as much pleasure as watching Lionel Messi killing a long pass on his thigh, cushioning the ball forward without breaking stride and then blasting it into the far corner of Nigeria’s goal with his “weaker” right foot.
On Monday, I’ll surrender to the real and much less exhilarating world I left behind for five blessed weeks. Things like that rescheduled shoulder procedure await, as do all the normal routines that I put off, like actually talking with my millennial daughter, who had the chutzpah to call during the nerve-jangling classic between Belgium and Japan, expecting me to pick up. But first I will revel in one last moment of madness: the World Cup final on Sunday between France and Croatia. One last chance for a grown man to indulge in life-affirming lunacy in the safety of his own home. Qatar 2022 can’t come soon enough.