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WORLD CUP A `DAILY SUPER BOWL?’ NAH, THAT’S JUST ESPN’S WISHFUL THINKING

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The hype is over. If only we could say the same about World Cup '94.

Yes, it's that cynical side of me rearing its head, but, given the subject, it's the only side I can show. Of course, I'm still smarting from the letters I received after using this column to poke fun at the televised World Cup draw. And still trying to figure out how Barry Manilow can be called upon to attract an audience.But I just don't get my kicks from soccer. Never have. Probably never will. Am I alone or just one of the vocal majority?

It has been projected that approximately 31.2 billion people will watch parts or all of the 52-game, month-long contest to crown a world champion. Since 1982, the number of World Cup games shown to the English-speaking public has grown from 8 to 52. If you haven't read the hype, ESPN will air 41 games and ABC will show the other 11.

Both ABC and ESPN researchers have been reluctant to forecast an audience level. The commentators, including highly-regarded Bob Ley of ESPN, forecast an outpouring of emotion.

"People will find that the sport is incidental at times," Ley says. "The cultures, celebrations and people are so overwhelming that it's much more than just a game. I hope people gain this appreciation for the World Cup."

I can be as emotional as the next guy, but for Bolivia? Or Cameroon?

"We have to make sure that we don't get up on our soapbox and start screaming, `Watch this, damn it.' " says Jed Drake, ESPN's senior coordinating producer. "We need to help people understand the World Cup and the game of soccer, transfer the energy and make sure people are properly focused.

"But ultimately the event will be judged on Its own merit. In many respects, the World Cup has the potential to be a daily Super Bowl."

Because the United States team is expected to struggle, the so-called Super Bowl for the Americans could be like any NFC team against the Buffalo Bills.

"I want U.S. sports fans to watch the World Cup and say, `I really enjoyed that, even though I didn't expect to,' " remarks ESPN coordinating producer Dennis Deninger.

It's wishful thinking, indeed. As for me, the quest for the Cup ended when the New York Rangers buried the Curse of 1940.