"Iran defeats Iraq. Thousands are devastated as Iranians cheer neighboring country's loss."
This is what basically happened today, but due to the current world climate, the headline simply reads "Iran 2, Iraq 1."
It was a soccer game. Iran's Javad Nekounam (of whom you've never heard) scored a goal just five minutes into the game. And after Ahmad Abbas (of whom you've also never heard) tied it up for Iraq thirty minutes later, Arash Borhani (a household name if there ever was one) put Iran ahead for good. But the real question is, who freakin cares, and how do I know this?
I care. And I know this because the period between the NBA Finals and the start of the football season is slowest part of the sports year, since it's the only time just one of the four major sports is in season.
Baseball, despite it being my favorite sport, doesn't really start to get interesting until the trade deadline. The NBA draft talk doesn't excite me when there aren't many good players available, and track's latest steroid scandal is just annoying. But I'm keeping up on world soccer.
I'm not a soccer fan. I'm especially not a middle eastern soccer fan, and I'm not eagerly anticipating the West Asian Football Federation championship game between heated adversaries Iran and Syria. Who are heated because they play in a desert, and adversaries because that's how they do things in that part of the world.
What I love about international soccer is the possible headlines. I used to work for Sports Illustrated for Kids, where my main job was to write headlines. That summer, the World Cup coupled with America no longer sucking at soccer to get a LOT of our attention. So my job was to prevent kids from having to read boring things like, "Iran 2, Iraq 1."
One morning, a colleague of mine suggested we could not use certain words because kids might think we were reporting on war. I thought that if an eight-year-old was smart enough to use a computer, he'd be smart enough to know the difference between CNN and CNNSI (The difference being "S" and "I"). As it turns out, it wasn't the kids that were the problem; we had to watch out for the parents.
We received an angry letter from a mother who felt "duped" by the standard "Blank defeats Blank" headline. How did she not realize this was a soccer story until she clicked on it? Her first clue should have been that the two nations weren't at war. Her second should have been the headline's placement between "Sosa Swats St. Louis" and the in-depth coverage of WUSA.
It quickly became a contest among the writers to come up with the most offensive headline we were not allowed to use.
Germany ran up an 8-0 victory over Saudi Arabia early in the tournament. But we couldn't write that Germany "defeated" Saudi Arabia. So we joked about writing, "Germany Rampages Through Saudi Arabia, Thousands Killed. Metaphorically, of course."
Offensive? Sure. But that was nothing compared to the rest of the tournament. Countries were mauled. Destroyed. Bombed. Invaded. Until we got to the finals.
The last two teams were Germany and Brazil. When Germany made it there, one writer suggested, "Germans End Battle For Place in World, Run to Brazil." I suggested, "Germany Discovers Finals Solution." It was good that we weren't allowed to use any of these. Not because they were atrociously offensive, but because the historical significance would have been lost on the eight-year-olds. And their dumb parents.
Brazil won the final game, 2-0. There were lots of suggestions on how to cover it but none funnier than one from my friend Dave. I'd relayed the story of our fake headlines to him he didn't even work at the office.
"Germany Loses on World Stage," Dave suggested. "Third Time Evidently Not Charm."
Dave and I were both disappointed when the magazine instead went with, "World Cup: Brazil 2, Germany 0."
Steve Hofstetter is the author of Student Body Shots, which is available at www.SteveHofstetter.com. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.