October 18, 2014

SHI | The Pointless Third

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I could see my office from where I stood. Like the many Americans around me, I had ducked out of work to watch at the bar. My right foot was in the door, leaving the left side of my body exposed to the burning sun. I didn’t care. Shielding my eyes with one hand, pushing back on the door with the other, I got on my toes for a better view. Those in front of me were either leaning against the wall or sitting on chairs and stools that had been dragged in moments before. Those standing beside me shifted to create holes for pedestrians who had no interest in the game. No, it wasn’t the Super Bowl, but it was football, and the stakes were a whole lot higher: Brazil vs. Germany, World Cup semifinal.

A win for Brazil would mean a trip to the World Cup Final on home soil. A chance to make a statement for the whole world to see. A promise to its people to hope again.

GOALLLLL! In one orchestrated motion, every person in the bar had some kind of limb raised. Some yelled wildly or jumped in delight or shook their fists in passion. Others covered their faces or pulled at their hair as they watched the replay in disbelief. The score? Germany: 1, Brazil: 0. A dreadful hole to be in this early in the match, but surely not insurmountable.

The game was over an hour later — Germany: 7, Brazil: 1. A blowout. Each celebration of the German players and their fans was a little twist of the knife deeper into Brazilian hearts — and mine too. I had nonetheless stayed for the entire game, like a dying man unwilling to believe he had a mortal wound.

When I left the bar, I felt disgusted by my inability to do anything about the loss. As if in response, the subway was delayed. The seat felt harder. The girl next to me spoke quick, angry words into her phone. The businessman with the nice suit in front of me snored against the dusty window. Their existence seemed to me an insult compared to the downfall of an entire nation. Did they know?

Closing my eyes, I imagined the silence in the Brazilian locker room that night, the weight of shame felt by the goalkeeper and the head coach for being on the wrong side of history. Those Brazilian fans, even more devoted than I, had every right to go home and cry their hearts out. But the greatest heartbreak belonged to the Brazilian players themselves; surely no one — even the harshest critics — would challenge their right to take time to properly grieve.

But one thing did stand in the way: the third place game. Brazil, which had just endured 90+ minutes of international shame, had to come back under the lights for a third place date with the Netherlands. For a Final game, that matchup would make for an exciting headline: “Flying Dutch, Crouching Brazil.” But it wasn’t the Final game. It was a game that existed to fill in the wait time before the Final game.

It’s ironic that the third place game has historically been dubbed the “consolation game”, because nothing about this one could offer consolation to Brazil. For the elite in any kind of competition, from air guitar championships to decathlons, a third place finish means nothing more than a participation ribbon. For the Dutch, win or lose, they would still be regressing from runner-up in the last World Cup. For Brazil, this game would only serve as a reminder of how close they came and how far they fell.

Whoever invented third place obviously hadn’t grown up, because if they did they would’ve seen the warning signs. We grow up learning on the playground that third is the one with the hairy chest. Then we grow up some more and realize how awkward it is to be the third wheel. Finally when we’ve grown enough to put away clichés, we still believe that the third time is the charm all the while refusing to correct our past two failures. However you spin it, I’m convinced that the third is just no good.

Not surprisingly, the outcome of the third place game didn’t change my mind. For those who don’t know, Brazil lost 0-3 to the Netherlands. It’s okay if you didn’t watch the game — I understand if the only football you follow is American. But at least imagine what it might be like to watch a Super Bowl match … for third place. Vince Lombardi, the legend the trophy is named after, once said: “Winning isn’t everything, but it’s the only thing. In our business, there is no second place.” To that I might add: and neither should there be a third.

Andrew Shi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected].