Pump-Faking It

How to survive in a sports-crazy town

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By Dan Forward

T

he Super Bowl is long over. The NBA Finals feel like they just ended. The Stanley Cup? Why do they play hockey in the summer? The abyss of regular-season hockey and basketball seems as boundless as the sky to you. The point is, you might think you’re safe for a few months from embarrassing sports conversations that reveal your lack of knowledge about what being “offside” means in each of the 50 games in which the term is used, which law firm BenJarvus Green-Ellis works for, and what delightfully erotic crime Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of this time.

But this lull is actually the perfect chance to work on being able to fake enough knowhow about sports to avoid a fiasco like last year, when you told everyone that cricket was the sport Harry Potter played. As a lifelong superfan of sitting quietly by myself, I’ve found little time for athletics, but to get by in the sports-obsessed city of Boston, I’ve developed some tricks for pretending like I know what I’m talking about. You might find some of them helpful. And just in time for baseball season!

Let’s start off with an easy one. Soccer. Or “f?tb?l,” as they apparently say in Great Britain. No one in America really understands this sport. Our experience is limited to the last World Cup and youth soccer before third grade, when we decided to quit to devote more time to our increasingly hard-to-manage low self esteem and collection of vintage Star Wars toys. Consequently, it’s a lot easier to fake an interest in and knowledge of soccer around Boston. Every conversation about this sport I have ever had the displeasure of listening to involves two or more people who sit expressionlessly across from each other and name without a shred of context every single player they can think of until they either start to repeat themselves or pass out from forgetting to breathe.

“Lionel Messi.”

“Wayne Rooney.”

“Didier Drogba.”

“Ronaldo.”

“Ronaldinho.”

“Oooh. Good one.”

And so on. How can I memorize the names of so many foreigners, you might be asking. That’s the beauty of it. There are literally billions of professional soccer players just in Western Europe (Manchester United alone employs more than 9,000 midfielders!), and no American could be expected to know all of them. Quite often, I find myself having to google names of famous players, such as here, and many other websites, to try and find out a little more about them! So make some up! Don’t be afraid. Try it next time you see someone on the T who’s wearing a shiny shirt that says “AIG” or “UNICEF.” I’ll give you an example. My most recent gambit went something like this.

“Teller Twinkman.”

“Excuse me, Do I know-”

“Aston Manchester.”

“Can I help you with som-”

“Jorge Luis Borges.”

“Isn’t that the wri-”

“David Tootti.”

“Welcome, brother.”

Remember, just never say “PelĂ©.” This is an unforgivable faux pas and will reveal you as a fraud instantly.

Now, basketball. Don’t fear if the last (read: only) game you went to was the one at the old Garden where the Globetrotters totally blew out the Washington Generals. But do tread carefully. Unlike L.A. fans, who equate enthusiasm with spending large amounts of money on Lakers paraphernalia and center-court seats for games they show up to in the fourth quarter, Boston fans are unforgiving about basketball ambivalence. This wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, if a guy could memorize the name “Paul Pierce” and throw up his arms in an imitation of resigned frustration, he could get by in this town. Another National Championship later and things took a turn for the worse. Every single player on the Celtics’ starting lineup, and most of the bench, has slipped back into obscurity. The one positive piece of advice I can impart is to remember back to the credits of your favorite movie, Kazaam, and try to picture the name of the actor who played the title role. Is it coming back to you? Can you see it? Right! It’s Shaquille O’Neal! Did you know that “Shaq,” as he is sometimes called, is also a basketball player? And that he plays for the Celtics? This fact might save your life some day, so don’t forget it. As far as the rest of them goes, I can’t help you. Your best bet might be to try to convince everyone that your ignorance of basketball is purposeful by committing to memory the phrase “the true spirit of the game faded with Dr. J. and the ABA.”

Football. This is a big one. Boston’s team, which we pretend to share with the rest of New England, is called the Patriots, and despite having suffered in 2008 the most humiliating defeat since the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae, and subsequently (allegedly) cheating, it is still widely considered the best football team in our solar system. And it probably is. I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t that Peter Manning fellow play for the Patriots? I see him on the commercials in between episodes of Million Dollar Listing.

No. He doesn’t. In fact, from this moment on, you hate Peyton Manning. You hate him because others have the audacity to compare him to your messiah, Tim Brady. Tom! Tom Brady. Tom Brady is infallible, which makes things a smidge easier on you because when presented with a name or term you don’t know, you can simply respond with, “Well, he’s no Tom Brady.” Let’s try it together. I’ll pretend to be a sports fan. Whenever I say something, you respond, “He’s no Tom Brady.”

Sports fan: “Jay Cutler really lost that game for Chicago.”

You: “Well, he’s no Tom Brady.”

Sports fan: “That’s very true.”

Great job! Let’s try again in a tougher situation.

Sports fan: “Ugh. Look at this text I just got from Brett Favre. It’s entirely inappropriate.”

You: “Well, he’s no Tom Brady.”

Sports fan: “I-I suppose they’re different people, yes.”

Let’s try once more just to make sure you’ve got it.

Sports fan: “This helmet-to-helmet rule is draconian. Football is and always has been a contact sport.”

You: “Well, he’s no Tom Brady.”

Sports fan: “Yeah . . . wait, what?”

If you’ve remained vigilant during this last exchange, you’ve already disabled the sports fan during his confusion with a reverse lightning kick, allowing you to escape with your integrity intact and your victim with no memory of the conversation. Score!

If you follow a team other than the Patriots and live in Boston, I would suggest converting to any of the several local religions that have Tom Brady or Bill Belichick as their deities. If you’re reading this from another state, you might be able to substitute in the name “Drew Brees,” but I recommend that you keep the reverse lightning kick in reserve.

Of course this list is not exhaustive. I didn’t mention baseball at all, but that’s because it’s only played every four years, like the Olympics. What? Every spring, you say? Nice try. Don’t try to play a player. But I respect your initiative.

Anyway, many times, pretending you’re too drunk to speak-or actually becoming too drunk to speak-are going to be your only ways of tricking your roommate or your girlfriend or your boss or your mom into thinking that you’re not a total wuss. It’s what a true Boston sports fan would do.

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