For openers, much remains the same at the Sports Arena, home of . . . roll the drums . . . the five-time indoor champion San Diego Sockers.
Smoke still pours from the "O" in the blinking Socker sign during the pregame introductions. At least, it's supposed to look like smoke. I think. Personally, I've always been bothered by the mere thought that a professional sporting event should open like a Las Vegas burlesque revue.
Given that we must tolerate this bizarre substitution of show biz for substance, let us next examine what else comes out of the Big O.
Or maybe we should instead examine what isn't emerging from that concocted mist.
It was there in the past--unseen, maybe, but felt. The Socker players who came through that "O" brought it with them.
Either the Major Indoor Soccer League has caught up with the local heroes . . . or they have become a tepid, timid, tentative bunch of athletes. Going into Game 4 of the best-of-seven Western Division finals tonight at the Sports Arena, they are down, 2-1 . . . and precipitously close to disappearing as completely and as rapidly as that pregame burst of smoke.
Even granting that the Tacoma Stars played remarkably well in winning, 3-2, Wednesday night, the Sockers did not look at all like the Sockers who used to come through that giant "O." Instead, they looked like all those teams they have dominated for so long.
And you don't have to take my word for it.
Juli Veee, this sport's first star hereabouts, was sputtering with frustration long after that Wednesday night game ended.
His descriptions of his team:
"Frightened . . . "
"Confused . . . "
"Selfish . . . "
"Useless . . . "
"Angry . . . "
"Out-muscled . . . "
"Out-run . . . "
Outside of that, Juli, how is everything going?
"I'm upset," he said, angrily biting into a slice of orange. "Can you tell?"
Juli Veee, 37, has never been at a loss for words. This is remarkable, in a sense, because he is a native of Hungary who did not learn English until he defected while on a soccer tour at age 19. He learned English from reading comic books, though his subject matter has deepened considerably since.
Worked up in the aftermath of an uncharacteristically lackluster loss after an uncharacteristically lackluster season, he filibustered from Achilles to the Wizard of Oz to Captain Marvel and, in a couple of cases, back again. It wasn't quite as disjointed as it may seem.
You see, Veee is careful about when and where he thinks fiction should repeat itself in real life. Indeed, I think Veee prefers to learn his lessons from fiction rather than history.
His teammates, for example, would understand what he was saying when he was talking about individuals trying to do too much, trying to score too much, trying to stay on the field too long, trying to be a whole rather than a part of a whole.
"Anybody who wants to be a super hero should get a job in a comic book," Veee concluded, majestically underscoring his point. "Get a job as Captain America."
Though indoor soccer is hardly a life-or-death struggle, Veee's teammates would understand when he delved into Greek mythology and the heroic way to die.
"You don't go out a loser if you go out with battle scars," he said. "You have to be man enough to die like that, to go off like a warrior."
Lose fighting, if you have to lose, and lose as a team, if you have to lose. Veee, of course, knows that the Sockers generally win when they fight and play as a team. He realizes that the way to respectably lose is also the best way to win.
And that got him to the Cowardly Lion of the Wizard of Oz.
"Those guys (Tacoma's players) have been playing for (nothing) all these years," he said. "Now they have a chance to beat San Diego, something everybody's hoping to do. We've got to find heart. That's what the Wizard of Oz is all about. The Lion wanted heart, so he went in and found it."
I suspect he has his characters confused, though I am not sure. I never stayed awake through the movie and, unlike Veee, I have not read the book.
However, his point was not at all confused.
This multifaceted individual even had a better idea for finding heart than making a date with Dorothy and taking a trip to Oz.
"I'm a painter," he said. "I'll just paint us all hearts."
Fine, Juli, but I have one more suggestion. As long as you are painting all those hearts, I would recommend that you put some fire in them.