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Sunday Morning Scribe: The Lazarus Edition

Sunday morning, and the long-familiar power gurgle of steam-fed Sumatran black magic roast has been reduced to a mere desperate trickle as, alas, The Machine appears to be on its death bed. Ironic. For in the blurry light of dawn, the Sunday Morning Scribe rises once again to piece together some fractured moments of clarity - and looking out the window for inspiration, I see the dog, smiling broadly, while relieving herself upon the wife's prized wild strawberries.

Vancouver Whitecaps center back Brad Rusin wins this aerial battle against the Houston Dynamo's Giles Barnes.
Vancouver Whitecaps center back Brad Rusin wins this aerial battle against the Houston Dynamo's Giles Barnes.
Scott Halleran

What is it with our fascination with team sports? Sure, many of us maintain a passing interest in those more genteel of individual sporting pursuits like golf, tennis, and lawn bowling, but almost nobody would try to claim that we in North America are as drawn to them as we are to team pursuits such as hockey, football, and, of course, soccer.

There's probably no shortage of social anthropologists who'll point to modern professional team sport as being the product of a political and social evolutionary process that has gone on for millennia.

Where once autonomous city states would march with axe and spear in hand to wage war with their neighbours for the sake of their goods, to settle old scores, or in an effort to expand their empires, today we're content to see our side fly in, overnight in a comfy hotel, and then steal three points to move up the table.

The linguistic relics of this evolutionary process from warfare to sport are many. In the context of sports, we talk about "life in the trenches", the "field of battle", being "behind enemy lines", and of course in simple terms such as "offence" and "defence."

The opening to EA Sports' FIFA 06 plays heavily on this parallel, albeit relying on the theme of religion instead of nationalism, or in the case of modern day sports, civic pride. Nonetheless, the effect is the same: unification and ultimately, galvanization.

And maybe that's the point at which team sport diverges from individual sport. Somehow, I find it impossible to imagine watching Milos Raonic win a game, set, or match, and then turning in unabated joy to high-five a complete stranger.

I've occasionally wondered why pro athletes so captivate our imaginations - sometimes revered, sometimes reviled. What is it that draws our attention to athletes as opposed to say, highly skilled actuaries?

My current theory revolves around the notion that while we openly revel in the sublime that we witness on the pitch, we quietly despair at how pathetic our own skills are by comparison. Graham MacAree's excellent piece on Surviving the Hotspur Academy touches on this gulf.

Soccer requires a number of skills: running, kicking, heading, tackling, passing, dribbling. Now, I may be jumping to conclusions here, but I suspect that most of us can do these things too - albeit so pathetically as to be entertaining to others. We can all too easily see how poorly we measure up. But therein lies our ability to appreciate those who've mastered those skills.

But it gets a little difficult when it comes to looking at the stars of the insurance industry - the actuaries. They're the fine folks who deal with the financial impacts of risk and uncertainty. They toil away in relative obscurity working with complex algorithms. If I had to spell check "algorithm", I'm fairly sure I don't have a clue how to use, let alone develop one.

Thanks to advances in the spheres of diplomacy and commerce over the past few thousand years, we live in an era where there's greater demand for quality footballers than finely-crafted battle axes. Although I'd agree that this signifies a great deal of progress, I can't help hoping to see the Whitecaps "massacre" the Union this weekend. I promise to leave my spear and dagger at home.