Game offers little piece of home

Published 10:36 am Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The wait is nearly over.

Here in Butler County we are just nine short days away from football season.

I for one can hardly wait.

For the last two years I have lived in a country where football is soccer and “American football” is a strange game with a funny-shaped ball that’s mostly played a world away.

Mostly.

Once a year, in November, an American football game is played in Central Asia. Americans living in Kazakhstan pull out their blankets and chairs and sit on the sidelines of a high school soccer field and cheer for Kazakhstan’s lone football team as it takes on its rival Kyrgyzstan.

It’s the highlight of the fall, and Central Asia’s version of the Iron Bowl.

I can still remember my first Central Asian football game.

The anticipation built for weeks. You think you can’t wait to see a game after six months, try waiting a full year between games and then just getting a single game. When the big day finally arrived we packed up some snacks and a blanket and headed to the field. We carefully chose a seat near midfield and settled in for the game.

I wish I could say the game was a nail biter. It was anything but that.

Kazakhstan routed Kyrgyzstan to extend its undefeated streak to 10 years or so — keep in mind the team just plays once a year.

But the truth is, the score didn’t really matter. It was just being there. It was hearing the popping of pads. Feeling the chill of the air on our noses as we sat and watched. (I know we won’t get that here in Alabama until the end of the season).

It was seeing the ball sail through the air. Hearing the crowd react to a big hit. Seeing the intensity on the faces of the players as they come off the field. It was experiencing the thrill of victory and the sting of defeat.

It was a chance for my wife, Jennifer, and I — along with the other Americans that put everything else on hold for one day — to experience a little piece of home in a foreign land.

Because after all, football is about as American as it gets.