As I walked toward Beaujoire Stadium in Nantes, France, it felt so anticlimactic. After all, this World Cup match between the U.S. and Yugoslavia meant nothing - the Americans ensured that with an embarrassing loss to Iran.
I couldn't have been more disappointed. I spent big bucks for my ticket, and after months of hyping up the moment, it seemed like I was going to any other game. You know, like the Runnin' Utes vs. Azusa Pacific.Then when I finally arrived, I couldn't help feeling patriotic. There were Americans singing `God Bless Americas' and the Yugoslavians singing who knows what. And kickoff was still hours away. OK, maybe it would be fun after all.
Within minutes, my cousin and I had our faces painted and were given an American flag to wave. My enthusiasm was building. And when I finally set foot in the stadium, a calming chill surged through my body.
I had been anticipating witnessing the world's greatest sporting event in person since I planned my World Cup '98 trip four years ago.
Who cares if Team USA had played horribly and ruined its reputation as a decent soccer nation - this was the Coup de Monde, and I had tickets.
As kickoff inched closer, the Stars and Stripes kept on packing it in at the 40,000-seat stadium. Those who doubt soccer's significance in the United States should know that the distribution of fans was about 50-50.
When the whistle sounded and the game was on, I forgot all about that evening's insignificance in the grand scheme of the tournament. I just wanted a USA victory.
The Americans nearly scored in the third minute when a Frankie Hejduk shot hit the post. (Can you believe another post?) Yugoslavia scored a minute later to kind of hush the American supporters a little, but that was all.
It seemed that every four minutes the U.S. had another great scoring chance. But that was the all-too-familiar pattern for the Americans. You only get points for being close with grenades.
As the half came to a close with the Yugoslavians leading 1-0, I was having as much fun as I'd originally dreamed. This was far more intense, for least for me, then Game 1 of the NBA Finals, which I'd also attended.
By no means do I expect that sentiment to be seconded, especially in the recent basketball mecca that is Utah, but trust me.
I'm a soccer junkie and, of course, love watching every match I can. But actually being there in person puts a whole new twist on the game.
Some say it's boring, and I'll admit that, at times, a lackadaisical game can appear dry, but when you're there, nine rows behind the goal, every pass has drama. I'm serious. Though it may seem ridiculous, unless you've been in that setting, you'll never appreciate it.
While the game was going on, each side took turns attempting to out-cheer the opponents' fans. Being biased, of course, the U.S. fans were far superior. Even after the Americans lost, we chanted, "We'll be back, we'll be back."
And will we ever. Soccer continues to grow in the States. And in four years, I guarantee a bunch of 18-and 19-year-old punks will develop into world-class stars.
The United States will be back. Japan 2002, here we come. Just don't invite Steve Sampson this time, OK?