A Year to Forget for Team USA

September 26, 2006

A Year to Forget for Team USA

Randy Hill / Special to FOXSports.com

Maybe it's time we think about creating a Department of Home-Team Security.

If you're keeping score, this particular "we" is used to represent American sports fans.

At issue among home-team supporters is the securing of an international victory.

These touchy considerations are in response to recent performances by athletes representing the United States on the worldwide stage. Over the last few days, Americans have been humbled in men's team golf, women's basketball and men's team tennis.

Our 2006 sporting calendar also includes the agony of international defeat in baseball, men's soccer and men's basketball. I'm terrified to think of what might happen to the interpretation of American dominance if the And 1 Mixed-Tape Tour has an off-night in Morocco.

Just in case a bit more embarrassment was required, we've been obliged to watch as American individual achievement (Floyd Landis and Justin Gatlin) surrendered to allegations of cheating.

The collective grief has been sufficient to overwhelm any residual joy over worldly triumph in softball and Little League baseball.

Anyway, it seems Americans aren't terribly interested in international events until the United States loses in them. But trot out the NBA Finals, the Masters or the World (that being the world reaching from Boston to San Diego) Series and American interest rises to that particular occasion.

(With no imminent threat on the international horizon, we're not going to address football.)

This apparent international-sporting-interest dynamic hums along in sharp contrast to the American approach to foreign political policy.

Without saluting or condemning either major U.S. political party, it can be pointed out that this country has a history of playing caretaker to the planet while things are falling apart at home.

Spending for the education of American children and quality of life for the elderly often takes a back seat to financing desperately needed upgrades for people in other countries. Judging the wisdom in this is up to you, but the policy has been going on for years and spans numerous administrations.

American sport isn't exactly lacking in worldwide largesse; baseball and basketball are U.S. exports that also have provided coaching expertise to foreign nations.

In some cases, this assistance has come home to roost. These days, American basketball skill only remains superior in the areas of dunking, excessive dribbling and trash-talking.

Despite shocking setbacks in basketball, notice of our international decline was served when a guy from Japan began rewriting the record book for hot-dog consumption.

That isn't the only American sport to slip on this generation's watch.

Does it matter? Should it matter? Well, let's take a look at what we're dealing with.

We'll start with basketball, which was created and owned by Americans until the U.S. was robbed during the 1972 gold medal game in Munich. Since then, the U.S. rollercoaster of success has risen with the Dream Team and dropped to the ground with John Thompson, George Karl and Larry Brown.

The most recent disappointment occurred last month in Japan, where an extremely talented relay team of NBA stars returned home with a bronze medal.

Please note that the accompanying caterwaul was lodged even though the Americans weren't exactly favored to win the World Championships. Despite the presence of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, Team USA was considered little more than another strong candidate in a tournament that offered several squads with international-rule-friendly skills.

Unfortunately, greatness in the NBA does not prepare American hoop stars for dealing with three-point-reliant offenses, posting up near the trapezoid lane or picking apart zone defenses.

The tournament, by the way, was won by the team from Spain, which — if entered in an 82-game NBA season — would finish the campaign with the league lead in draft-lottery ping-pong ball combinations.

Let's move on to golf's Ryder Cup, which ended with a final score of Europe 18½, United States 9½.

Despite a lineup that included four Ryder rookies, suiting up Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson caused many American golf fans to expect more.

But nobody seems interested in the reality that the Ryder Cup features one nation vs. one continent. Perhaps we could suggest Europe vs. North America and go for revenge behind the stalwart play of Canadian Mike Weir.

Now it's on to baseball, which — thanks to Americans in the ear of Bud Selig —experienced its first World Baseball Classic this past spring.

While most Americans seemed annoyed that spring training news often was interrupted on behalf of WBC scores, Team USA struggled. However, the main interest from U.S. fans was generated by the possibility of star pitchers experiencing injury or post-WBC burnout.

In women's basketball, Team USA was eliminated in the semifinal round of the World Championships. However, it should be noted that summer basketball in the United States generally is reserved to observe which teen-age male hotshots are excelling in mind-numbing AAU tournaments instead of taking a few hours to improve their skills.

The Davis Cup didn't go very well for the United States, either, but American men have been struggling in tennis for a while now.

Does this list of American international sports frustration mean anything important? I doubt it. Should our focus be split between domestic league championships and worldwide sporting prestige? I don't think so. Give me the NBA Finals, the World Series and any big football game. If NBA players still can't annihilate a zone at the Olympics, I'll be disappointed for about one hour.

Is the United States the greatest sporting nation on the planet? I still vote yes. Is the U.S. the greatest nation on the planet? I also vote yes, although a strong challenge is being made by Texas.

Until the Pittsburgh Steelers are issued a beat-down by the Peking Packers, there really shouldn't be much for American sports fans to crab about. Instead of worrying that international sports interest only rises every four years, let's be more concerned that political interest follows a similar span.

And it should be noted that things are not nearly as awful as they seem.

I'm pretty sure Americans still dominate at Madden '07.

Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.

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