You made me a fan

By Brandon Bush

 

In attempting to utilize this column for more local sports, I sometimes worry that ideas will be harder to come by than if I were writing about the entirety of the sports world.

Not that there isn’t plenty to talk about here in Putnam County, but I think most would agree that far more big plays, controversies and other talking points that I could go on for days about happen at the college and professional level. However, last Friday evening not only gave me a subject for this week, it actually changed a fundamental part of my being.

I obviously love sports, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy some sports more than others. Football reigns supreme for me, followed by basketball (or “shooty hoops” as Justin Hubbard of LON and Wil Petty of The Baldwin Bulletin like to call it), baseball, hockey and then everything else in no particular order.

If you asked me to single out a sport I would consider to be in the neighborhood of my least favorite, I’d honestly have to say soccer.

Before anybody takes that the wrong way, I’m not outright saying “I hate soccer,” nor am I downplaying its value and legitimacy as a sport. That being said, it never piqued my interest growing up and my only attempt at playing the game myself (as a very young child) was a colossal waste of time.

The more I grew up as a football player, the less I cared about soccer. To further drive me away from the sport, there was tension in my high school between football players and soccer players after John Milledge Academy’s soccer team intentionally played fall soccer (an easier league than traditional spring soccer at the time) in order to cruise to two consecutive state championships while the football team was forced to play in an unbalanced region with future GHSA schools three times our size.

It wasn’t until college that I gave soccer another shot, and even though I didn’t become a regular fan like I am with other sports, I still followed the sport and began to follow European club teams (I’ve particularly enjoyed following Bayern Munich and Manchester United). When Atlanta United began playing in 2017, I truly felt like I finally found a soccer team I could love.

Although work and other events keep me from watching many United games, I still follow the team when I can and support it with the same passion I show my other teams. Even still, there was something keeping me from having a true appreciation for the sport.

That all changed last Friday night when Brenton Nelson of Putnam County High School’s boys soccer team drilled a game-winning goal with 14 seconds remaining in the game to give the War Eagles a 2-1 victory over Oglethorpe County.

I don’t know why this single event registers with me so much, but after all these years I finally know what it feels like to witness what the soccer world considers to be “great.” A clutch game-winner like Nelson’s is soccer’s equivalent of a game-winning field goal from over 50 yards, or a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, or a 3-point shot of desperation as the neon lights around the basketball goal light up and the seconds on the clock tick away.

Perhaps this is what I’ve been missing about soccer my whole life, and it’s made me theorize potential reasons why certain people don’t get into certain sports (or sports at all). You can watch a sport for hours, you can learn the rules and analyze the statistics, and you can force yourself to be invested all you want, but given what I saw last Friday, I firmly believe that you can’t truly appreciate a sport until you witness greatness with your own eyes.

In conclusion, I give my utmost thanks to Brenton Nelson and Putnam County High School for doing the unthinkable: you made me a fan of soccer. With that, I eagerly look forward to seeing both the War Eagles and the Lady War Eagles competing for a state championship while Atlanta United competes to bring a championship to our state.

Of course, this is all subject to change. After all, Atlanta United hasn’t blown a 28-3 lead…yet.

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