Soccer loses a great friend

Legendary sportscaster Jim McKay died yesterday. McKay was a tireless promoter of soccer and a major reason (along with my cousin, the late Marty Merrill who was a star player in New York) why I became a fan.

Thanks to McKay, ABC periodically presented major soccer matches during the 1960s and 1970s. It was the broadcast of the 1966 World Cup final (England vs. West Germany) that truly hooked me on the sport. It was the broadcast of the 1970 FA Cup (Leeds United vs. Chelsea) that hooked me on the English game.

McKay took great pains to “translate” the game for Americans. In the 1970 Cup, for example, he compared Leeds to the Green Bay Packers, and their coach Don Revie to Vince Lombardi (the comparison flattered both Leeds and Revie). And I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard McKay explain the offsides rule.

McKay annoyed some soccer purists who view the game as simple enough, and think it’s up to Americans to embrace it without further ado. But McKay’s approach was the correct one, and those of us who are enjoying Euro 2008, with every match televised on one ESPN outlet or another, are among the millions of sports fans in his debt.

UPDATE: The offsides rule came into play prominently in Germany’s 2-0 win over Poland today. Indeed, Poland’s offsides trap was Germany’s 12th man. Jim McKay wasn’t around to explain the rule, but Everton legend Andy Gray covered the finer points of the trap in his Scottish brogue.

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