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Why I’m Blessed to be a Culé

While this is not a photo of me, this culé has all of my respect.
While this is not a photo of me, this culé has all of my respect.

I’m a sports fanatic. I’ve played soccer since I was five, basketball since I was 10, and anything else competitive (read: beer pong) ever since. When it comes to TV, there’s nothing I’d rather watch than sports. I’ve been, at various times, obsessed with the NBA, the NFL, the PGA (back when Tiger was at his adulterous best), tennis, and finally soccer. But I never followed the beautiful game until after I’d spent a year in Spain, and until 2008/2009 when Barcelona rattled off five titles in a row, my life as a sports fan was truly tragic.

1990 - 1993 Buffalo Bills

Born in Buffalo, New York, I was raised a Bills fan. My Sundays as a youngster were electrified by the brilliant blue and red of the Buffalo Bills, with legends Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith leading my team to four consecutive AFC championships—and four heartbreaking Super Bowl defeats.

Imagine, my dear culés, that FC Barcelona reached the Champions League final four years in a row, and lost every time. Imagine each new season beginning with the same high-octane offense, dominant victories, and the conviction that "this is the year", only to have your heart broken by epic collapses and near misses.

This was my first taste of the sports fan's passion and pain; these losses cut me deeply, and myself and the entire franchise may never recover. But if they do—if the Bills somehow win the Superbowl in my lifetime—I will know no greater joy, and I will die a happy man.

1998 - 2003 Sacramento Kings

When I was five, my family and I moved across the country to Sacramento, California. We didn't watch much TV, so I never saw Michael Jordan and the Bulls dominate the NBA. But in 1998, with the acquisition of Jason Williams, Chris Webber, and Vlade Divac, the hometown Kings started to make some noise.

I get chills just thinking about this team. With "white chocolate" (and later the stone-cold Mike Bibby) running the point, C-Webb throwing it down inside, Vlade finding cutters with behind-the-back passes, and Peja draining threes from the outside, the Kings were the greatest show on court. Raucous, cowbell-clanging crowds made Arco Arena the most feared destination in the NBA, and the Kings soared to eight consecutive playoff berths and the national spotlight.

Standing in their way were Kobe, Shaq, and the Los Angeles Lakers. With some shady calls, a bit of luck, and two superstars at the top of their game, Sacramento was denied a trip to the 2002 NBA finals where they would have surely demolished the New Jersey Nets.

Like the Bills, the Kings lost in the worst possible fashion: epic crunch-time collapse. Leading all game, scoring at will, the final moments caused the entire squad to tense up and essentially wet the bed. I was heart-broken again.

2007 - present FC Barcelona

Somewhere up there, the sports gods took pity on me. In 2008 I found my way to Barcelona for a year of studies (read: porro smoking, PES playing and discoteca drinking). While I witnessed Barça's off year, a few trips to the camp Nou, the sight of Leo Messi rushing madly into the teeth of the defense, and the emergence of 17-year-old Bojan was enough to make me a lifelong fan of FC Barcelona.

Back in Cali, Mundodeportivo became my home page, and thanks to I never missed a match. I rocked my jersey on gameday, and I witnessed the transformation that Pep Guardiola wrought: Alves and Piqué added, Henry and Eto'o humbled, Xavi and Messi in the starting eleven, and the birth of an unstoppable footballing machine.

One weekday afternoon, alone in my Davis, CA apartment, I watched Barcelona in their neon yellow away kit against Chelsea at Stanford Bridge. I was perched on the arm of my sofa, blaugrana scarf around my neck, stomach in a knot, willing the goal to come as my little men bravely fought on—passing and moving with poise and patience. Messi controlled on the left of the area, cut in and sent a ball across the top of the box to the beautiful little feet of Andres Iniesta, who calmly stroked the ball into the back of the net.

I went nuts. I screamed and ran around my apartment, throwing pillows and leaping over furniture, screaming "TOMA!" at the top of my lungs into the television set, and generally enjoying, for the first time in my life, the glory of victory. The champions league final was still to be won, but Iniesta's goal was the best moment of my life as a sports fan.

In the place of last-second collapse, there was a perfectly executed sequence, in the place of heartbreak, there was boundless joy.

Since that goal, and the subsequent dismantling of Manchester United, I’ve been treated to the most beautiful, most successful, most glorious stretch of sports a fan could ever ask for. My passion and love for a team has, for the first time in my life, been repaid in full. And while my first two loves may leave me, I’ll have my young love, FC Barcelona, to comfort me for many years to come.

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