Two hundred or so soccer fans packed O'Reilly's Irish Bar & Restaurant on Sunday, opening and closing their support of the US men's team with a moment of silence.
Portugal goals quieted things twice.
The two hours in between featured a party of the highest energy level, filled with the following (not in chronological order):
* Chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”
* Chants of “Beeees!” any time homegrown player DaMarcus Beasley appears on the screen.
* Chants involving pride in the US and expletives that cannot be printed here, and which may have been fueled with American or Irish beer.
* Screams, hugs, stomping and generally shaking the house down after goals by Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey.
* Boisterous boos and gestures not indicative of affection every time Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo appeared on screen.
“Who the hell wouldn't love this?” Stephen Jones of Fort Wayne said, pointing to the crowd.
You had to love it – the parts between Portugal's goals in the 2-2 draw, anyway – if you were there.
This was living, breathing, bellowing proof that America is embracing this US team and this World Cup at a level that might not match fans from other parts of the world, but comes closer than we ever have.
There's something different about being in the middle of a packed house where everyone is cheering for the same team.
“It's indescribable,” Lindsay Eads of Fort Wayne said. “Your heart's racing, you're living in that moment, it's amazing to be part of such a good community supporting the US. …The patriotism is just awesome, all the red, white and blue.”
“I just love the surroundings, with all the people out here, crazy for the game, enjoying the game,” Paul Snyder of Fort Wayne said. “It's all about the atmosphere.”
Maybe it's only an every four-year thing for Americans. We tend to get wrapped up in the NFL and other sports far more than soccer until the World Cup comes along. For every Snyder, who watches a lot of soccer (“Go Arsenal!” he said), there's another fan like Snyder's friend Dan Briney, who says he's much more of a soccer fan when the World Cup comes around.
This year feels different, as if US fans have taken a step up in their intensity about the team, as if more people are paying attention. Television ratings attest to the rise. Jam-packed pubs do, too.
Justin Busch is the local president of the American Outlaws, a group organized to support the US men's soccer team. He worked with O'Reilly's to set it up as the locale to watch US games, and the number who came out Sunday doubled the number who had watched the US opening-game win over Ghana.
“We're the 137th chapter of the American Outlaws, the last chapter to become official before the World Cup,” Busch said. “Soccer has taken hold in America and definitely in Fort Wayne.”
The level of support for US soccer has surprised even Busch, 34, who said he played against Beasley as a young player.
“I thought we had a need (for a local fan group), but I never thought we'd see this many fans here,” he said. “It's really cool to see everybody come out and support America.”
I have a theory about why people, young people especially, enjoy getting together to watch the US in the World Cup: It's the one time in sports when we're all on the same team.
Every other place in this forever connected world, I have my teams and you have yours. I like the Colts, you like the Bears. I like LeBron, you think he couldn't carry Michael Jordan's endorsement portfolio.
During the World Cup, it's no longer you and me, it's us.
“It's more entertaining to come in here and to be with so many people,” Heather Anderson of Fort Wayne said. “They just go crazy when they score. You get way more into it (with a group). At home, you don't get nearly so much into it.”
“People's patriotism brings some excitement to the soccer game,” Briney said, “and really gets people energetic and hyped for the US.”
“You have a diverse but rowdy group and we're all cheering for one thing,” Caleb Gross of Fort Wayne said.
We're cheering Jones and Dempsey and Beasley and friends. We're booing Ronaldo and other opposing villains to be determined. It's standing-room only these days. Except when we score, then it's jumping-room only.
Most of the time, three letters rule sports in this country: NFL.
Right here, for right now, it's U-S-A!