' ' Cinema Romantico: Real Men Play Water Polo, Or: Why I Don't Play Water Polo

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Real Men Play Water Polo, Or: Why I Don't Play Water Polo

"What's the deal with water polo? I don't want to watch polo on land, who wants to watch it in a pool?" - non-existent Jerry Seinfeld joke

The most significant issue facing the popularity of Water Polo, I suspect (possibly incorrectly), is the dreaded polo in its title. Polo is referred to as "the sport of kings" and the term king elicits something snobbish, something above a regular person's weight class. To wit, as I watched the U.S./Great Britain water polo tilt at the London Olympics, NBC play-by-play man Mike Emrick explained that Prince William was the captain of his Water Polo team at St. Andrews and one could immediately envision Kate dining on strawberries and cream in the audience and offering a mildly more rambunctious version of a golf clap at each point her beau scored.

But not more than a few minutes later Emrick recounted the story of an American player who in a professional club game some years earlier was wounded above the eye and immediately substituted out on account of gushing blood. With nothing else apparently at the team's disposal on the sideline to halt the bleeding, the team trainer slapped duct tape over the open wound. I repeat: duct tape. The player re-entered, promptly found himself cut on the chin, was substituted out a second time, patched up with more duct tape, and sent back in. Can you imagine if Dwight Howard was cut and offered duct tape as a remedy? He would immediately demand a trade to another team and ask for a few days off.

Water Polo was more or less brought to life by William Wilson in 19th century Scotland where it was originally envisioned as a sort of rugby played aquatically. Football was also born in the 19th century as a sort of rugby but whereas it has evolved into something else entirely I would dare say Water Polo has remained closer to its original form, switching out the word "rugby" for "polo" which belies the fact these men and women have to swim near three miles over the course of the 40 minute contest, tread water in-between while the opponent all up in your grill is probably trying to do everything short of literally drowning you.

During the course of a contest there is one sound that consistently stands out and, surprisingly, it's not the splashing or the players and/or coaches screaming - no, it's the whistles. Two referees outside the pool and positioned on either side of it follow play by walking up and down along with the action and whistling "common" fouls. As it turns out there are unlimited "common" fouls in Water Polo. This is why you hear approximately 575 (I lost count at that point) during a game. Players are only allowed three "exclusion" fouls (which results in the offending player having to sit out the next play, like a power play in hockey) before being ejected but, from near as I can tell, "exclusion" fouls are only called upon removing a switchblade from your Speedo and brandishing it. This is to hyperbolically say the fouling is rough and constant.

At one point an underwater replay NBC served up during U.S./Great Britain clearly showed an American being dunked in the water and then getting kneed in the head. A couple games later against mighty Hungary (apparently the New York Yankees of Water Polo) Team U.S.A.'s John Mann was kicked in the face - right there in the open and on camera for all to see. Yowzers.

And that, of course, brings us right along to the caps. Let's be honest, the Water Polo cap looks a little goofy, unintentionally evoking a nylon bonnet with plastic Princess Leia buns. Ah, but NBC color man and former American Olympic Water Poloist Wolf Wigo explained that once when his drawstring loosened and his cap fell off he took a rifled Water Polo ball to the head and suffered a broken eardrum.

Broken eardrums, blood, duct tape...Water Polo is pretty cool. Also, Prince William is apparently a badass.

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