Not My Job: We Quiz Soccer Expert Roger Bennett On Bowling
FAITH SALIE, HOST:
And now the game where notable people do something not so notable. It's called Not My Job. If you're a fan of soccer, chances are you know the voice of Roger Bennett. He's the co-creator of "Men In Blazers," which started as a humble podcast before expanding into a broadcasting empire and making him one of the country's foremost authorities on the game. His new memoir is "Reborn In The USA." Roger Bennett, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
ROGER BENNETT: Hey. It's an absolute joy to be with you, Faith.
SALIE: Thank you. Congratulations on your bouncing baby book. It just came out.
BENNETT: It's a human wonder to have it out in the world, to put out a love letter to America over July Fourth weekend. I'm a gentleman. Even though my accent doesn't sound like it, I love America more than Kenny Powers loves America...
BENNETT: ...Which is what the book's all about.
SALIE: So that's the thing. You're a Liverpudlian. You are an inveterate soccer fanatic. And yet, you move to America, where soccer is not as beloved as it's meant to be. Why did you make that move?
BENNETT: I grew up in Liverpool, the most magnificent city in the world, in the 1980s, which was a dark time. The economy in the north of England - you've watched "Billy Elliot." You've seen it. The mines shut down.
SALIE: Love that.
BENNETT: The steel mills shut down.
SALIE: But everybody danced.
BENNETT: It's true. But my arabesque was just not up to scratch.
BENNETT: Really, what ballet was to Billy Elliot, America was to me. I inhaled every television show, movie, cassette tape, record and Chicago Bears victory that I could get my hands on.
PETER GROSZ: (Laughter).
BENNETT: And I told myself I was an American trapped in an English boy's body.
SALIE: And then you're an American trapped in a young Liverpudlian body, and so you decide to - you dress for the part you want, right? You are going to, for example, dress like you're on "Miami Vice" in order to go on a first date. Can you please share with us what you wore?
BENNETT: Oh, God bless. You watch "Miami Vice" from Liverpool, and you're like, holy crap - teal. That color's not even been invented in my country yet.
BENNETT: And you are just shocked. Every English television show is about working-class misery. They said to the English people, you think your life is bad? Watch their lives. They're bloody terrible. So shut up. And in came these American shows. "Miami Vice" was not so much about two guys saving the world from narco kingpins. It was really a primer in how to be in this world. And how to be in this world was to take on all comers while dressed in pastels, which works in Miami and tropical climes. But in the Liverpool winter, I've got to say every bus that drove past me splashed puddles on my linen. I could never get those stains out. But I tried, I tried, I tried.
SALIE: Your mother actually got you - God bless her - got you linen pants to wear in the winter. You saved your money for red espadrilles that you bought at a women's shoe store.
CRISTELA ALONZO: (Laughter).
SALIE: And then you take your...
SALIE: ...Bar mitzvah blazer, and you take your mom's shoulder pads and put them in...
GROSZ: Oh, no.
SALIE: ...For this date.
BENNETT: Yeah. I wish people were watching this Zoom in real life rather than just listen to it 'cause I'll say I'm still wearing the exact same outfit now, as I speak to you.
PAULA POUNDSTONE: So those aren't really your shoulders? I was thinking you had really big shoulders. So you don't.
BENNETT: Every day is leg day for Roger Bennett.
SALIE: So you have this love affair with American sports. And this is in the day when you couldn't get scores for your beloved Bears.
BENNETT: A pre-internet date.
SALIE: Yeah. Can you tell us how you managed to get almost live updates from people in Chicago for the Bears?
BENNETT: My family - I should have said - three generations before me, they left Ukraine to be butchers. They wanted to go to Chicago, the hog capital of the world. And the myth of the Liverpool Jewish community is they saw the one tall building on the Liverpool skyline when the boat began to dock and refuel, and they're like, we're in New York; we're getting off.
BENNETT: So we ended up in Liverpool. We were meant to be there. But my grandfather, his whole life, when things were dark was like, we should be in Chicago. We shouldn't be here. And so when I started watching NFL, the Chicago Bears were my everything. But there was no internet. And the only games on television were from a week before. They played the games, and they were a whole seven days before. So when they were playing - I had a great friend, Jamie Glassman (ph), still my best friend to this day. We'd go to his bedroom. His parents trusted him with a phone. Mine didn't. And we would dial random 312 numbers long-distance in Chicago.
BENNETT: And people would answer. And they'd be like, hello? And we'd be like, how's the Bears game going?
BENNETT: And they'd be like, oh, well, Walter Payton's just swept right for 8 yards. It's second down with 2-0. Jim McMahon's dropped back in the pocket. And we'd just be like, OK, keep commentating. Keep commentating.
SALIE: So you fall in love with American football, but you manage to bring your deep love of, you know, European football - we're going to call it soccer - with you. And now I just have to ask you, on behalf of a lot of America, sell us on soccer, please.
BENNETT: The world's game - it's hilarious. It's - right now, we're in the middle of a tournament called the Euros.
SALIE: Oh, yes.
BENNETT: And when two teams take the field in the Euros, their nation's history take the field alongside them. And let's just say, especially when Germany are playing, there's a lot of history. It's the - genuinely, in every regard, the greatest human - I love American sports. I love when the Dodgers are winning. But when the Dodgers are winning, the Dodgers are just winning. When Hungary, who are backed by an autocrat who wants to be a dictator, Viktor Orban, are winning, and he's surrounded by 50,000 Hungarian fascists in black shirts, the stakes are a little bit higher.
ALONZO: I didn't hear the word cheerleaders at all.
BENNETT: You're right. There's - you know, everybody's flawed. There's always room for improvement in all of us.
SALIE: Well, Roger, it's a pleasure to have you on this show and in America. But we've actually invited you to play a game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Booooooooo-wling (ph).
SALIE: Yeah, that's right. That's right, Roger.
BENNETT: Oh, my God. Bill Kurtis, American hero.
SALIE: Your knowledge of sports is vast and impressive, but let's see how deep it goes. We're going to ask you three questions about bowling, the only sport where hot wings are considered a performance-enhancing drug.
SALIE: And if you get two right, you will win a prize for one of our listeners, the voice of anyone they choose on their voicemail. Bill, whom is Roger Bennett playing for?
KURTIS: Ed Lynch (ph) of Portland, Ore.
SALIE: All right. Here's your first question. Bowling is one of the oldest sports in the world, with its roots going back to the 4th century A.D. in Germany. What was the original purpose of bowling? A, it was a military strategy where they would roll a giant ball at enemy soldiers to knock them down; B, it was a religious ceremony where if you knocked down pins, you were cleansed from your sins; C - trick question - bowling has never had a purpose.
BENNETT: The clue in the question is Germany, right?
SALIE: Yeah, that's right.
BENNETT: So it can only be A. It can only be just absolutely about obliteration of an enemy.
SALIE: OK. So you - when you hear Germany, you just think military. You don't think religion.
BENNETT: I'm just taking a nuanced bet for Ed Lynch. Let's do it, Ed Lynch.
SALIE: All right. I'm sorry. It was B. It was a religious ceremony in Germany.
POUNDSTONE: Really? Wow.
SALIE: Drink some brews, get absolved. It was a good time.
All right, here's your next question. Bowling isn't without controversy. In 2008, a 7-year-old in Canada was stripped of his youth bowling title after a judge determined what - A, that his charcoal-gray pants weren't sufficiently black to meet the dress code; B, that his preferred bowling stance, the wounded grandma, was illegal...
SALIE: ...C, that he was actually a 45-year-old man walking around on his knees?
BENNETT: I'm going to A, the gray pants.
SALIE: And you are correct.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
BENNETT: Oh, my God.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
SALIE: It is A.
SALIE: Can you believe it? The kid's dad claims it was a conspiracy hatched by the judge so his hometown team would win.
Here is your last question, Roger. All right? If you get this one, you win it for our friend Ed. No pressure. For a while, virtual bowling on the Nintendo Wii was almost as popular as the real thing. In fact, it was so popular it even caught on with whom - A, Queen Elizabeth II, whom the British press described as a natural at the game; B, the Amish, who made an exception to their restriction on electricity, which they called Wii-springa (ph)...
SALIE: ...C, drug kingpin El Chapo, who described it as, quote, "almost as much fun as cocaine"?
BENNETT: For Ed Lynch, for the first time in a long time, I am going to say Queen Elizabeth.
SALIE: Yes, you took it for the team. Yes.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SALIE: Answer is A. She was, in fact, amused. Bill, what is the score?
KURTIS: Two out of three - he is a big, big winner. Good for you, Roger.
SALIE: Roger Bennett is a sportscaster and one of the creators of "Men In Blazers." His new memoir, "Reborn In The USA," is out now. Roger Bennett, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. And happy Fourth of July, my friend.
BENNETT: Thank you so bloody much. You're all amazing. Health and happiness. Enjoy.
SALIE: That was so fun. Take care.
BENNETT: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Stay cool.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN IN THE U.S.A.")
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Born down in a dead man's town. The first kick I took was when I hit the ground. You end up like a dog that's been beat too much till you spend half your life just covering up. Born in the USA.
SALIE: In just a minute, it's something borrowed, something blue - cheese - in our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.