Inspired by our leaders in Congress (whose cafeteria now calls
french fries "freedom fries") and by New Jersey restaurant owner
Anthony Tola (who poured his Dom Perignon down the toilet),
Georgia grocer George Lauzon (who stripped his shelves of Evian
water), New York City's Hotel Sofitel (which denuded its doorway
of the French flag) and the Fox television network (which kicked
Frenchie off American Idol), I joined the French resistance last
week and gave up, in sports, all things Gallic. All things:
French Open, Frenchy Fuqua, French Lick (Indiana). Tour de
France, Bubba Paris, Jason Bere.
Think it's easy? It isn't. It means renouncing Frenchy
Bordagaray, the California-born Brooklyn Dodger of the 1930s.
Fined $500 during the Depression for spitting on an umpire, an
aggrieved Frenchy told reporters, "The penalty is a little more
than I expectorated." It means removing French articles and
prepositions from all names. So LaPhonso Ellis is now Phonso, and
Delino DeShields is Lino Shields. Pete LaCock may not like his
new surname, but the former Cub and Royal will, we are certain,
get used to it.
France is opposed to a U.S. war on Iraq, and thus Johnny Miller
finds himself torn between croque monsieur and Croak, messieurs.
"Everyone who's been to France loves the food," the NBC golf
announcer acknowledged on the air last Saturday. "But the last 20
years, France has done everything it can to oppose America. And
... people aren't sure if France is still our friend."
The answer, to believe our congressmen, is a boycott. Renounce
your French cuffs, Jerry Jones; your French kissing, Morganna;
your French-maid outfit, Dennis Rodman. Hockey broadcasters
should no longer indulge the Francophone. Don't call the Devils
goaltender "Mar-TAN Bro-DURE" but rather what Baywatch actress
Yasmine Bleeth once did at the ESPYs: "MAR-tin BRO-der."
Or so I was thinking as I drove on Saturday to the largest
French-speaking city outside of France to test my resolve before
the most famous of all Francophone sportsmen, the Montreal
Canadiens. If I could resist the siren song of Les Habitants--who
gave the world Maurice Richard, Yvon Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur and
many more of the most euphonious names in sports--I could resist
anything. I defiantly stopped at a Burger King in Albany, N.Y.,
for a Croissanwich, America's gleeful desecration of French
cuisine. And later, emboldened, I passed into Quebec.
Hours later I passed--pleasantly unfrisked--into the Bell Centre.
The Canadiens, it must be said, have the most stylish uniforms in
North America. They make the New York Yankees look like the
Bulgarian army. All their players are supermodels. Or so you
would think to hear their names: Stephane Quintal, Yanic
Perreault, Jose (jo-ZAY) Theodore. I became transfixed by the
name of defenseman Patrice Brisebois and repeatedly said it
aloud,"Pa-TREECE Breeze-BWAH." Every single time, it made me
In France it is illegal to boo La Marseillaise, the national
anthem. In Montreal, however, I thought I heard the man behind me
hissing throughout The Star-Spangled Banner. But no. He was, I
saw, just orally inflating his ThunderStix. By the time a lovely
woman with a name to match--Marie-Eve Janvier--sang a
heartachingly beautiful O Canada in French and English, my
resolve was breaking down like the line at a French bus stop.
A ceremonial first puck was dropped by Canadiens legend Jean
Beliveau, resplendent in a perfectly tailored suit, his silver
coif immaculate. (If God got a $500 haircut, he'd look like
this.) Beneath 24 Stanley Cup banners Beliveau gave a regal half
wave. There were 21,273 people in the stands, and we all roared
like the MGM lion. My skin, I noticed, was pebbled like a plucked
Quebec, of course, is not France, and Montreal is not Paris. "In
Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French," wrote
Mark Twain. "I never did succeed in making those idiots
understand their language." But Canadiens fans patiently indulged
my French hockeyspeak, graciously allowing me to shout, "Avantage
numerique!" when the Habs had a power play.
I had begun the day by cursing Vikings kicker Todd France. I'd
condemned champagne celebrations in victorious locker rooms. I'd
vowed not to root when Frenchman Tony Parker of the Spurs and
Frenchman Antoine Rigaudeau of the Mavericks both dived for the
same loose ball. I was in favor of returning to France not just
the Statue of Liberty but the backyard football play of the same
name. I would ask Packers tight end Rufus French to change his
name, legally, to Rufus Freedom. By day's end, however, I was
eating a Franco-Mexican collaboration--nachos et fromage--while
watching Finns, Swedes, Russians, Americans and Canadians try to
kill one another in a manner so quaintly civilized that it might
yet inspire a bumper-sticker slogan: DROP GLOVES, NOT BOMBS.
My Habs lost to the Lightning 2--1. But that was hardly the
point. A few miles from the Bell Centre is Olympic Stadium, home
of the Expos, on Pierre-de-Coubertin Avenue, named for the
Frenchman who founded the modern Olympic Games on the premise
that sports could unite people when politicians could not.
He might have been on to something.
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
I joined the French resistance and gave up, in sports, all things
Gallic: Frenchy Fuqua, Tour de France, Bubba Paris.