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Non-Goal #2: The Fezzik Effect

What would we have seen from Fezzik if he'd played in Italia '90?

Playing at the highest level isn't for the faint of heart. Neither is loving your opponent.

By Bob Bjarke

In one of the biggest games of the year, played between two of the biggest teams and rivals in the world, a defender flies in to stop a shot on goal. He fights for the ball as it bounces off of his opponent and out of bounds. The home fans insult the defender, berating him and making foul gestures only Europeans can understand. As the dust settles and their teams get back into position, the defender reaches over, grabs his opponent's hand and gives him a hug.

In a fictional 18th century Europe, a giant prepares to take on a much smaller opponent in a fight to the death. He could surprise him, maybe smash a huge boulder against his head as the smaller man unknowingly approaches the giant's position. But this giant wouldn't think of it--he's looking for something more civilized. As the smaller man approaches, the giant fires a warning shot across his path and suggests that they drop their weapons and face each other "as god intended. Sportsmanlike."

What does it take to behave like this? Is it respect, gamesmanship, or maybe something like love? The two players mentioned above are FC Barcelona's Carles Puyol: legendary team captain and World-Cup winner for Spain in 2010; and Real Madrid's Sami Khedira: one of the best midfielders in Germany's 2014 World-Cup winning squad and one of Madrid's most reliable players for several years. Barcelona vs Real Madrid could easily be a bloody mess of a knife fight in shin guards (at times, it has been) and nobody would be surprised if a Barcelona player instead gave a Khedira a big shove to the chest, benches emptied and suspensions were handed out. But instead Puyol chose something much more ... civilized. You can see in the moment that Khedira is surprised and doesn't quite know what to do--but he goes along with it, maybe realizing that refusing a hug could be much worse than accepting it. I like to think Puyol just felt like giving Khedira a hug--in that moment he felt something that maybe he couldn't even articulate: that two incredible athletes who'd worked incredibly hard their entire lives to reach the pinnacle of athletic achievement maybe just deserved to acknowledge each other. To celebrate what they were doing: playing a game, playing hard and playing it better than anyone else on earth at that moment.

Soccer is a huge human spectacle, played on an enormous stage over 2 hours in front of thousands of viewers. It's different from the more intimate environment of a professional basketball game, or the helmet and armor-clad battle of NFL football. It's emotive at a huge scale. You can see the players' faces even from a distance, you can hear the derisive whistling from the audience, even the officials get pulled into the on-field drama. It's really more like a play or a film, one of the reasons the comparison to The Princess Bride's Fezzik is so apt. On-screen Fezzik is behaving just like on-field Puyol and the soccer stage is the perfect place for the real-world demonstration of the Fezzik Effect: the relinquishing of underhanded animosity in exchange for the sportsmanlike test of skill against skill.

"You mean you'll put down your rock and I'll put down my sword and we'll try to kill each other like civilized people?"

You'll see another example at semi-final of the the 2020(1) European Championship. A skinnier, Italian Fezzik (Georgio Chiellini) faces off against a tiny, high-strung Wesley (Spain's Jordi Alba) in an unusual battle. Together for the penalty kick coin toss, usually more of a formality than a moment of high drama, we get to see one of the all-time on-field Fezzik Effects. The coin is tossed, but there's some confusion about who called which side. At this point in the game and the tournament Alba's even more skittish than usual, like a small dog on a tight leash, hyper aware of any potential threat. Alba protests when the call is given to Chiellini. Chiellini smiles and playfully gives Alba a little shove as if to say "don't try and put one over on me, small person" and and you can see all the hair stand up on Alba's back as his fight or flight instinct kicks in. The referee decides to toss the coin again and again Chiellini wins. Chiellini lands a playful pantomime punch to Alba's chops and I'm honestly amazed Alba didn't fall to the floor, rolling around in fake pain looking for a red card. And then we get the hug--Chiellini wraps him up and bounces him a couple times just for fun. Could Alba want anything less in life at that moment? He thinks he's been tricked, or outgamed, or somehow something happened and he should be mad about it, but by now it's all over and he just wants to get out of there and onto the penalties. Alba couldn't escape the intensity of the moment. What if he had been able to return Chiellini's hug, like Khedira did, and jog back to his team knowing he'd set the tone for his team, showing them that he was lucky to be in the semi finals of the European Cup where the game was about to be decided by teams ready to play "as God intended. Sportsmanlike."

"You mean, you'll put down your rock and I'll put down my sword and we'll try to kill each other like civilized people?"

Yes, Jordi Alba, we will.

It's probably one of the rarest non-goals in the game but it's certainly one of the finest: players actively expressing the happiness of playing, rejecting the sports-war metaphor, realizing that they're blessed to be together on the field bringing millions of people joy every day, respecting their opponents and setting good examples for the millions of kids tuning in every game. What does the world need, more highlights of post-goal Cristiano Ronaldo tearing his shirt off and war-crying in front of the cameras or athletes setting aside the fact that they're wearing different colors and giving each other the respect they've earned as people and as talented, hard-working athletes. Sportsmanlike.

In the end, Wesley outsmarts Fezzik, beating him by climbing onto his huge back and knocking him out cold with maybe the world's first sleeper hold. But this was only the beginning. Later, when the two men are united against a common enemy there's just a moment of confusion. "Who are you? Are we enemies?" asks Wesley while he comes to after being "mostly dead" all day. Once it's clear they're all on the same team, the new teammates spring into action, devising a plan to overcome huge odds. "I hope we win," Fezzik ads as they begin their assault on a heavily-guarded castle. After we've seen the Fezzik Effect in action, is there any chance they'll lose?


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