Wyoming is a long way from South Africa, the World Cup, and any ocean. Still, word has trickled down regarding the faraway relationship between a country, a competition, and a creature. Along the way, this news has created curiosity, expanded athletic horizons, and tickled a few funny bones.
In light of the historical racial struggles in South Africa, people of Wyoming should feel blessed to live be in a state that has a reputation for the advancement of minorities. It was, after all, the Equality State that first offered poll booths to its fairer gender and did so years before the rest of America, let alone the world, followed the lead of this secluded state.
Wyoming's relative isolation could not shield its population from the hype and drama of the World Cup being played in South Africa. Local newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet combined to keep citizens informed about the endurance of Spain versus the field and its eventual championship victory over the pesky team the Netherlands.
Yet, it seems to be the ocean that recently supplied Wyomingites with a most unique topic of conversation that could be heard and overheard in restaurants, truck stops, and saloons. Well, to be totally accurate, the ocean merely supplied that topic of conversation in a “roots” sense, since it is from the sea that the biggest sideshow of the World Cup came.
During Cup play most people scoured rosters to find soccer notables, or scanned the stands to spot famous fans in attendance, such as Nelson Mandela. Many in the Cowboy State discovered a fascination in cephalopod mollusk form, or as it is more commonly known, an octopus. The eight-legged animal in question here is Paul, a resident of the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany.
While most Wyoming sport's fans know that Spain won the World Cup, the majority could not name a player from the roster of either team that competed in the finals. Many, however, have heard of Paul and come to recognize him as the critter of acclaim who outdid Las Vegas in picking World Cup match winners.
For those who may not have heard, Paul correctly predicted the winners of all eight World Cup matches he was "asked" about. As a “German” octopus, Paul even went against the grain to pick Spain against his homeland, angering many German soccer fans. The anger turned to rage after the match bore out Paul’s prediction and irate German fans threatened to eat Paul the traitor, proving that the grow-it-then-eat-it mentality prevalent in Wyoming is indeed universal.
It is yet unclear whether the vast coverage of World Cup soccer will have a lasting impact on the sport’s popularity in the Rocky Mountain west, but it is likely that reactions to Paul's unique talent have already been felt in rural communities. A great many horses, bulls, cows, and calves across Wyoming must have been eyed by ranchers and farmers in the wake of Paul’s prowess, and asked, “Why can’t you do that?”
Wyoming may be a good piece removed from South Africa and the recent World Cup, yet the eerie abilities-and tentacles- of a soothsaying octopus were able to reach across the state’s borders. Perhaps, then, that makes Paul was the biggest hero of the 2010 World Cup.