David Beckham received a send-off fit for a legend.
Playing in the final home match of his career—and presumably the final match of his career—Beckham was once again triumphant. His club, Paris Saint-Germain, took rival Brest to the woodshed, defeating them 3-1 at Parc des Princes on Saturday.
For Beckham, who announced his retirement at age 38 earlier this week, the match was full of touching moments. He was given the captain's sleeve one last time for PSG, a team for which Beckham had played in nine Ligue 1 games prior to Saturday evening. The fans in attendance, knowing what a momentous occasion they were witnessing, continuously chanted "Merci, David" whenever they got a chance.
Beckham, admittedly not in peak form at this point of his career, played a very nice match. There were no bending, game-winning goals—this isn't a movie, after all. Those smashes went to the back of the net off the feet of the ascending Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Blaise Matuidi.
But there were tears—and plenty of them. When manager Carlo Ancelotti substituted Ezequiel Lavezzi for Beckham in the 82nd minute, nearly everyone in the stands—and I'll venture to say watching on television—could barely keep his or her composure. Even the normally reserved Beckham understandably came unglued as PSG stopped the match to honor one of the greats.
The Associated Press' Rob Harris sent out a picture of the emotional scene:
Rob Harris @RobHarris
Tearful David Beckham's final moment as competitive player it seems. substituted to applause near end of PSG-Brest http://t.co/Fmb5taP5245/18/2013, 8:40:16 PM
It was the kind of moment you so rarely see in sports today. There was no animosity toward Beckham from either side for stealing the moment in a Brett Favre-ian way. There was just respect from everyone on the pitch and those watching in the stands and at home.
As Beckham came off the pitch, there was an outpouring of congratulatory tweets, including one from British television personality Tim Lovejoy:
Tim Lovejoy @timlovejoy
#Beckham getting emotional and trying not to cry during this match. Amazing career!5/18/2013, 8:35:41 PM
Adidas' UK Twitter feed had a wonderful prepared tweet ready for Beckham's final send-off:
adidas UK @adidasUK
That's it. From Manchester, to Madrid, to LA, to Milan and Paris, always #allin. Thank you David Beckham http://t.co/B2jfNXItEP5/18/2013, 8:49:38 PM
Others, as captured here by a Beckham fan page, simply wanted to see the star midfielder back for one more year:
Figueroa Linares @figueroalinares
David Beckham: 1 more year, please! #PSGSB29 #PSG http://t.co/wjr8XgMYdT5/18/2013, 7:49:21 PM
Barring an unforeseen change of heart, there won't be that one more year—and perhaps that's a good thing. The scene in Paris on Saturday was the type one hopes for when sending off a hero to ride into the sunset. Beckham was the star kissing his hands and waving goodbye, not the one putting a towel over his head as his career ends with flailing embarrassment.
That touching scene at Parc des Princes will be forever planted in the back of all world football fans' minds. It will be the perfect time to say goodbye to a player who may not have been the greatest in history, but arguably had the most global impact of any man to ever set foot on the pitch.
Yes, other stars like Pele also came to the United States late in their careers. But none carried the cultural mainstream clout of Beckham, who was one of the first stars to embrace the 24/7 news cycle we so often deride. David Beckham was at all points in his career a soccer player first, yet it's hard to avoid thinking of him as a celebrity second.
Beckham's off-the-pitch ventures were well covered—often too much so. He's been a model for high-fashion magazines, made pitches for multinational companies like Coca-Cola and made cameo appearances in movies—and had one filmed using his name.
Hell, Beckham even married a '90s pop icon, Victoria Adams, aka Posh Spice, and the duo were covered with a digital-age glee even before the technological boom. Becks and Posh were William and Kate before the duo were even out of high school.
Of course, all of that was secondary to Beckham's excellence on the field. He captained the English national team for 59 matches, fourth all-time behind greats Bobby Moore, Billy Wright and Bryan Robson. And Beckham is the only Englishman ever to score in three World Cups.
On the club side, Beckham leaves Paris Saint-Germain in a familiar place—as a champion. The Paris-based club will wrap up its Ligue 1 championship in a road match versus Lorient on May 26.
The ongoing stat that most have pointed to is that Beckham has always left a team better than when he came. Manchester United, Real Madrid, the Los Angeles Galaxy and PSG all won titles in his final season with each club. Even when Beckham was no longer the greatest player on the pitch, he brought a boundless energy and winning attitude that was infectious with teammates.
Perhaps it was Sir Alex Ferguson, himself heading into retirement, that described his former player best in an interview with the BBC.
"He could run all day, and that has allowed him to stay in the game at that kind of level, playing for his country in his mid 30s," said Ferguson. "Coming from American football to do that is quite amazing, and he is an amazing person."
There may have been tears shed and heavy hearts had on Saturday, but after over two decades of service to the sport, David Beckham can finally stop running.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: Follow @tylerconway22