Memories in life represent who we are, and where we’ve come from. Some of my deepest memories are as clear to me now as the day they occurred. It is amazing for me to talk about one of the most memorable moments of my life.
Sport, something that can mean different things to all of us, to me, sports is life. I love the anticipation, the excitement, the pressure, the mystery, the heroes, and the villains. But most of all, I love the memories.
Being 20-years-old from Toronto (and a hometown supporter) I had never experienced a championship for the team I rooted for (Other than Canadian Olympic hockey gold in '02 of course). In ‘93 I was five, and although I do remember waking up in front of the TV after Joe Carter did his thing, the memory is too vague to truly appreciate.
June 9, 2006. One of the best memories of my life.
It was a warm summer afternoon in southern Ontario, that part I knew. What I didn’t know, was that my “fan” life was about to change forever.
It was five minutes after the start of the World Cup final and I was in a car on my way to a buddy’s house, man was I pissed. Missing the beginning of an important game is like missing the playoffs three consecutive years in a row (Leafs, cough, cough). It sucks, and is something no true sports fan should ever have to endure.
Practically ripping off my seat belt, I grabbed my bottle of rum and ran for the front door. Throwing my shoes to the corner I ran downstairs where the others were gathered. The look on my Italian friend’s face said it all.
But, how? The game was five minutes old, how could Italy be losing? I sat down to see the replay of Zinidine Zidane’s casual penalty goal, that was awarded after Florent Malouda’s blatant dive.
My heart sank.
The other non-Italian supporters in the room couldn’t have been happier. Of course, none of them were French, but that didn’t matter. Italy’s soccer team is what the Yankees are to baseball, either you love them or hate them.
So in total, there were two Italian supporters in a room of ten. Although we are all friends, on that afternoon we were deeply divided. Watching the game in enemy territory made the fear of losing even worse. The constant barrage of jeers we faced only made me more hungry to watch Italy win it all. Settling in to my chair, I realized the only way to deal with these pack of wolves was to ignore them and talk the high road.
I cracked open my bottle of Bacardi and poured a drink for the Azzurri supporters. Settling in to my chair the nerves began to set in.
Those same nerves began to subside as Italy went fiercely onto the attack. Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso began to set the tone for the Italians. The pressure had soon resulted in a corner kick at the 18 minute mark of the first half.
Pirlo, possibly the team’s best player all tournament (and dead ball specialist) walked over to take the corner kick. Placing the ball on his mark and taking a glance at the field he had to work with, the Italian took aim.
At first, the ball reached its apex and from my view it appeared as if the cross was too strong. Passing over nearly everyone, the ball found the head of central defender Marco Matterazzi—and then the back of the net.
Italy 1 France 1.
Leaping to our feet my friend and I celebrated and embraced each other in this moment of ecstasy. Flailing around like two children, we screamed and yelled in support of our team.
Taking the high road? Well, we may have wondered off that path a bit.
Trash talking our way through the next several minutes made everything seem okay again. We were back on level footing. The game had finally begun.
With this newly found momentum, the Italians really began putting pressure on the French. Moments after Matterazzi’s goal, Pirlo again had a chance to etch his name in to World Cup history.
Almost an exact replica of his initial corner, Pirlo sent the ball gracefully through the German air. Striker Luca Toni fought his way through a maze of French defenders and jumped.
Meeting head to ball, the Italian sent a dangerous shot towards the net. Almost in slow motion the ball struck the bar and went out of play. In unison, every France supporter worldwide breathed a sigh of relief.
Outside to breathe a little fresh air. The day had grown into night and the warm summer air turned to a calming cool breeze. After micro-analyzing every play, it was back to the grind.
France came out hungry to start the second. Thierry Henry burst into life after a slow first 45. With two lethal scoring chances missed, the Italians were back on their heels, and I was back on the edge of my seat.
As the bottle of rum began to disappear, the intensity of the taunting increased. Some may ask, why? It’s just a game right?
This is NOT just a game. It's a matter of national pride, each team with their own hopes of world domination. To the victor, glory and bragging rights over the next four years. The loser joins the other 31 teams in the world of mediocrity. But that wasn’t about to happen, I could feel it.
As the second half played on the game began to open up. Italy went away from their normal defensive style game and showed some offensive flare.
Luca Toni had sneaked away from his defender and headed a ball into the net on a feathered pass from, who else? Andrea Pirlo. With mere minutes left in the game Italian gold was a certainty.
But wait. Not so fast.
The whistle had blown and the sideline ref had his flag raised to the air, offside.
The pain was too much to bare.
“Italy is going to lose,” I thought to myself. “That was our chance and that f*#&ing referee blew the call!”
Coming back down to earth we were, again, subject to a chorus of France cheers. Now things really began to get heated. With the bottle of rum polished off the verbal onslaught was peaking like never before. The house cat that once sat amongst us had scurried to safety, sensing the hostility in the air.
After settling down, it was once again game-on. With extra time dauntingly close it was becoming clear we were headed there.
Extra time began and France had started to dominate play.
Malouda was kept out by a last-ditch Fabio Cannavaro tackle, before Franck Ribery poked a shot agonisingly wide and Buffon tipped Zidane's header over the bar.
It was Zidane's last meaningful contribution for the French. With ten minutes left of extra-time, his professional career ended in shameful circumstances as his notorious head butt on Marco Matterazzi earned him a red card.
A smile across my face.
30 minutes of extra time in the books, penalty kicks were upon us.
Now for all true sports fans out there you know, losing in sudden death, whatever the game, hurts. I’d rather lose in regulation where a countdown to your demise is, at least, less of a shock. As a Leafs fan, I have endured the feeling many times.
It stings, it aches, it hurts.
As the coaches chose their shootout line-ups, my “brother in arms” and I nervously paced around the room. The others present looked stress free as can be. They aren’t French, they didn’t care if France won, as long as Italy lost.
The tension in the room was at its climax. Wrapped in an Italian flag we stood, grabbing on to each other in hopes that somehow, it would actually make a difference.
The next ten minutes or so are a bit of a blur. I remember clearly, however, Italy’s fifth and final shooter,—Fabio Grosso.
With the shootout score 4-3 for the Italians, Grosso had the chance to end it all and give Italy a fourth World Cup.
From the moment he came on camera to the moment he scored felt like it happened in slow motion.
Standing nervously in a basement, halfway around the world, I watched.
What was going through his mind in those moments? World stage, chance to be the hero, national pride on the line.
He spotted the ball on his mark and took a few steps back. Waiting for the referee to blow the whistle felt like an eternity, but finally it came...
One look to the ref, one to the keeper, head down and go. Stepping in to his shot with fierceness and accuracy, Grosso beat Barthez and the party began.
Yelling and screaming happens on so many different levels. When you’re mad at your dog you yell at it to go away, when you’re in a fight with someone you sometimes scream.
When your sports team does something great, you scream like nothing else. At that singular moment in time you are in a different place. The daily struggles of life, sickness, pain, all cease to exist.
That moment is beautiful.
Still wrapped in the Italian flag, my friend and I took to the streets in celebration. Running to the train station, each holding one end of the flag, we continued to yell and wave at every passing car and pedestrian.
The night was capped accordingly by a trip to Little Italy, downtown TO. 500,000 plus Italian supporters crammed in the streets as far as the eye can see. A party like no other, bedlam in Toronto.
Thinking back to the final moments of the game still gives me goose bumps. The pride and happiness felt at that moment is indescribable. While on memory lane I recall only a handful of moments that remain so vivid and unforgettable. At the end of it all, what’s life without these memories that make us who we are, that take us back to that point in time?
We all have them, whether in sports or otherwise. I can only hope to again experience a moment like this, and take from it a memory that will continue to give me goose bumps in to my final years. Until then I will remain a fanatic of sports and continue to re-live the memories.
After all, the memories are what I truly love about sports.