Copa Mundial & Me: My Journey To Brazil, Part I

Hot Time writer Doug Kieffer will be heading to the land of joga bonito this summer for the World Cup, and we'll follow along. His story starts here ...

It's sometime said you never forget your first - World Cup that is. For me, the year was 1982 and I was a fairly recent convert to The Beautiful Game. Only 5 years earlier, while just a 6th grader, our Serbian gym teacher introduced us to this odd game where the ball was kicked rather than thrown. But, having been a huge fan of "The Big Blue Marble," I was quick to embrace the international aspect of the game - as well as the constant motion denied me in the little league outfield.

Chicago had embraced the Soccer Bowl champion Sting. But televised soccer, especially at a high level, was unheard of in those days. About the closest we got was Toby Charles narrating "Soccer Made in Germany" and the movie "Victory" starring Sylvester "You got feet, I got hands" Stallone. So, for a boy still dependent on properly adjusted rabbit ears to get a decent UHF TV signal, SIN's coverage of España '82 was both a godsend and a window into a culture from which I've yet to be extracted. Of course, all the games were broadcast in Spanish. Each broadcast began with the exhortation, "Bievenidos, aficionados de futbol!". And my recollection is that the station had, maybe, three sponsors; Banamex, Burger Boy, and Churritos Barcel - because, to this day, those three commercials are still burned into my mind. That, and the Spanish (or was it Portugese?) version of the Mean Joe Green Coke commercial featuring Brazilian #10 Zico which I saw only one time.

It was the summer before my senior year and many of the games seemed to take place before or after summer workouts for my high school soccer team. As fate would have it, there were several guys of German and Italian descent on the team so, despite the absence of an American team, it was easy to pick a rooting interest. I was in the Mannschafft camp. As the tournament kicked off, the only storyline I remember was that of the return of Italy's prodigal son, Paolo Rossi, newly reinstated after scandalous exile from Serie A. And, like something out of Roman mythology, he emerged as the star of the tournament.

Thinking back, it's remarkable how little I really knew about soccer, at least how it played out in the international game. I knew Argentina were the defending champs and that Brazil, England, and Germany (actually West Germany in those days) were recent winners. So, when Germany lost the first game against Algeria, I figured this team from northern Africa must be a top squad as well.

As a German fan, I was thrilled that Germany got the result they needed against Austria to advance to the next round. I was oblivious to the fact that these Teutonic cousins had just put on one of the sport's most cynical displays of gamesmanship ever. So much so that it brought about a significant alteration to the structure of every subsequent major tournament.

Then came the epic semifinal between Germany and France. When the teams were tied after regulation, I was introduced to the difference between soccer overtime and the sudden death variety I was familiar with in the NFL. It seemed to me that Germany was rescued twice. First, when the game didn't end after France scored their goal, and again when the game was not yet over after the first extra time period. All this was probably being eloquently described by the announcer but I had no idea what he was saying. I was just caught up in the excitement of the whole thing. Germany stormed back in the second extra time period to force the shootout. Not the start-from-the-35-yard line variety I'd seen in the NASL, but shots from the penalty spot. I vividly recall Uli Stielike crumbling to the turf after failing to score on his attempt, only to be redeemed when the subsequent French shooter failed as well. It was as though he'd been touched by Benny Hinn himself. Throughout the game, the room resounded with the famously extended cry of "Goooooool!!!!". Magical.

Of course Germany would finally taste defeat in the final. And it was the Azzurri faction of the varsity squad that celebrated that day. Rossi was the man of the hour. Even capturing the honor of being the face of "The Thrill of Victory" on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

It would be 4 years before I would get my next fix.

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