year, two very stunning events took place in my world: Johan Cruijff,
the great dutch and my favourite soccer player, retired for good and
Juventus, my team, won the 24th Europe Cup II in Basel beating Porto
2-1. Two weeks later, Liverpool FC came to my town to defeat the home
team Roma in a memorable final match deciding the winner of the late
Coppa dei Campioni by penalty kicks. That was pretty much my area of
interest in sports: soccer and tennis. Ivan Lendl beat out John McEnroe
in five set in Paris coming from behind. But a couple of months later,
the Brat won the next main slam event at the All England Lawn Tennis and
Croquet Club in Wimbledon crushing Jimmy Connors in three sets. Edwin
Moses won his 100th consecutive 400-meter hurdles race and Sergei Bubka
of USSR pole vaulted an unbelievable record 5.89 meters.
On the other side of the ocean, out of my knowledge and interest, the football world was hit by two major earthquakes: the NFL owners approved the infamous anti-celebrating rule and during a moonless night, the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis. Whatever that meant, I had no idea.
By the time June came, the USSR announced that it was not going to participate in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, France performed nuclear tests at Muruora Island and I was getting ready to fly to England to attend a two months english leanguage course.
One of the best part of being in the campus located in the Surrey, was to enjoy its park and pond while familiarizing with the verbs, the homeworks and the babes. We had several hard fought football matches on that same grass you now see in the picture.E
Every week end, the school organized dedicated trips, to London mainly. I got to see the British Museum, Madam Tusseauds' wax Museum, the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Dungeon and basically did all those crazy things all tourists usually do. As I had already visited Wimbledon, the Temple of tennis, I approached the bulletin board unthrilled. I was wrong. That saturday, the school was scheduling an event open only to few: a live football match at Wembley Stadium!
Wembley was called the Temple of football because of its historic prestige. It was one of the ultimate dreams not only for every fan but even for players to be in that stadium once in a lifetime. That day, the first name on that list, was mine.
remember seeing the two towers standing tall in front of the entrance.
The impact of the imperial style architecture of that old stadium was
overwhelming. I could sense that special athmosphere you could encounter
is places where history has been made somehow. And one special memory
dated back to November 14th, 1973 when Italy finally beat England at
home 1-0 in Wembley with the goal striked by Fabio Capello who became in
2007 the head coach of the english national team.
Eleven years after being watching that game on tv, now I was standing in front of the main access gate of the stadium with one of the teachers handing out our tickets. Once I got mine, I was gone.
I lived the days approaching the trip to the stadium, like I was in a sort of trance, trying to figure it out which teams I would watch play that special game. I was right only about one thing: it was a special game. It was still football... but the one they play in the States!To my great surprise it was an exhibition game of the now defunct USFL: the United States Football League. One of the many who attempted to cross the path of the NFL and got sacked!
The two teams involved were the Philadelphia Stars and the Tampa Bay Bandits, but to me they could have been easily players from Mars and athletes from Saturn.
Once the shock was over, I sat and waited for the game to begin. I was surprised by the amount of people standing on the sidelines.
They seemed to me being hundreds. "Did they bring their families and friends along?", I thought at that time. Then, as stated on the ticket, the game started at 5.30 PM. Typical british, half an hour after the tea break. Some guy kicked the ball in the air. To the opposing team! Now, that was really strange to me.
Why would you do that? Keep the ball for yourself or have them directly start with the ball. I know, I know , I was biased by many years of european football. I really could not understand what was happening on the field. The action was stopped every five to ten seconds. The ball would then disappear under a mount of bodies one on top of the other. Then all the players would come out and another crowd would run into the field. I still remember today what exactly passed into my mind at that time: "This game sucks! It's too slow. How is it possible that the american people are so crazy about it?".
I shook my head and gave up realizing that even those wierd people with the chain and the pole running up and down the field were not helping sorting things out.I couldn't be more wrong. Twentyeight years after that day, I play the game myself, follow almost all the NFL games during the season, went to the Hall of Fame, watched a game at historical Lambeau Field, met Brett Favre and Dan Marino in person and built a website about ultimate fantasy football on which you're reading this article.Today I look back at that game and realize that somehow a big love was born that day. Several elements made that day special. Those strange twists so typical of the history of football. The part owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits was Burt Reynolds who starred in the famous movie The Longest Yard ten years before. The head coach of the Bandits was Steve Spurrier who was to become such a successful coach in college. On the other sideline, the coach was Jim Mora, yes the "Playoffs? You're talking about playoffs?" guy.