Flagstaff, Arizona — Growing up, at least to a certain point in my childhood, I always looked forward to summer vacation. My family never did do anything crazy; it was the usual trip to see family across Texas or visit the favorite aunt in Nevada. Vacations were very predictable, small car, early mornings and long drives (my dad hated stopping). However, this summer was different. For one, I was missing my vacation partner in crime – my brother. Secondly, we had invited long time family friends to come with us, and we finally had a larger car. That summer we decided to take a family road trip to Overton, Nevada to pick up my brother who was staying with my aunt. The drive consisted of multiple stops, late nights and a Grand Canyon detour.
I’ll spare the details of the trip which consisted of a mid-night roadside rest stop and a horrible experience at the Grand Canyon (twenty-three years later, I still refuse to go back). We rented a condo in the beautiful city of Flagstaff to lay our heads for a few days, and in hindsight, it was to accommodate a great family friend that would be staying with us.
Before this trip, all I knew were the Buffalo Bills, Phoenix Suns, El Paso Diablos and my little league White Sox baseball team, but on this day my whole world changed. Leading up to the trip, we would always go over to the V’s house (family friends mentioned) to have pool parties, play Super Nintendo, and to wait for our parents to finish their evening coffee. During this time there, was a dry erase board that stayed in the Mr. V’s living room. I remember walking by it several times and glancing at it but had no idea what it was about. There were six groupings of four countries with a little W, D, and Pts., columns. None of this made sense, but I carried on about my day and would avoid leaving the steps of their swimming pool. As the days went on and the frequency of visiting the V’s increased, I would notice a bracket now drawn on this white board and finally asked what it was all about. Mr. V then began a brief summary of what was happening on U.S. soil for the first time.
Almost a month had gone by, and the white board was filling up and only two countries remained. The fateful day of July 17, 1994 was the matchup of Brazil vs. Italy in the 1994 FIFA World Cup Final. Watching the game captivated me unlike any other sport could and at nine I was a huge sports fan. Three players stood out to me during that match: Dunga, which I thought was a funny name, Romario, and Roberto Baggio because of his haircut. However, I would later find out that these guys actually stood out for other reasons. The game was provided an intense pairing, the offensive power of Brazil and the stubborn defense of Italy played to a captivating 0–0 draw, which lead both teams past overtime and into a life changing penalty shoot-out.
Right from the beginning the queasy, palm sweating, not knowing what to expect from a shootout feeling set in. Brazil and Italy missed their initial attempts in a best of five round. At this point, Mr. V explained how shootouts work while deliberating if the strategy or lady luck determined the outcome. The second attempt from both teams go in; score sits level at 1–1. My mother, father and Mr. V’s wife have now slowly migrated towards the living room. Evani makes it 2–1 for Italy, but the lead quickly vanishes with Branco’s thunderous run-up but an easy strike to the bottom right of the goal. 2–2, I have moved from the couch to the floor, inching closer and closer to the television. Massaro’s attempt is blocked by the Brazilian goalkeeper, and a loud yell is expressed by me – and to my surprise – everyone else in the room. The drama unfolding captures everyone’s attention in the condo. Brazil’s captain, Dunga, steps up and blasts the crucial penalty shot. His team is now in the lead, and the World Cup trophy is much closer to their fingertips, 3–2.
During the slow walk-up of Roberto Baggio, Mr. V briefly explained the crucial opportunity provided to the Italian footballer. I excitedly looked back at him, and he gave me a nod of approval as to say, “Yes, this is football. This is what it is all about.” I will never forget the call made by the announcer, “Baggio, NO!” as the ball sailed over the crossbar. The living room became a mixture of cheers and silence. I didn’t know how to react, but I felt bad for Baggio the pain his body expressed. Brazil 3, Italy 2.
The next day, we drove up to Overton to enjoy our vacation. All I could think about during the rest of the trip was that miss. That miss set off a chain reaction that affected the rest of my life. If it wasn’t for that miss, I am sure my I would be a different person. That miss made me quit baseball and sign up for football the upcoming fall season. I never missed a practice or game while growing up. That miss motivated me to look for football on television and watch any match I could. That miss is what made me fall in love and understand how one ball, twenty-two players and ninety minutes is all that is needed to forget everything in the world. That miss, will never be forgotten.