Monday, July 10, 2006

ZZ flips his top

Happy Monday. Hope everyone had a great weekend.

I was going take today off in honor of turning 38, but something stupid happened along the way this weekend that I can't get past.

I watched the World Cup final yesterday. I know many of you out there in TV land think that soccer is one of the most boring sports ever played. But if you watched any of the last two weeks of soccer and thought that, you need not read further.

You have not, will not and just plain don't get the beauty of international athletics. This is the biggest thing in EVERY country other than ours. Billions of people around the globe gathered to watch this sporting event. BILLIONS!

Think about that? People without TV sets in every room of their homes found a set somewhere to watch this. Americans, for the most part, wouldn't cross a street to watch soccer.

Growing up in the New York City area in the 70's, I was fortunate enough to have the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League to watch. Pele, Chinaglia, Beckenbauer, and Messing. Some of the greatest players ever - but most of this country still doesn't get the sport.

Just insane.

And speaking of insane, let's talk about one of the greatest footballers of my life time, Zinedine Zidane. He was the most dominant player in the 2006 World Cup. France had only been to one World Cup final before Sunday and it was in 1998 because of Zidane.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old was about to take a team that no one thought would be in the final, back to the top of the mountain. He scored the first goal of the match seven minutes in on a penalty kick. Just calmly walked up and knocked it in. He then dominated play - including an incredible header that was brilliantly saved by Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Zidane got hurt in the 80th minute of the game and almost came out of the match after he fell on his shoulder, but he wouldn't quit. It brought back memories of Franz Beckenbauer playing with his arm in a sling for Germany many years ago. He was about to ride out into the sunset in legendary status in his last match.

But then IT happened.

In the 110th minute, Zidane went postal for a split second. He was walking away from Italian defender Marco Materazzi when he turned around and slammed his head into Materazzi's chest.

Read that last paragraph again. I can't believe I typed it, still.

Here he is, 10 minutes away from penalty kicks to win the World Cup, and Zidane lost it. We could find out what the heck Materazzi said to him, but does it really matter? Things get said in the heat of battle all the time and this rarely happens.

In my mind, I try to think of Mark Messier in 1994 with 10 minutes to go in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, turning and slashing someone and getting tossed from the game. Even so, it wasn't Messier's last game nor was it for his country's honor. Joe Montana? Michael Jordan? Pick a star and a game. Doesn't matter. I can't see it.

With Zidane and Thierry Henry out, Italy dominated the penalty kicks and won 5-3.

It's almost impossible to come up with a scenario like this, because the great athletes almost never lose it like this on the grandest stage of all. Think of your favorite athlete of all-time in his biggest game ever. They may have not played well and lost, but they never snapped like Zidane did on Sunday.

After the match, Zidane wasn't even allowed to come out and receive his second place medal.

The picture of Zidane walking off the pitch with his head down as he walked past the golden trophy he and his teammates worked so hard for, summed up his shame and frustration of losing it for a split second.

One second.

All of the great things Zidane did for the game of soccer, gone in a blink of an eye. Or in his case, a butt of his head.

One second.

It's a second that will haunt and follow Zidane for the rest of his life. It will baffle the soccer world for a lot longer than that.

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