So the next day was game day. A game we had been looking forward to the entire trip. Truth be told, I think we might have made the trip if we were told this was the only game we would get to see...o.k. maybe just Bryan and I would've, but you get my drift. Before the game, though, we thought we'd try to get in some more sight-seeing. For this we headed to the town of Speyer. We wandered around town aimlessly (I didn't even have a map so don't try to pin this one on me) and after seeing the sites ( or at least what we thought were the sights), Bryan had to sprint for a bathroom and we found a lovely outdoor cafe at which to have lunch. In retrospect, I fear this was a completely wasted trip for I'm fairly confident we saw nothing of what your supposed to see when in Speyer. But honestly, I don't care. We did have the experience of a waitress causing us to arrive at the site of game 2 hours behind schedule, but that's gonna happen when your in a country were 3 quarters of the people who claim to speak English are actually lying. No biggie, though. We still arrived in Kaiserslautern a good three hours before Italy and the U.S. would square off.
Of course, that didn't stop us from more aimless wondering and wasting of time until we had to frantically find something to eat and make our way to the stadium. That was partly because of the city in which we found ourselves. Having this game in Kaiserslautern would be like having the Fiesta Bowl in Waco. I'm not saying Waco's not lovely, (that would require a completely separate post) I'm just saying holding a sporting event that is going to draw as many people as live in a city is asking for trouble. Honestly, we didn't have a whole lot of trouble other than wondering what we were gonna do with three hours and getting packed into tight spaces with lots of people for no discernible reason. Enough of that, though.
We made our hike to the stadium, and I do mean hike. It was approximately 2 miles from the bottom. "What bottom?", you say. That would be the one from which you must ascend to the stadium because it was built on Betzenberg Mountain. Great for the view...but uh... well let's just say we almost had to enlist a sherpa guide to carry Lisa all the way up. But we got there, through security (I'm still waiting on the dinner that guy owes me) and to our seat with about an hour to spare. Early enough to watch Ghana put the finishing touches on a 2-0 win against the Czech Republic via jumbotron that would turn Group E upside down and give the U.S. team and supporters actual hope founded on probability instead of fantasy. With that knowledge in hand, or in mind I guess, the cheering of the U.S. fans was geared up a notch. Keep in mind we're still 60 minutes from kick-off. Even so, the rollicking good times continued right up until the start of the game, including the the 15,000 person sing-along to Born in the USA which the was played over the stadium P.A. to my amazement. I've never really been that big a fan of "The Boss", but being in a foreign land with your fellow patriots will get you out of your comfort zone. Just so you're aware, the Germans haven't come up with anything better to play at sporting events but tired old American pop/rock. Also, a little heavy on the disco, but I digress.
So the game begins (finally, you say). You know what, I could go into a detailed blow-by-blow but if you wanted that you could just go here or here. As I said before, there is nothing like cheering for your native land, especially when you're in a different country on the world's biggest stage. I was a lunatic. Jumping up and down like a fool. The chanting and singing by US supporters never stopped. News reports claimed that it was a pro-American crowd in attendance that night, but I can tell you first hand we were outnumbered 2 or 3-to-1 by Italians. Even when Italy scored, it seemed we stopped long enough to take a breath and started right up again. It was just odd that the atmosphere was controlled by Americans while the Italians could do nothing but sit on their hands and try to figure out what was wrong.
When the US scored to tie the game, I'm not sure I've ever been happier, ever. It's odd how emotionally involved one can get at a game. But I was in, baby, all in. And when that ball hit the back of the net (right in front of me, by the way) I went nuts. Jumping, high-fiving strangers from 5 rows away (one of the odd advantages of being tall) ,waving my flag in the air...like I just didn't care...good stuff. I should also mention at this point that the seats we were in were on a aisle. And by aisle I mean a 18 inch-wide space between the seats for some steps. On the other side of this "aisle" is where the US section ended and the Italian section began. Lucky me. This arrangement of fan juxtaposition provided some interesting opportunities. For instance, around the 60 minute, when the US had been playing a man down for the half and yet were still controlling play and taking most of the offensive chances, it gave me occasion to witness some 50 year-oldish Italian who no doubt knew more about soccer 30 years ago than I ever would curse his team and hang his head in defeat. From this vantage I was also able to see if Italian chicks are really that hot. I could have done that, but I didn't. Finally, it allowed me one-on-one interfacing with my Italian counterparts. (Possible Hooliganism Warning here) The interface in question came after yet another Italian player hit the ground in an attempt to draw a card from the referee, commonly referred to in the sport as diving. This resulted in a ,shall we say, a negative reaction from US supporters and possibly even some of the players. I rose to voice my displeasure. At the same moment, a fan from the country that looks like a boot rose and turned around to debate us, I guess. Our eyes met, he frowned and shook his head to let us know we had no idea what we were talking about. Usually I would try to avoid confrontation. I thought about that fact that his fellow countrymen greatly out numbered me and my countrymen and that they were much more familiar with fascism. But I did not go quietly into that good night, I never broke the stare. I rose my hands above my head and placed them on top of each other, like a Olympian on the high dive. I then jump and simulated such a dive, not once, not twice, but three times. He then gave me the look of man who just figured out who had shot his beloved hound and nodded and smiled as if to say," I see you, and you will pay for your iniquity." I nodded and smiled in reply as if to say," I wanted to be seen and relish the opportunity to altercate with you on this or any other subject." And that was that.
In the end, the game was a tie. One point in the standings for each team, but one that saw an unbelievable effort from the US squad. One that now stands as possibly the greatest game ever played by a US team. It should also be noted that it was Italy's only game of the World Cup that it did not win. The main point I want to make is that the atmosphere in the stands that day is not something I'm sure can be duplicated in the U.S. Maybe college football, but that's the only thing that would come close. I left the game physically and emotionally drained. Not drained enough to make one last attempt at WAL, but it was closed. And so was our time in Heidelberg.