I've got your U.S. boys' backs
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2

Day 6: Come on, you boys in green (Part II); come on, you "other" boys in red, white and blue

June 5, the media bus to Kashima Stadium, Ibaraki, 4 p.m.
Staggering. I make the bus even though I am one minute late. Why? I am wearing my lucky T-shirt.

It is navy blue and has an American football on the front, surrounded by "St.Patrick's Celtics" in green and yellow writing. On the back, in yellow, it says "My Son is ..." and then a big number "2." I don't have a son. I don't know who this T-shirt belonged to (I bought it for $3 at a vintage clothes store in New York's Little Italy, where I live). I don't know why it is so lucky. It just is.

It also explains why an actual member of the media has engaged me in conversation. I'm riding with a bunch of British photographers out to the crucial Ireland-Germany game, and the chap sitting next to me, Robin, and all his mates, could not be nicer.

As soon as the bus leaves, they all whip out their laptops and start working in "Photoshop" on the images they've been taking for the last four days. Despite all the dark rooms and wet areas at the media centers, 95 percent of the photographers at the World Cup are taking digital pictures with professional cameras that cost thousands and thousands of dollars. They will take hundreds of pictures before, after and during the game and send them all back to their agencies and papers right after.

Landon Donovan, Petit
Portugal just couldn't catch the speedy Yanks, as Petit shows against Team USA's Landon Donovan.
Robin works for a small agency just north of London that specializes in football photography. I ask him to tell me the most valuable football photo ever taken, and he immediately tells me the story of a small-time Mexican photographer who got a clean shot of Maradona's "Hand of God" goal at the Mexico World Cup in 1986. He sold it for $2,500 to one of the major agencies. They made hundreds of thousands of dollars out of it, selling it to publications all over the world. It was the only shot of one of the world's greatest players scoring one of the most controversial goals ever. "It was one in a billion," he says, but "lucky as hell." To get the money shot, a big goal, you have to be lucky enough to get assigned to the right end of the field and the right side of the goal with a clean view.

I show him my digital camera. He asks me if we have "Antiques Roadshow" in America.

The Media Center, Kashima Stadium, 5:55 p.m.
I have specifically come out here 2½ hours early to watch the U.S. game. I pick up the starting lineups from the pigeon holes and plant myself in front of a television at the end of the one of the rows and rows of journalist tables. I glance down at the team sheets. Portugal has rather optimistically selected four forwards. "This should be good," a British journalist sitting opposite me says. "I reckon Portugal will make the Yanks look like Saudi Arabia."

I'm not American, which is probably abundantly clear by now. I use the words "actually" and "reckon" and "trousers" far too often. But this comment pisses me off.

"You disrespecting my homies, mother$#@%&*!?" I don't say.

In front of same television, final score: USA 3, Portugal 2, 7:50 p.m.
The German team warms up on the field with fireworks going off above them.
I am surrounded by the most miserable collection of foreign sports journalists -- no wonder I haven't talked to any of them -- with an enormous smile on my face. No one, including me, can quite believe what we have just seen. Bruce Arena, the U.S. coach, can be a grumpy basket, but he deserves an enormous amount of credit for this. He employed an inexperienced, almost improvised lineup, but shut down Luis Figo & Co. by putting speed on the wings. The future of U.S. soccer, DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan (two of six U.S. starters from Major League Soccer) were sensational. The 20-year-olds caught the eye of many a jaded hack in the media center.

But if you ask me my man of the match, it has to be Jeff Agoos. In fact, "Goose" is my favorite player every match. Maybe it's the unfashionably long hair pulled back in that voluminous pony tail. Maybe it's that "ready for my wide shot" mug. Maybe it's that name. In one sensational span of a few minutes in the second half, Agoos "successfully" converted a left-footed free kick from 19 yards. Unfortunately, he thought he was playing American football -- the ball sailed a good 15 yards over the bar, straight through the uprights. Good! But he more than made up for it just moments later with that superbly timed right foot volley past the flailing, outstretched keeper. Unfortunately, that keeper was Brad Friedel.

I josh, of course, because I really do love the Goose. He's 14 years older than Beasley and Donovan and playing in his first World Cup. It will probably be his last. But he and his generation of players -- Alexi Lalas, Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri, John Harkes, Cobi Jones et al have set the table (and no doubt poured the juice and cut the ends off the sandwiches) for these youngsters. They have toiled for years for little money and less recognition.

Goose will tell his grandchildren about this day (all sitting there on his lap, with their long, crimply hair tied back neatly). He should forget about the own goal. Or tell them it was Eddie Pope.

The Media Tribune, Kashima Stadium, 10:20 p.m.
There was an amazing fireworks display before the game, but nothing like the explosion that rocked the Germans two minutes into injury time when Robbie Keane equalized for Ireland. The German support away to my left are in shock. "Hey, wait a minute, we're Germans ... this is what we do to other people, it's not supposed to happen to us" is written all over their faces.

Irish fans
A sea of green washes over the Irish end of the stadium.
Meanwhile, away to my right the 7,000 or so Irish fans are going crazy again. And what a performance. By them, frankly, more than their team. This is their victory, the fans. There will only be one Irish name on the score sheet, Robbie Keane. But you could add 7,000 others. Including Taki's, who wore his Ireland shirt with pride. They willed the goal to happen.

The media bus back to Yokohama, 1:02 a.m.
I take my seat at the back of the bus next to Robin and he shows me the screen of his laptop. He got a perfect shot of the goal, really beautiful. I show him my pictures of the fireworks and he's staggered -- "We couldn't see those! Look at these!" He shows the pictures to some of his mates, then hands the camera back to me. "I bet you could sell those back in the States," he says." It looks like the Fourth of bloody July."

For some fans of the other football, and some who aren't, it probably feels that way.

Back in my hotel room, 3:10 a.m.
I can't go to bed yet. This was one of my best days ever. Here are 11 reasons why:

1. Remembered to put on deodorant.

Irish players
Irish players salute their adoring fans.
2. Made the media bus to the stadium even though I was one minute late.

3. Was spoken to by another member of the press.

4. I felt just a little American for the first time in my life, pissed off as the foreign journalists all around me laughed at the U.S. team lineup before the game started against Portugal.

5. The look on their faces when John O'Brien scored. The German hack beside me told me it was "just what Portugal needed to get into the game."

6. The look on their faces when Landon Donovan skillfully ricocheted the ball off Jorge Costa's head, the goalkeeper's hand and the post for the second U.S. goal. The British hack told me it was "the luckiest goal" he's "ever seen" and to remember that Portugal had come from 2-0 down to beat England at Euro 2000.

7. The look on Taki's face when he arrived and I told him the score.

Taki, proud of his Ireland shirt and proud of his sportswatch.
8. McBride's glorious third U.S. goal from an inch-perfect cross from Tony Sanneh. The best I've ever seen the U.S. score.

9. Taki and I high-fiving each other at the final whistle. A Brit and a Japanese, the only U.S. fans in the entire press center, a sea of silence and confused looking faces all around us. Taki whoops. I can't do that yet, maybe never -- I didn't leave Britain until I was 23.

10. Robbie Keane's 92nd-minute goal for Ireland and what it must have felt like watching that for your friends and mine, the Germans.

11. Logging on to ESPN.com and seeing a men's soccer story (for once I'll use that word) as the main feature on the front page.

Tomorrow, I fly to Sapporo for England's crucial game against Argentina. But suddenly it doesn't seem so important. I wondered before how much interest I'd still have if England were eliminated. But I know now that I cheer just as loudly for the Japanese, the Irish and the Americans. And I still have not seen my beloved Italy. I say "my" because I've been there a couple of times on vacation.

I'm rambling. It's late. Good night.

Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He'll be filing five diary entries per week from the World Cup for Page 2.



Michael Davies Archive

Complete 2002 World Cup coverage

Davies Day 5: Turning Japanese

Davies Day 4: Satellite Stadium, take a bow

Davies Day 3: Where's the passion?

Davies Day 2: Ga-ga over the boys in green

Davies Day 0 and Day 1: The 'other' football

Take the World Cup quiz: No. 1

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