By Maxi Rodriguez, writing from Los Angeles
It’s a cliché, especially in the sports world, to describe a certain “electricity in the air” surrounding a sporting event. Used to describe everything ranging from the enthusiasm that precedes a Vegas title fight, to the excitement that surrounds certain sports memorabilia conventions (I know, I don’t understand it either.), the idiom is a crutch for the generic sportswriter in the face of stifling deadlines. And yet, after deliberating for hours since the confirmation of David Beckham’s departure from the Los Angeles Galaxy, I’ve yet to come up with a more appropriate way to describe the collective current that passed through the Home Depot Center each time David Beckham touched the ball.
Straddling the border between suburban banality and industrial mire, the Home Depot Center was an odd place to find such a cosmopolitan figure. His time with the Galaxy was similarly at odds, riddled with flaws from the outset. In the early years, intrusive journalists and fragile egos resulted in less than adequate performances for the man charged with spreading the gospel of football to an unwilling nation. Even when the team had developed a certain harmony and success seemed assured, weak knees and a weaker back gave way to the occasionally listless performance.
Even this season, as the team pulled together after a difficult start and Beckham labored through the summer circuit with an atypical dedication, justifiable concerns over his relative contribution to the team mounted. The struggles should have diminished the aura that surrounded him, but even during the most difficult stretches, the indignation and the disgruntled editorials were always overwhelmed by a persistent sense of anticipation amongst the assembled crowd at the Home Depot Center.
The stadium seemed to move each time the ball fell to his feet, as if the collective roar had shifted the stadium down a fault line. With each touch of the ball, the crowd lurched forward, craning their necks in an absurd attempt to gain a clearer view of the pitch. With each corner, a similar reaction, as previously defiant fans stood in unison as Beckham perched himself near the corner flag. And the free kicks? Eerie. All the noise throughout the stadium extinguished in a a few moments, replaced with an anticipatory silence that brought goose pimples to even the most cynical fans.
As a crowd, we were chasing shadows, to be completely honest. Refusing to acknowledge the reality taking place on the pitch, we let the grainy Youtube compilations and marketing campaigns color our perspective. The crowd’s David Beckham was never the David Beckham contracted to the Galaxy, but rather, the 24-year old holding the Champions’ League trophy in Barcelona.
It was unfair to expect so much of a player who was more of a pop culture icon than an actual footballer. He had to have heard the cheers that followed each step he took, from the cheap seats behind goal mouth that perpetually smell of sour beer, to the suites, where executives only turned towards the pitch when the cheers of the crowd made networking wearisome. Somehow, despite the constant struggles, he managed to give us more than we deserved. Or exactly what we deserved, I’m not sure.
Each touch was beautiful, each corner sublime, each free kick nearly there. Each action an imitation of his past, as if we were simply replaying a dusty video tape. Or at least that’s what I felt sitting with the crowd. Our emotions may have been exaggerated by some mass hysteria, but the emotions were real, experienced.
Pablo Neruda once said that, “Someday, somewhere - anywhere, unfailingly, you’ll find yourself, and that, and only that, can be the happiest or bitterest hour of your life.” If Beckham found himself in the pitted grass that makes up the Home Depot Center pitch, I hope that it was a fulfilling moment, befitting of a man who gave the rest of us so much. And if he’s still searching for himself, still drawn to the allure of another adventure, at least there remains one more opportunity to provide the requiem he so deserves. I feel honored to have watched him in person, and even more so to have one more opportunity.
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