It was the most incredible of victories, a whipping of odds so large that the only question before the game was not whether the United States would lose, but how badly.
And then the minutes of the second half began to tick away and the fans began to realize that the impossible might actually happen--that the United States might win a World Cup soccer game for the first time since 1950.
Better still, euphorically still, that victory might come against the vaunted Colombians, one of the favorites to take it all. And then it happened, so sweetly, so joyously for the American fans who journeyed to the Rose Bowl on Wednesday afternoon. The last of the seconds peeled off the clock and the U.S. soccer team took its rightful place as having pulled off one of the great upsets in the history of the game.
And the crowd of 93,194 went wild, savoring the moment when, perhaps, U.S. soccer had come of age.
When the 2-1 game ended, hundreds of fans descended upon the field, throwing red, white and blue streamers, dancing beneath the scoreboard and chanting: "Ole! Ole! Ole! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!" After 30 minutes of celebration, security police began to usher out the ecstatic throngs.
Jeff David, a 21-year-old UCLA student wearing a red, white and blue top hat, was hopping up and down.
"I'm a total basketball fan, but this blows away the Knicks and the NBA. This was better than the U.S. at Lake Placid," he exclaimed, referring to the 1980 hockey victory over the Soviet Union. "I couldn't be any happier. I could die now."
Marlene Erskine, 52, went to Wednesday's game clutching four cloves of garlic for good luck. And the garlic must have worked.
"This was the thrill of a lifetime--it's unbelievable," she said.
Vinny Acona was simply stunned.
Acona, 23, his face painted red, white and blue, had not a clue that the United States would even come close. He had come to see the game more because he enjoys the sport, rather than believing that the U.S. was going to win. But then, as things began to turn in the American team's favor, he chanted "U.S.A! U.S.A!" And by the end of the game, he was beaming.
" '94 is the year of the underdog!" he proclaimed.
For their part, there was little for the Colombian fans to do but face the reality that the team, the pride of their nation, was all but out of the running for the World Cup.
"I don't know," said Juan Gomez, a Colombia native who lives in Atlanta. "The Colombians are not playing as well as they used to."
Carola Montenegro, a Colombian native who owns a Glendale glass and mirror shop, had come to the game with 15 relatives.
"This was a lousy game. Colombians had such enthusiasm that their team should win, but the players had such big heads, big egos--now look what we have," she said, throwing her hands in frustration. "I think they will kill these players when they return home."
The day for the Colombians was one that began on a bleak note and only got worse. A death threat against one of their players and his family was telephoned to the Marriott Hotel in Fullerton where the team was staying. The threat, directed against midfielder Gabriel Gomez and his family, caused team coach Francisco Maturana and his aides to pull Gomez from the game.
"It is very hard to say who is making these threats," Gomez told a Colombian television network. "I have no idea."
"They told me my family and their families have been threatened if I play," Gomez said.
A Colombian team spokesman said the threat was aimed at both Gomez and Maturana. "The caller said that if Maturana played Gomez, both he and Gomez would suffer the consequences, and their families in Colombia would be in grave danger," said the spokesman, Antonio Correa.
The somberness of the tone carried to the soccer field as the U.S. team, playing well above its expected level, took the lead and kept it. Once ahead, the chants from the U.S. fans only got louder as the game went on and it became apparent that it would take a miracle for the Colombians to get back into it.
As though to irk the Colombian fans in the aftermath of the game, U.S. fans donned blue wigs in a victory dance, a parody on the Colombians who had worn yellow wigs to look like the wild-haired, popular Colombia player, Carlos Valderrama.
Kevin Benham, a 29-year-old Denver computer programmer wearing a startlingly blue wig, predicted that Wednesday's victory would launch the sport's popularity in a nation dominated by baseball, basketball and football.
"This was everything America needed--it's the start of an avalanche for soccer," Benham said. "Soccer is going to happen in America now."
A contingent of about 50 people flew in from Kearny, N.J., to see three players from their region--John Harkes, Tony Meola and Tab Ramos. Tom McKeown, 27, of Kearny banged a snare drum and led chants throughout the contest.
"We flew across from the East Coast to the West Coast to see these boys," he said. "We're going to win the World Cup."
In Pasadena's Old Town, jubilant fans paraded through the streets and motorists honked their horns in postgame celebrations. And from the "35er Bar" came the chant, "U.S.A., U.S.A."
Times staff writers John Hurst, J. Michael Kennedy and Vicki Torres contributed to this story.