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WORLD CUP USA '94 / MEMORIES : LISA DILLMAN : All's Fair in Love, War and the Cup

July 18, 1994|LISA DILLMAN | Lisa Dillman covers the Kings for The Times. She covered nine games in two cities during the tournament

There was a small opening under the chain-link fence. We looked at each other, considering the positive and negative ramifications of such a move.

"Let's go," Mike said.

Without another look at the barbed wire, I slid under the fence first. Fine, no problem, the guard dogs were at bay.

Mike was on his belly. I looked for the glint of guns as he crawled under the fence. Seconds later, we were on the other side and had flirted with breaking international law in the name of journalism. No one had seen us and it had never happened.

Covering the revolution?

No, we were covering the World Cup.

Actually, in some countries it is the same thing.

At that point, we probably didn't know we were obsessed with the World Cup. The fence was only another one of those ever-present Rose Bowl barriers, a decent imitation of a high-security correctional facility. (Frankly, Lompoc is probably easier to vacate than the mixed zone, where reporters interview players and coaches.)

That's what the World Cup did to our household in less than a month. At first it dawned as a minor diversion from having watched poorly played hockey (the Kings) and an escape from a bumbling baseball franchise (the Angels).

Then the spinning soccer ball ended up acting as a hypnotic force. Somewhere that first weekend of World Cup, between Hagi and Henrik, soccer became the only sport that mattered.

Hagi's brilliance in the first World Cup game at the Rose Bowl set the tone for surprises as he led Romania to a startling 3-1 upset over Colombia. There was his beguiling game-winner, a 35-yard shot that soared through the air and dipped over goalkeeper Oscar Cordoba into the upper right corner of the net.

It was Hagi Night Fever in Pasadena.

Then a day later there was a jubilant Swede Henrik Larsson, who came off the bench late in the game and helped set up the tying goal against Cameroon. Larsson patiently waded through a series of interviews. He spoke to Swedish radio reporters, television reporters and print journalists.

Finally, there was a sign of light near the front of the pack. No Swedish translator was in sight as I edged near the barrier separating the press from the players.

I asked Larsson if he spoke English.

"No," he said, shaking his head.

Just when I was wondering if my editors were going to send me to the writers' wing of the group of death, Larsson started laughing.

"Yes, I do," he said, proceeding to answer all questions.

A little Swedish humor. The kid was having some fun. Which is what all the Swedes seemed to do on their way to the semifinals. They came out to speak, win or lose. The players stood patiently, and no one ever heard two of the most-uttered phrases we're used to hearing from athletes.

"Anything else?"

"What kind of a question is that?"

The Swedes may have complained quite a bit about the heat and the officiating, but they were always available and always quotable. Goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli even mocked himself at times.

This was the beginning of the World Cup spell. Friends wondered who was Bebeto and why we were saying he was better than Romario. Then they started to complain things had changed. They didn't understand why we spent extra hours driving up to Westwood or Hollywood to find European soccer publications.

Why were we drinking a pint of Guinness after Ireland won and a pitcher of sangria after Spanish victories?

My brother wondered whether we had moved.

We listened to the Spanish broadcast of the Sweden-Brazil game on the radio en route to the Mighty Ducks headquarters at The Pond of Anaheim the day of the NHL's entry draft. Some wondered why the Mighty Ducks didn't select Radek Bonk, we wondered whether Rai deserved to be benched.

The Kings were supposed to be lucky that Jamie Storr was still available. But what about Claudio Caniggia's availability against Romania?

Then it started to get weird.

Bebeto, Romario and Mazinho pretended to "rock the baby" after Bebeto scored against the Netherlands in honor of Bebeto's newborn son. This victory dance became popular.

I told my mother I planned to rock the baby after the World Cup ended.

What?

No, that was a surprise for another day.

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