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WORLD CUP USA '94 / MEMORIES : JOHN CHERWA : Reluctant at First to Embrace Game, in the End We Couldn't Get Enough

July 18, 1994|JOHN CHERWA | John Cherwa is the Times deputy sports editor. He coordinated The Times coverage of the tournament

It's very difficult to determine the ingredients that can turn a big event into an unqualified success. It's often easier to figure out at what point the event has made it.

From the perspective of the people who were responsible for the planning, prose, pictures and production of The Times coverage of this World Cup, that moment is very clear.

It involves Steve Horn, whose creative headlines have been a signature for this sports section for several years. Steve is a meat and potatoes kind of editor. Baseball, football, basketball, golf, and maybe, on a slow day, hockey. He tolerates the other sports. On June 16, soccer was one of those sports.

Eight days later, Steve was angry, very unlike him.

"I can't believe it," he said with bite. "Tomorrow, no one has the Saudi Arabia-Morocco game on live. Not Univision. Not ESPN. I can't believe it."

He wasn't kidding.

It was at that point it became clear that this monthlong soccer tournament had made it with the mainstream.

These pages are filled with the memories and impressions of writers who saw the games in person. This story is the perspective of one who never saw a minute in person, but like most of you, experienced the passion and drama of World Cup '94 through television and talking to people who were there.

Most will remember this tournament for two events, each diametrically opposed in the emotion it evoked but connected through the cruelest of fates.

The U.S. victory over Colombia was astonishing, and even the most cynical observers couldn't help but get caught up in the jingoistic fervor. It was as if the tournament was giving America a taste of what the rest of the world experiences when it comes to soccer. Much of the passion that would normally be there for a seventh game of an NBA final wasn't there that day. There was something else, something special that was happening.

The feeling flattened when the United States lost to Romania, 1-0, in a game that was a reflection of all the things that are wrong with soccer.

Then came Saturday, July 2, the day that sports lost all perspective.

Andres Escobar, the Colombian player whose gaffe against the United States cost his team the game, was dead. He was killed by men who lost a considerable amount of money betting on the game. As each bullet crashed into his body, the killers yelled, "Goal, goal."

There are some things about life that can't be explained.

Life changed a lot during the past month. The daily trip to the Redwood restaurant for lunch continued only because the owner took the keno games off the television so we could watch the soccer games. Actually, he would have done that anyway because we weren't the only ones asking.

And then there was Univision. As the tournament progressed, Univision was the only acceptable television option when watching the World Cup. Andres Cantor, on the strength of his "goal" calls, became a cult hero. Whenever a goal was scored, television sets in the newsroom of The Times were turned up until the resounding call would echo off the walls.

Some of his calls were recorded and placed in the sound program of the main sports layout terminal, so whenever a soccer fix was needed it could be taken care of with two clicks on the mouse.

The names Romario, Baggio and Klinsmann were heard more often than Piazza, Hershiser and Langston. Suddenly, the sports department was filled with a group of soccer experts. Surprising when you consider most working on this project got their first real exposure to the sport six weeks ago when Sigi Schmid, a U.S. assistant coach, gave a talk to the sports staff that made the sport much more understandable.

One editor stumbled onto a football conversation about the Chicago Bears camp but misunderstood the words and started talking about the relative strengths and weaknesses of Netherlands striker Dennis Bergkamp. As always, football was abandoned and soccer became the topic.

Some of the readers of The Times are glad the World Cup is over. They want their sports section turned back to the sports they are used to. Undoubtedly, if you've read this far, to the last part of the last page of the last special report, you are not one of them.

Newspapers are not supposed to talk about their people. It's in bad taste. And besides, who really cares? But, one month, millions of words and nine special reports later, we ask for your indulgence. A few names need to appear.

Times sports editor Bill Dwyre built an excellent infrastructure from which to start. And special mention has to go to Dave Morgan, whose brilliant layout designs are exceeded only by his capacity for work. Others who have been the foundation to this project are, in no particular order, Mike James, Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, Van Nightingale, Jim Rhode, Jim Hodges, Rod Millie, Dave Moylan, Dave Montesino and Fred Sweets. There's also the aforementioned Steve Horn, who's already looking forward to France '98.

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