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Sunday, September 27, 2009

My Chance Meeting with Juventus FC

I took this picture at RFK Stadium just
before the game began. In the center were
Stefano Tacconi, Gaetano Scirea and
Antonio Cabrini
. Walking on the left were
Sergio Brio, Michel Platini and Paolo Rossi.

In August 1983, Juventus was playing a friendly against Team America, who were the US National Team based in Washington, D.C. Various Italian-American organizations were holding receptions for Juventus. I didn’t feel too comfortable to attend those. But one caught my attention. Vice President George H.W. Bush, a fan of football, and friend of Giovanni Agnelli, the patron of Juventus, invited the team to meet him at his office. Back then, the VP’s office was in the Old Executive Office Building directly next to the White House. So, being young and curious, and a life-long supporter of Juventus, I showed up there one late afternoon. Not really anticipating much, or expecting to be whisked away by security.

No Security Or Media

But there was no security to be seen. Nor any media. An African chauffeur for one of the Italian diplomats was killing some time, and approached me. We spoke in Italian. He thought I was media covering the event, which made me laugh. He wanted to know why Juventus was such a big deal to meet Vice President Bush? Since he spoke Italian, and worked for a diplomat, I was surprised that he didn’t know who they were. So I gave him some of the history, and told him this was one of the best club teams in the world. A few minutes later, a bus arrived and parked at the corner of 17th Street. Giovanni Trapattoni, who was the coach, yelled out from the door, “Goordoon. Goordoon…” To Gordon Bradley, the former coach of the New York Cosmos, who was coordinating their stay in DC. Mr. Bradley appeared, looked me over, and smiled.

Descending the Bus: Several 1982 World Cup Heroes

The bus pulled up in front of the building. One by one they descended. Mister Trapattoni, Zibi Boniek, Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi, Gaetano Scirea (who later died tragically on a scouting trip to Poland), Marco Tardelli, Antonio Cabrini, Claudio Gentile, Sergio Brio, Domenico Penzo, and Stefano Tacconi, the heir to legendary keeper, Dino Zoff. They were all wearing Juventus blazers, except for Michel Platini. He was dressed in an elegant green chartreuse suit.

Sergio Brio, a big tall defender, walked by me, and I said, “Forza Juve.” He laughed, smiled, and gave me a wink and a thumb’s up. They brought a signed ball to give to Mr. Bush. If I wanted, I could have walked in right behind them. The chauffeur kept encouraging me with, “Dai Dai which meant “Go for it.” But I had no credentials, was young, and felt that I had seen enough already by luck or happenstance.

Mistaken for a Juventus Representative

A few minutes later, I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, and a big husky American guy came running towards me. I recognized him. It was Jeff Durgan, a former Cosmos defender and the captain of Team America. He seemed lost and frantic. So I asked him if he was there to meet Mr. Bush and Juventus?

“Are you with Juventus? I don’t know where to go, and I have to be there.”

I said no, but showed him the entrance. As we walked, he told me how excited he was to play against this team. I told him that I attended most of his games, and that the Italians would like his defensive style. He laughed. A few days later, they tied, 1 to 1. Mister Trapattoni played his starters for the first half (when Rossi was replaced the crowd whistled but Platini played the entire game), but Team America rose to the occasion and played one of their better games. Chico Borja scored for Team America and Domenico Penzo equalized for Juve. But the real star was Platini. He dazzled the crowd with several slalom-like runs.

Highlights of Juventus in that Era

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