World Cup Wonders

Three Goosebump Moments in Six Paragraphs, 1978–2010


Start in Argentina 1978 and the ticker tape Finals. Scotland was favored in the 16-nation tournament. Before the trip to the southern hemisphere, the coach, Ally McLeod, appeared in a Scottish TV ad selling carpets. Were they of the magic variety? Holes quickly appeared in Scotland’s threadbare defense. A loss to Peru, a tie with Iran, and the final first round game loomed against Holland. To advance, the Scots needed to win by three goals against the total football machine.

Pin the goosebumps on a short, bald dude named Archie Gemmill. (Is anyone called Archie these days?) Gemmill’s industry in midfield smoked like a factory, the wee man’s legs pumping pistons, his balance lightly marveled. The Dutch defensive dyke breached as he carved a World Cup goal of such impeccable quality that cigarettes fell from the mouths of Argentines watching in the stands, glad to have taken the day off work to witness a great World Cup moment. Gemmill’s goal gave Scotland a 3–1 lead. One more and McLeod’s carpet would fly. But Holland scored. Scotland flew home to a reception usually reserved for the English: cold blooded resentment. Gemmill was spared, his sublime weave preserved in the museum of memory. McLeod was thrown in the trash.


Another wee man, we know him as Diego. World Cup 1986 in Mexico and England sacrificed by Argentina’s God. Diego’s palm a stigmata for cheats. In the quarterfinal, he dunked the ball over the English goalie into the net. Many cheered his handy crime. Fairness wept. Only a moment of goosebump ascension could redress the cosmic balance. Diego destined to deliver.

The ball at his feet this time, he painted a work of art through England’s defense, splashing the green with riotous dribble. English players prostrate on the field, looking up helpless as the Argentine icon scored the greatest goal in creation. The Pope fell off his seat in Rome. Maradona made a saint.


Landon Donovan and the spotlight on America. Like a gazelle covering ground in leaps and bounds, Algeria’s goal up ahead. Time melting away in a must win game at the South Africa World Cup in 2010. Landon cut the ball to Altidore, he cut to Dempsey, Dempsey reeled, the ball returned to Donovan to finish the script. Bang! The winner!

Landon surfed across the grass riding the wave of ecstasy, buried under a pyramid of teammates. Back in America, goosebumps exploded from sea to shining sea.

Rising from barstools, asses elevated with joy; hugs and mugs kissed; USA! cheers heard across the land. Hope preserved, promise returned, America alive. The party ran for hours before the hairs on the arms rested again.