Gameday: Argentines lining up on Copacabana 6 hours before the match  (Josh Green/MUIPR)

Gameday: Argentines lining up on Copacabana 6 hours before the match (Josh Green/MUIPR)

I had no idea that my World Cup journey, which began by cheering alongside the Argentines at my favorite futbol hideaway in NYC (which features a literal shrine to Maradona) on the first Sunday of the tournament, would end with me marching alongside those same fans into Maracana, the most sacred of all futbol ground, on the final Sunday. But you know what they say: when life gives you limes, you make a caiparinha.

So, it happened, and my head and heart are still pounding. My visa secured on Wednesday, I flew down to Rio on Thursday. Upon arrival, I was half-expecting (and really, really hoping) to be greeted by a troupe of headdress-toting samba dancers. Instead, I was welcomed by that other tropical tradition: one heck of a rainstorm. It was at that point I realized that not everything is perfect all the time in Brazil. This was a soul-crushing life lesson. #WorldCupProblems.

 

Buenos Aires Beach Invasion

Sure enough, the rain clouds lifted Friday afternoon, and the sky featured alternating streaks of blue and white, clearly an homage to the Argentine jersey colors. I can’t say with certainty that the Argentines controlled the Brazilian sky, but they did stake their claim to every single piece of terrestrial real estate in Rio. Considering Los Portenos’ tailgate menu items of choice include steak, malbec and yerba mate tea, this was not necessarily a bad thing. I also should point out that I have no rational nor emotional reason for supporting Argentina futbol, but they are like the crazy uncle of the sport. You never quite know what they’re going to say or do. Plus, Argentines are the New Yorkers of South America: aggressive, pushy, loud, prone to indulgence. What’s not to love?

 

The Legend (Josh Green/MUIPR)

The Legend (Josh Green/MUIPR)

But enough about the Buenos Aires beach invasion. Thankfully, I peeled myself away from Copacabana, allowing me to experience the following for the remainder of the weekend: a private audience with Pele, a surprise encounter with Mariano Rivera, a spontaneous samba celebration with Wyclef and a heaping pre-game meal of feijoada. The biggest thrill, however, was finally understanding what futbol really means to the Brazilian people, and embracing the unbridled joy and enthusiasm emanating from the beach to the bars.

I have been extremely fortunate to attend approximately 10 Super Bowls, an event that for all its glory, never really feels like a spontaneous, continuous celebration for the fans in attendance. The corporate overlordship is hard to ignore. It is true that FIFA has done everything in its power to ruin its own game, but the World Cup undoubtedly belongs to the fans, which I found to be undeniably refreshing. Every interaction in Rio was festive and friendly, blissfully devoid of the edginess that creeps into any large sports gathering in the United States.

 

The energy inside Maracana, moreover, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced in sports, an unrelenting cacophony of chants that somehow felt soothing. Attending my first Super Bowl, where I witnessed my Patriots shock the world and defeat the mighty Rams, remains the most memorable and emotionally-charged moment of my sports life. Removing that emotional investment from the equation, though, I could appreciate that the World Cup is infinitely bigger than the Super Bowl. Pride in team is a powerful thing. Pride in team and country together can be transcendent.

 

All-night Rio block party (Josh Green/MUIPR)

All-night Rio block party (Josh Green/MUIPR)

Here’s what else I learned during those precious few hours of full lucidity in Rio:
• There are many levels of celebrity in this world. The “Pele in Brazil” level is off the charts. There may be no bigger legend in the world. Even Rihanna agrees. Allegedly, upon meeting him last week, she blurted, “This is some bucket list s***!” Stay classy.
• Pretty much everyone hates the Argentines, but the Brazilians really hate them. Mentioning Argentina is the only way to make a Carioca stop smiling. I saw 70 year old women genuinely weeping for joy once Germany officially vanquished la Albiceleste. I guess you could call it a case of Schweinsteiger schaudenfreude.
• If you want a good seat at an outdoor viewing party on the beach, you better get there early. In truth, it’s standing room only, but that didn’t stop thousands of Brazilians from lining Copacabana to watch their team in Saturday’s Third Place match. Same goes for the Argentines, who were already queued up 6 hours before match time on Sunday.
• The Germans are pointing and laughing at all of us. Throughout the weekend, the ratio of Argentines to Germans on the beach was roughly 15-to-1. Inside Maracana, however, it felt raucously pro-Deutschland for a good portion of the game. That’s when I realized the Germans have no time or patience for our silly pre-game frivolity. While the Argentines were sleeping in their cars, the Germans were secluded at the nicest hotels, acting respectfully and orderly, and then finally unleashing their emotions during the match. And then going back to laughing at all of us.
• There may be no greater thrill in sports than watching Messi in person. It is impossible not to notice that he operates at a different speed and in a different stratosphere than everyone else on the field. Dominance on all levels.
• Did I mention that Rio kind of knows how to throw a party?
• Speaking of parties, I suggest that you invite a bunch of Colombians to your next bash. I’m starting to believe they are poised to take over the most-awesome-people-in-the-world title from Brazil.
• What if Jozy Altidore were healthy? Was the U.S. really that far behind everyone other than Germany? I’m just saying.

 

With the World Cup and my Rio romp just concluded, it’s tough not to feel a little deflated. We’ll have to wait another four years to see if Russia can capture its own World Cup magic. Then again, Rio does host the Summer Olympics in 2016. And as I just learned, it’s never too early to begin lining up for your spot on the beach. Sounds like another tough assignment.

 

What is your most memorable World Cup moment? Let me know here, or find me on Twitter @endbadly