This past Sunday, I unexpectedly witnessed the greatest live sporting event of my life. Never in my 28-years of being a sports fan, have I reflected on a win or loss as much as I have regarding Robbie Rogers' late substitution, and first appearance as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
I have been fortunate enough to witness plenty of dramatic plays and finishes, legendary players and teams, but I've never been apart of a truly great sports moment until this past Sunday. I always wanted to witness an event such as Jordan's dagger in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals over Bryon Russell. Prior to Sunday, my most impressive "I was there" moment was the 2007 Fiesta Bowl when Boise State shocked Oklahoma.
On Sunday that changed, now I'll gladly brag to others that my greatest "I was there" sports fan moment happened on May 26, 2013, when the L.A. Galaxy defeated the Seattle Sounders 4-0 and Robbie Rogers became a hero.
Timing is everything, and this past weekend I happened to be in Southern California visiting my family thanks to Memorial Day Weekend. Normally on my visits to the area we try to work in some sort of sporting event, typically it's an Angels game this time of year. But on this occasion my Father had surprised me with tickets to an L.A. Galaxy game. After hearing the news, I didn't even check to see who their opponent was, all I cared about was the opportunity to spend time with my family at a sporting event.
As the weekend unfolded, we learned of the Robbie Rogers' story via local news and other various national media outlets, there was a chance for Rogers to make history on Sunday night pending a clearance. After Google'ing Rogers on a couple occasions, and learning about his return from retirement, I became highly interested and somewhat hopeful that perhaps we would see Rogers play. It was all that I could think about regarding the upcoming match, not the chance to see Landon Donovan, or Robbie Keane, but to see Rogers.
Sunday morning we woke up and mapped out the day, we would have to leave for Carson around 6:00 pm in order to eat and make it in comfortably on time. I checked out Twitter while sipping an espresso that morning, and read the news that Rogers was cleared to play, I relayed the news to my family members to which they responded with a casual acknowledgement. Nonetheless, it would be something to look forward to if the game became "boring" was the impression I got from them.
It was a beautiful evening, and traffic was surprisingly sparse on the way to the Home Depot Center. I've attended hundreds of professional sporting events and like clockwork, I undergo an extreme case of butterflies which results in abnormally sweaty palms until the game or match begins. This evening was no different.
Entering the stadium, fans wore popular player's jerseys, scarves, and other regalia while chatting and purchasing items from vendors. It was about as normal as a sporting event gets. Was I the only one who knew of the Robbie Rogers' story? Was I the only one who cared about the Robbie Rogers' story? Judging from the surrounding spectators it felt like this were the case.
The typical procession took place as both teams greeted the pitch holding hands with excited youngsters, while the chants and drum beats increased in volume. Starting lineups were announced, but there was nothing hinting at Rogers' signing or arrival. Again, maybe I made too much out of this story...why was I so invested in this happening?
The Galaxy scored four goals in the first half and dominated the Sounders in every regard, Robbie Keane notched a hat trick as Seattle seemed outclassed and outmatched. Confetti littered the field, horns sounded off, and flares burned brightly as the entire stadium enjoyed the romp. I leaned over and offered a friendly wager to my Dad that we would see Robbie Rogers at some point in the second half, it seemed like the perfect scenario had presented itself.
I kept my eyes heavily concentrated on the sideline as the game progressed in the second half, at that point it was all that I was concerned with seeing that the match was far out of reach for Seattle. A substitution took place as the star of the match Robbie Keane was cheered off the pitch, but it was Jose Villarreal who entered in his place. I remained confident that Rogers was going to see the pitch.
"Alright guys, we should think about heading out of here around the 80th minute, what do you think?" my Father said. "Um, sure that sounds fine." I responded. However, a large part of me was worried that I would miss out on Rogers' entering if we left. Still, I bluffed with my answer and convinced myself that it would be alright if we did in fact forego the remainder of the match.
Right as I took my final gulp of beer, I peered out over the pitch and saw what I thought to be Rogers receiving word that he was the next substitution. Once I saw Rogers' number 14 on the illuminated sign held by the official, I knew this was the moment I had been waiting for. But what exactly was I waiting for? How would the crowd of over 24,000 respond? What the hell should I do? Clap? Whistle?
In my mind I imagined a long and drawn out entrance as Rogers' entered the match showered in cheers. Maybe something similar to a curtain call in baseball. But much to my surprise, the response to Rogers' name being announced barely exceeded the previously substituted Villarreal's announcement. Yet, there I was standing and clapping as Rogers ran out under the lights. No high fives were exchanged, no "we love Robbie!" chants that I could hear were shouted, just a respectful applause as Rogers seemingly leaped over the largest life hurdle in his 26-years on this planet.
Watching someone live out their dream is one thing, but to watch a person who I didn't even know about entering the weekend, topple his greatest fear in a setting so familiar to him, but now with a sense of comfort and relief knowing that there is nothing to hide anymore, will always be my greatest "I was there" sports memory.
Thank you Robbie Rogers.