World Cup Memories: How the 1998 final in France launched Grant Wahl's Sports Illustrated career

There are just 18 days before the 2014 World Cup and soccer media all around North America are packing their bags and getting their vaccinations ahead of their trip to Brazil.

The first-timers will hope to have as memorable a tournament as long-time Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl did in 1998. It was an event which launched a long career in the sport as Wahl himself describes it:

My favorite personal World Cup moment happened on July 12, 1998, on the night France beat Brazil in the World Cup final. I was 24 and covering my first World Cup, and I had been Sports Illustrated’s No. 3 writer for most of the tournament. But the other two writers had gone home – one for a wedding, one after the US’s departure – and so SI’s editors decided to take a risk and let the young guy write the 2,500-word magazine story on the final on an overnight deadline.

But I made a big rookie mistake. Instead of bringing my laptop to the stadium with me (we didn’t really have a website then), I left it back at our apartment near the Bastille in Paris. Stupidly, I assumed favored Brazil would win the game and the streets would be relatively clear afterward. Whoops! France crushed the Brazilians 3-0, and afterward the millions of citizens celebrating in the streets brought comparisons to the response over the Liberation in World War II. I ended up sitting on a media shuttle bus that was stuck in gridlock. At around 2 am, realizing my time was running out, I got out and walked.

For the next three hours I walked through the streets of Paris: Down the Champs-Élysées, where more than a million fans filled the entire iconic avenue; next to the River Seine, where I stopped every so often and scribbled down article ideas in my notebook; and finally, at 5 am, into our apartment with my laptop. With adrenaline flowing at full blast, I cranked out 2,500 words, beating my 3 pm deadline by a few minutes. (Thank God for the time-zone difference.) In the end, my editors loved the story, which had scenes of the celebration I’d witnessed walking across the city, and I’ve been SI’s soccer writer ever since.


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