It took just 29 seconds to erase almost 48 hours of terrible traveling.
When Clint Dempsey slashed through the Ghanaian defense and buried that ball in the back of the net the stress, the madness, the lack of sleep… it was all worth it. We made it to the World Cup.
Just two hours earlier our personal 767 landed on the tarmac in Natal. The charter company, after several false starts, finally made amends. We were picked up in Georgetown, Guyana, and after a heartfelt apology from the captain on behalf of the company, we settled into the first-class seats.
Just "the AO 14," as we called ourselves, on a plane designed to carry over 200. Weird.
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We landed in Natal and sprinted through immigration and customs, opened specifically for us as we were the only international flight landing that day. Obviously the rest of the American (and Ghanaian) fans had already arrived comfortably early for the day’s game.
We piled into a small bus and took off for Arena das Dunas. Less than three hours to go before the match.
Traffic was awful, so we were biting our nails the whole way. Several times we asked the driver if we should get out and run. How far is it? Our driver insisted he continue with us, but when he got us as far as he thought possible, we all jumped out and began rushing toward the stadium. As we got closer, we noticed that we were not alone. More and more people were joining us on our walk – fans from everywhere -- like a snowball rolling down a hill.
Then the stadium emerged. For the better part of the last 24 hours, it had been unknown as to whether or not we would be at the game. So I admit: I teared up.
First stop after getting our tickets scanned and entering the stadium? A nice, cold beer of course. We barely had a moment to drink in the moment (or drink our beer) when Dempsey scored.
Pandemonium. More tears. Lots of hugs. My wife, Anah, Landon (my best friend since high school), and I in euphoric embrace.
The next 80 minutes were sheer terror as the US team held on to that tentative lead. When André Ayew scored Ghana’s equalizer it was a gut punch. How could this happen? We had come so far? We had endured so much? How could Ayew do this? To us?
And when Graham Zusi lines up for that corner in the 86th minute, I closed my eyes and whispered to myself (I swear I did), “I know we, the team, don’t deserve to win, but I think WE deserve this win.”
John Brooks plowed that ball into the goal and I lost it. I just lost it. This was what it was all for. This made up for all the rebooked flights, the airport waiting lounges, Guyanese customs hall, the taxi ride from the airport, sweating through my Waldo hat. This was everything.
I don’t even remember hearing the final whistle.