There's a famous line in John Ford's 1962 Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
After Jimmy Stewart's Ransom Stoddard has explained to a reporter the true story of his rise to fame, the reporter crumples up his notes and throws them into a fire.
“So you're not going to use the story?” Stoddard asks.
“When the legend becomes fact,” the reporter replies, “print the legend.”
Here's yet another example of how that may have happened in the global game. According to then-US men's national team head coach Steve Sampson, as well as several of players – including Frank Klopas and Eric Wynalda – the great Diego Maradona visited the US locker room after the team's the historic victory over Argentina. Precisely what Maradona told the players, and how he told it to them, remains nothing more than a hazy memory.
“[Maradona] came down after the game into our locker room and personally congratulated all of the players, and collectively told them that they deserved to win. and that they played a brand of football that was incredibly respectful,” Sampson recalls. “That meant a lot to the players. Those players, with their experience, are not easily impressed. But a player of Diego Maradona's history and experience and talent was awe-inspiring in the locker room after the game.”
However, current US U-20 men's national team coach Tab Ramos doesn't remember the incident with Maradona at all.
“Had I seen him, I would remember that,” Ramos says.
Other players on that team, like defenders Alexi Lalas and Gregg Berhalter, remember their encounters with the Argentine legend differently than Sampson, Klopas and Wynalda.
“I remember being in the bar upstairs at the stadium [in Paysandú] after the game, as there was just this parting of the seas as people started to move to the side, but not knowing what was happening because of [Maradona's] diminutive type of stature, and then just seeing him emerge from these people as they parted ways,” remembers Lalas. “That was special.”
In contrast, Berhalter remembers shaking Maradona's hand while watching an Argentina match from the tribune of Paysandú's Estadio Parque Artigas with some of his US teammates.
“Maradona walks in right down the row right next to us [and sits] in the row in front of us, and he turned around and shook hands with us and so we met him,” recalls Berhalter. “But the most amazing thing about it was within five minutes, the whole stadium was chanting his name, and the whole stadium is standing up and cheering, 'Maradona.' It was really an almost a surreal event to see that.”
Whatever the truth is – and perhaps all of these stories are equally true – Eric Wynalda's memory of his encounter with El Pibe de Oro is a fitting tribute to the team's monumental accomplishment at the 1995 Copa America, a feat unmatched by any US team since.
“He was crying,” Wynalda remembers of Maradona. “When asked why he was crying, he said, 'I'm not crying because Argentina lost. I'm crying to watch the Americans play such a beautiful style of football.' You can have all the memories in the world, but when the greatest player of all time says that, you don't know what to do except stand up and shake his hand. Nobody really said anything. It was very quiet after he said that. Very quiet.”