Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A picture for framing

I apologize in advance, but this is going to be a very, very personal post. It's not news worthy, relevant to the current soccer world, nor very opinionated. In fact, I suspect you may be better off going back to the TV or the game of solitaire you were busy with before you stumbled upon this post.

Anyway, I received an especially meaningful item in the mail today. Last week, I purchased a black and white 8 x 10 photo of the 1962 Champions League Cup winning Benfica squad on - you guessed it - eBay. Well, it arrived on my doorstep this afternoon.

This photo is of particular interest to me because my late maternal grandfather, my vovô ("grandfather" in Portuguese), was a tremendous Benfica supporter. Although I cannot specifically recall any particular instance in which my vovô specifically mentioned the '62 side, I can bet it was one that surely filled him with a great deal of joy. So, when I first saw this photo on eBay, well, I just had to have it.

The first recognizable face is obviously that of Eusebio, the all-world Portuguese striker who starred at Benfica during its Golden Age. The others aren't as recognizable, like José Augusto Torres, Mario João, Domiciano Cavém and Mário Coluna. Along the touchline, manager Otto Glória would go on to establish himself as one the greatest coaches of his time. And I can imagine them all: players gliding along the pitch, attacking fluidly, and just intimidating the heck out of any given opponent, and Gloria urging his players forward.

When I look at this photo, I think of my vovô, who lived just long enough to see his grandson become a fellow Benfica fan as well. For I can remember the grainy television images of Benfica matches from the many times he and my grandmother watched my brother and I at their cozy East Side apartment back in the late-80s and early-90s. Although I couldn't understand a thing the announcer was talking about (it was on Radio Television Portugal, and I, shamefully, still have not yet learned the language), I tried to understand, both the language and the game.

I also try to imagine what Vovô thought about that particular team. He was a 36 year old businessman at the time, living in Lisboa with his wife and four children. He had visited the United States in 1961 - the same year Benfica clinched the first of its two European championships - and was contemplating moving his family there. Truly, more pressing matters were on his mind. But I'm almost positive that as Águias were more than just a passing thought at that time.

I never got to ask him a whole lot about Benfica. I'm sure if I had, there would have been many, many hours of stories and memories. My vovô always loved to talk with me. Family, politics and education were our three favorite topics.

I guess what I'm trying to get at (perhaps unsuccessfully) is that when I look at this photo, I can see my vovô in Lisboa, 1962. I can imagine him, quite vividly, at the old Estadio da Luz, watching his favorite club playing some of the best football in the entire world. He's in usual handsome business attire -a dark, sharply-taylored European suit - his bright blue eyes behind his black-rimmed glasses. He's nursing a small cup of espresso, and chatting away with a friend about the splendid football in front of them.

Nearly fifty years later, through this photo, I can almost hear him, in his thick, but wonderfully familiar Portuguese accent, telling me, 'ohhhhh, they were fantastic!'

It is more than just a snapshot of a great football team. When I look at it, and gently run my fingers across its glossy finish, a rush of warm memories flood my mind. I try to keep the tears at bay. I cannot help it. My vovô is still with me.

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