all creatures great and small

I watched the Mexico/USA World Cup match the other day, and as Cuauhtémoc Blanco put the game away for Mexico with a penalty kick I was reminded of something.

Last summer I was at BMO Field in Toronto to see Toronto FC play Chicago. Blanco was playing for Chicago at the time, and my seats were very close to field level behind the Chicago bench. During the warmup (I always go early - a vestigal compulsion from life on the road, I guess) I noticed a small child who was also paying close attention to the warmup, but from a much better vantage point. He was standing right on the edge of the field.

As it turned out, he was one of the kids who would carry the flags out onto the pitch at the beginning of the game, but for now his attention was entirely taken up by Cuauhtémoc Blanco - Chicago's star player, the Grand Old Man of Mexican football and a huge celebrity in his home country. At 37 years old he's among the oldest players ever to appear in a World Cup tournament - soccer is, more than any other, a young man's game.

Blanco wasn't terribly busy in the warmup. At his age you save yourself for the game. A bit of stretching and a few tap-arounds was about all he did. And he happened to notice this little kid staring at him.

So he called to him, and motioned him out onto the field. He didn't move at first, so Blanco called to him again. The little kid, who I expect could barely believe what was happening, tentatively walked out onto the field. Blanco met him halfway, took a knee beside him and began a conversation.

After a moment Blanco stood up and hollered at the nearest of many photographers hanging around the field to take their picture together. Blanco got down on one knee again and put his arm around the boy, continuing to chat with him while the photographer snapped away. Then he signed the boy's shirt, ruffled his hair and said good bye.

So as Cuauhtémoc Blanco plays in his final World Cup in South Africa with the entire world watching, I see a man who in a spontaneous, honest and uncontrived moment of thoughtfulness gave a little boy a huge thrill, and a grown man a lump in his throat.

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