"SANTANA! ... SANTANA! ... SANTANA!"
Tears were streaming down my red face as I screamed the last name of my new hero at the top of my lungs. I collapsed onto my coach, a heaving pile of emotion pondering over a single question: how in the world did I end up here?
I have always been a bit of a sports nut. As a kid, I had entire depth charts of NFL teams memorized. Were you curious who the backup fullback was for the Jacksonville Jaguars was? Of course not! But, I could tell you. American Football is my first and greatest love. The magic of the gridiron pulled me towards the sports world in general. No matter how much the Chiefs and Royals tried to warn me away, I fell in love with KC sports.
Soccer was nowhere to be found in my sporting world until the 2010 World Cup. I had glanced at a couple of the games from the 2006 World Cup, but I honestly can't recall anything from those games. 2010 was my first real venture into the sport. It was that emotional injury time winner from Donovan against Algeria that left a seed of the beautiful game in my heart.
It took about 5 months for that seed to really begin to blossom. College football was winding down and I needed something to fill my Saturdays. I thought to myself, "I loved that crazy World Cup. Why don't I watch some more of this soccer stuff?" And, boy, did I watch.
It came as a bit of a blur at first. I can be an incredibly obsessive person when it comes to my hobbies. I wasn't going to be content with just catching the weekly EPL match and knowing about the Big 4 in England. I needed to know if Rotherham United was going to be promoted this year into League One. I needed to know who the next Croatian superstar was to come out of Dinamo Zagreb. Most importantly, I needed to know everything that I needed to know about my home league, MLS, but it was out of season, so I had to look elsewhere.
After soaking up all the EPL that I could muster, I knew I needed to venture into some other leagues around the world. Enter the Bundesliga. It seemed the logical choice. The German national team was one of my favorite to watch at the World Cup and Muller and Klose were the only names I knew before venturing into the world of soccer on my own. Heck, my family even has German heritage. Why not try and tap into that a bit? It helped that ESPN3 were streaming a couple matches every week. Without that, I might not have gotten to where I am now.
The first two things I learned about the Bundesliga were this:
1. Muller and Klose played for Bayern Munich.
2. Don't become a fan of Bayern Munich. In fact, you should probably hate them.
I nodded approvingly and accepted that Bayern were not to become my team. After watching a couple of their matches and reading plenty about them, I was glad I didn't. The whole ethos of the team just was not appealing.
One of my first memories of watching the Bundesliga involves a lot of confused questions. Who puts a goat on their team logo? Are Cologne and Köln supposed to be the same place? Why do we have different names for the city? Why is that coach running around like a madman in his tracksuit? Why do I love watching this team so much?
The commentator said that there had been a feisty international match prior to this club match. Turkey had played Germany and Lukas Podolski, who played for this goat team, had gotten into a bit of a scrap with Nuri Şahin, who played for this yellow and black team. Şahin's team just seemed to ooze controlled chaos and passion, and all of it seemed to unconsciously tug at my heart.
When this Podolski fellow scored late in the game to tie it up, I felt a bit crushed. Again: more questions. Why did I care? It's a soccer game on the other side of the world. I've never cared about soccer here, much less in Eur---then, suddenly, Şahin scored a winner.
He sprinted away with joy, aiming at a single person. As he hit the midfield line he slid on his knees in front of Podolski, wagging a single finger. Suddenly, the goalkeeper was up there with him, screaming and yelling in defense of his teammate.
And, I found myself doing the same.
I soon discovered that this was Borussia Dortmund. BVB. Ballspielverien Borussia. Champions League winners in 1997. Die Schwarzgelb. I soaked up all the information that I could about the team. The history is rich; the players are legendary; the club is important. More than all of that, the fans are incredible.
I tuned in the next week to see the massive Yellow Wall in action. As Antônio da Silva scored a free kick equalizer in stoppage time right in front of the heaving mass of humanity, everything went crazy. I couldn't believe the insanity that was going on around the field. The seed that Şahin had planted with his goal against Cologne was being watered by da Silva and the glorious Südtribüne.
The sprinkling became a downpour as I began to connect with more Dortmund fans around the world, mainly through Twitter. The love and passion that they showed for this club was intoxicating and it pulled me in. As I got pulled closer, they welcomed me with open arms. No snobby complaints about Americans who knew nothing about the game; no disdain about a new fan finding his first love. It was welcoming and passionate. There was no way out for me.
When I started watching the Bundesliga, I figured I would probably pick a team for me to support. I'm typically a very logical analyzer when it comes to all sorts of problems. I had planned to read all I could, discover the pros and cons of each team and pick the one that would fit the best for me. It had to be a team that I could reliably trust wouldn't collapse in the near future; they needed to have some sort of a youth system; etc. I had a whole list of criteria to measure these clubs by in order to make my decision.
Borussia Dortmund threw all of that out the window. The club punched a whole through the spreadsheet and grabbed straight for my heart and refused to let go. Suddenly, sports, especially, soccer, became a romantic endeavor. A game full of passion and desire. Full on energy and love. And a massive family that called the Westfalenstadion home.
The first game that I remember watching as a self-identified Dortmund fan was the derby against Schalke. I have grown up around some intense rivalries here. The Chiefs-Raiders in the NFL can be pretty rough and tumble. Missouri and Kansas played out some of the most passionate games I've ever seen on the football field and the basketball court. This was on a different level. The build-up was incredible and the songs that rang out all game long were ear-crushingly loud. The game ended up being less Dortmund v Schalke and more Dortmund v Neuer. Neuer played like a man possessed and managed to draw against a team with 10 more players. The sting I felt was the same sting that I feel when the Chiefs would suffer a big loss. I knew they had me. It's one thing to rejoice when they rejoice; it's another to mourn when they mourn.
There was not to be much mourning, though. My nerves built up like mad before the match in Munich. When Şahin scored the 2-1 and Hummels the 3-1, I was in ecstacy. What a team this was. Even the Mullers and Kloses that I had heard all about in the summer couldn't stop them!
Over the next couple years, Borrusia Dortmund did every thing they could to turn me into an emotional wreck on a weekly basis. And, I loved it. Şahin and Dedê left and I felt sick. Dortmund crushed Hamburg to open the following season and I cheered as loud as I could while in my cubicle at work. Then they lost to Hoffenheim and I got all sickly again. Then, in October, the team decided that they didn't feel like losing anymore. Every game was a roller coaster ride. The Champions League was crushing, but fun.
Finally, in my dorm room in Prague, I made an absolute fool of myself as I watched die Schwarzgelb smack Bayern around and take the DFB-Pokal by winning 5-2.
I did get to visit the Westfalenstadion last summer. I wasn't able to go to a match, but just being there was tremondous. The museum was full of amazing snipets of the huge history of Borussia Dortmund. I also managed to spend a boatload of money on a Leitner jersey (HE BETTER COME GOOD), a scarf, and some other nik-nacks.
As the 2012-13 season rolled around, discussion began that Dortmund were going to focus on the Champions League, the biggest club competition in the world. As the draw came out, I was filled with a mix of dread and excitement. I was dreading the thought of bowing out in Europe again, but the prospect of putting ourselves up against the best in the world was thrilling.
The group stages ended up being all thrilling. The boys played out of their skin on those midweek nights and made the champions of Spain, England, and Holland look like lesser teams.
The Champions League knockout rounds brought a new sort of nervousness that I didn't think possible. As I sat in front of my television for the second leg of the tie against Malaga, I pondered the worst and hoped for the best. If we went out here, the whole season would be tinged with disappointment. Malaga's early goal was crushing, but Lewandowski's equalizer was a sublime work of art that lead to me sprinting around my house with glee.
As the game went later, and we needed a goal, I felt myself getting more and more emotional. If we didn't score soon, we would be in trouble. Worse, if they managed to snag a go--Then. Eliseu scored. Late. Like, really late. Like, "we need a miralce or this whole Champions League thing is done" late.
I had been used to losing and had felt some pain and anguish because of it, but this was the first time that I began to cry over a sports game. I slumped into my couch and began sobbing. I tried to dry my tears with my scarf, but they kept on coming. I tried to tell myself that there was still plenty of time, but I didn't really believe it. As I looked on the faces of the players, I noticed something. They did believe it.
As Reus slammed in the first goal of extra time, I thought only one thing: "Don't mess with me right now. Don't tease me like this." I screamed and begged for a winner. I wanted nothing more in the world. As the ball came into the box, and bounced around on the line, I felt like everything just stopped. Then, Santana was running away with the biggest grin on his face. The ball was in the net! The Südtribüne, oh! the Südtribüne, was going absolutely bonkers and I just couldn't handle it. My body couldn't take it. I collapsed onto my knees and just began sobbing, this time, tears of joy. I stood up as I heard Norbert Dickel, oh! Nobby, you beautiful man, you, accounce the goal. As he reached then end he yelled, "FELIPE!" and I answered, "SANTANA!"
The screaming was muffled my the mucus and tears that were filling my face, but I couldn't care in the slightest. I was just reveling in the most amazing sporting moment I had ever witnessed and I didn't want to do anything else. It took about 15 minutes for me to finally begin to settle down even a little bit. I spent the next hours just blaring Borussia Dortmund songs from my room and smiling like a mad fool. Like Jurgen Klopp.
I had started writing this under the inane presumption that I could keep this short and sweet. There was no way I could. There is just too much that I could write about this club, its fans, its players, its coach, its staff, its everything. Ultimately, though, I want to say thank you. Firstly, to Zorc, Watzke, Klopp and all the people who helped make these last couple years so magical and will continue to do so. But, ultimately, I want to thank all the amazing fans of Borussia Dortmund. Those who I've only seen on television have given me a glimpse into the passion and drive for their club that is simply unparalled. Those who I have had the extreme fortune to meet and talk to, I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart, especially those of you from Dortmund. You have every right to keep this beautiful club for yourself and to push the rest of us away. You have everything you could want in a football club without us, yet you still welcome us in with open and loving arms. It's incredible and I love and thank all of you for doing that. All I can do is try to do the same for you. Come watch some Sporting Kansas City with me!
Looking back, I never thought a soccer game would bring me to tears. Even more, I never thought that writing a blog post about soccer would do the same. But, that's Borussia Dortmund. And, I wouldn't have it any other way.