Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thank You Eddie

I saw greatness stride majestically off the pitch for the last time through a fuzzy three inch window facilitated by my laptop in the basement from 525 miles away.

Aside from the fact that it was Eddie Pope's last game, and that Real Salt Lake did actually have a legitimate chance to win their first trophy - the Rocky Mountain Cup - with a victory, the game was important enough for me not to tell my wife until after she made plans with some neighbors for dinner. I cared about the game so much that the idea of missing the first half at minimum, and possibly the whole match didn't stop me from enjoying the evening of pizza and sugar-hyed dinosaurs and Spidermen bouncing off the walls.

With my clock telling me that it was a few minutes after 8 as I walked in the door, I knew that the second half just started. By the time I got the video player fired up on the old notebook it was already into the 50th minute.

For no apparent reason Eddie stuck out to me over the first few minutes as I watched Colorado throw everything into a desperate attack. And then, to the surprise of myself - and apparently Carey Talley - Pope's number was called in the 54th minute. Eddie calmly handed the captains armband to Talley, while the holding midfielder screamed toward the bench with his arms outstretched as if to say, "what's the deal?" But Eddie did not contest.

He left the field with dignity and the respect of a soccer nation. The Denver crowd was polite, but not overwhelming. Rapids Coach Fernando Clavijo pulled the classy move of being the first to greet Pope with a hug as he stepped over the sidelines for the last time.

In his rookie season, Eddie splashed into the national soccer conscious by rising through a New England rain storm and smashing home a nearpost header in overtime to give DC United the first MLS Cup in 1996. Like a loyal and steady friend, he has stayed with the league, supporting it as it grew. Perhaps it is fitting that his involvement as a player came to an end at the newest of the soccer specific stadiums produced by a league that he spent his career with. A league that is indebted to players like him - who stayed.

Thank you, Eddie Pope for your always steady contribution to the image of this game both on the field and off.

Photo credit: Geoffrey McAllister/The Daily Universe