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Spontaneous Combustion
Steve Rushin
June 15, 1998
There's no such thing as excessive celebration after a goal, when naked hysteria and unbridled delirium are considered appropriate behavior
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June 15, 1998

Spontaneous Combustion

There's no such thing as excessive celebration after a goal, when naked hysteria and unbridled delirium are considered appropriate behavior

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Such impulsive flights can be bad for a player. After scoring against Greece in the '94 World Cup, Maradona ran to die nearest TV camera, stuck his face in the lens and screamed maniacally, his eyeballs bulging and bloodshot. An illegal substance was found in his bloodstream four days later, and he was suspended for 15 months.

But he was hardly the first, or last, player to be driven clinically bananas by a goal. Lalas scored in his nation's historic win over England in '93, a game so devastating to the inanimate losers that the London Sun summarized it as: YANKS 2, PLANKS 0. Says Lalas of scoring at such a moment, "You go crazy and don't remember anything. It's an incredible euphoria and you totally blank out."

That was certainly the case when Wynalda scored the tying goal against Switzerland in the '94 Cup. After his bending, 28-yard free kick found the upper left corner in the last minute before the half, the sold-out Pontiac Silverdome threatened to burst like a Jiffy Pop popcorn pan. Wynalda remained oblivious. "You have to go into a complete trance," he says of the concentration required to score, and that trance lasts well into the goal celebration.

So the first thing he recalls after scoring is that teammate Ernie Stewart kissed him. "Ernie never kissed me before," says Wynalda, "so that was kind of weird."

The striker then ran reflexively toward the Silverdome seats, looking very much like Reddy Kilowatt, the '50s energy-conservation character who had lightning bolts for a body and a lightbulb for a head. "I remember feeling like electricity was coming out of me," says Wynalda, who somehow saw only one face in a sellout crowd of 73,425: a little girl's. "She was just there, and I winked at her," he says. "I was trying to act cool, as though this was no big deal."

But it was, and when the halftime whistle sounded seconds later, Wynalda spotted his wife pounding on the glass in a luxury suite. "I remember thinking she better watch it, she's going to break through the glass," he says. Then, suddenly, the striker was in the locker room, where he realized that teammate Joe-Max Moore was clinging to his back like a baby koala bear. Wynalda had, without realizing it, given Moore a piggyback ride all the way in from the field.

Four years later Wynalda regrets his relatively sober—which is to say fully clothed and urine-free—celebration. But he refuses to plot these things. "There are guys that can rival Broadway shows in terms of choreography," says Lalas, who looks with disdain on these players. "For me it's all spontaneous. Those are the best goals, when you can see the incredible passion and joy and elation.

"It's sexual," he says of scoring, which is itself a crude synonym for having sex. "An explosion. A climax."

Whichever metaphor you prefer, one thing is clear: Soccer goals are essential to the very sustenance of life on this planet. You might say, then, that the best goal celebrations are celebrations of life. After Bebeto scored for Brazil against Holland in the '94 World Cup, he sprinted to the sideline and began to rock an invisible baby in his arms, commemorating the birth of his son days earlier.

When Batistuta snapped a long scoreless streak for his Italian club Fiorentina, he ran to a TV camera and screamed at the top of his lungs, "I love you, Claudia!" Who's Claudia? Who cares? You're missing the point. The top club in the world this year was the Italian champion Juventus (whose name derives from the Latin iuvenis, or "youth"), and that is only appropriate, for the most memorable moments in international soccer are rejuvenating. They return us to youth.

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