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Keough pointed out something else, too. "The game is down in the record books as played on a neutral ground," he said, "but I was never in a place where I was so favored by the crowd." It was not, he might have added, for love of the U.S.A. that the Brazilians would cheer the Americans. The downing of England would be a huge bonus for Brazil.
No bonus was in sight, though, when the game started. The English attack was so talented that Stanley Matthews, the Pelé of his day, stayed in Rio to rest. For the first 30 minutes, the English stormed into the American half. "They were all over us," Keough recalled, "hitting the bar, hitting the uprights. They had complete dominance, almost as if we were just watching them play."
But they couldn't put the ball in the net—not Mannion; not Stan Mortensen, the ex-World War II bomber pilot who normally played alongside Matthews; not Tom Finney, who had taken Matthews's place on the right wing. (Forty years later, Finney, now a justice of the peace and owner of a plumbing and electrical firm in Preston, England, described the game as the most humiliating defeat he had ever participated in.)
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, in the 37th minute of the first half, came the goal that shocked the soccer world. For once the Americans were inside England's half, and Bahr struck an innocuous-looking shot from out on the right that the English goalkeeper, Bert Williams, had well covered.
Then, just as suddenly, Gaetjens was diving headlong for the ball, making contact and heading it into the net. It was U.S. 1, England 0, and 30,000 Brazilians were wildly cheering. "Oh, my god," Keough recalled thinking, "we've awakened the sleeping lion."
It was Gaetjens who had needed awakening earlier in the day. He was, as one of his teammates puts it delicately now, "a free spirit." And though stories that the U.S. team, certain of defeat, had partied the previous night away are untrue, it is very likely that Gaetjens and his buddy Eddy Souza had sneaked off for a little unscheduled fun. (Later, when he played for Racing Club of Paris, Gaetjens often said that he couldn't give his best unless he could "relax" on the eve of a big game.) And on the morning of that historic day in June 1950, there is little doubt that Gaetjens had to be pulled out of bed.
Gaetjens was an acrobat in front of the goal, unpredictable and fast-striking. There has never been a consensus, though, about exactly how that goal against England was scored. Certainly it was a strange one. Said Keough, "The England defense must have been thinking, 'What is this guy hoping for?' when Joe dove at that ball. Because if he had hit it square with his forehead, it was headed for the corner flag. To this day, I don't think anybody could tell you what made the ball travel as it did, because we all lost sight of it once it touched Joe's head, and both its timing and its trajectory would have changed. If Williams had seen it, he'd have saved it."
The theories range from the purely accidental (Gaetjens's left ear got in the way and deflected the ball), to a superb goal (an intentional, brilliant flick of the head). None of this matters, of course, because the goal was clearly legitimate. Besides, Gaetjens is no longer around to solve the mystery.
The last time anyone spoke to him was at 2 p.m. on July 8, 1963, according to an account in the Chicago Tribune. That was his brother Gerard, whom the Tribune quoted as saying, "Two hours later he was arrested."
Joe was in Port-au-Prince, where he had returned after playing for several years in France. Haiti was then ruled by Papa Doc Duvalier and his Ton-Ton Macoute. Joe had never been particularly interested in politics, but his other two brothers were active in an anti-Duvalier movement. For years after Joe's arrest, his teammates held out the hope that he was surviving in prison. But after the collapse of the Duvalier regime, he was never found. The consensus is that he was executed soon after his arrest. Recently, Frank Borghi said of his old teammate: "I think Joe was just one of them free loose spirits, you know, and they killed him, that's what I heard."