GREECE — Soccer’s popularity in the United States is often debated. But take in a World Cup title game with guys named D’Ettorre, Morone, Ferro, Dettori and Latona, and you get a good sense of its standing as the No. 1 sport worldwide.
I had never viewed a match with my father-in-law, Vincent D’Ettorre, yet always heard that watching Pa in action is terrific free entertainment. What better venue to pick than the FIFA World Cup final, with his native Italy taking on France?
After nearly a month of playoff games involving 32 teams, Italy was one of two countries still standing even though it hadn’t been one of the favored squads. So on July 9 I headed over to the home of my sister-in-law, Daniela Morone, and her husband John, for the championship-game broadcast from Germany — the final chapter of the world’s most revered sports event.
There, I encountered a living room as zany as my own household. The difference is, my wife Paola and I have three children all under age 5, whereas this was a bunch of grown men. Thankfully, there were no takers for the “Kiss Me I’m Italian” button I had dug out of my pile of memorabilia and attached to my shirt.
The rabid rooters, along with my father-in-law and John (Daniela opted to seek refuge upstairs), were brother-in-law Tony Dettori and Pa’s brother-in-law Joe Ferro. They all erupted in protest when a questionable penalty was assessed to Italy in the game’s seventh minute, then were left in silence when French star Zinedine Zidane converted the penalty kick. But Marco Materazzi scored on a head shot in the 19th minute to draw the Italians even, 1-1.
“Yeaaahhhh! I want to see another one, fast,” Pa shouted. As the game wore on, the man dubbed “Boss” by his sons-in-law continued to deliver a memorable performance as promised. He had shown admirable restraint in the early going, muttering occasionally about the referees; the inability of the Italians to pass effectively; and cutaway TV shots to such dignitaries as former President Bill Clinton in attendance: “I don’t want to see these guys. I want to see the game.”
By the second half, Pa’s complaints had risen in quantity and decibel-count, and his broken English had switched over to Italian — remember how Ricky Ricardo would lapse into his native Cuban tongue as he grew more agitated at Lucy? The one exception was the word “stupid,” which often sprang in very plain English from Boss’s lips. And, his frequent head-grabbing spoke a universal language.
Joe’s son Mike showed up midway through the game. “Uncle Vince is yelling — that’s not good,” he observed upon entering the living room. Tony wondered if Pa’s shouts had helped Mike find the correct house.
Meanwhile, tension also enveloped the field of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, as evidenced by Zidane’s controversial head-butt on Materazzi that got him thrown out of the game. The teams were still deadlocked at 1-1 after regulation, and following 30 more scoreless minutes of overtime, Boss began pacing and shaking his head as a shootout loomed.
Italy came through, winning the penalty-kick round by a 5-3 count for its first World Cup since 1982 (the tournament is held once every four years). Fabio Grosso netted the clinching goal, prompting Boss to unleash a dance that, compared to other notable Italians, was much less John Travolta than Robert Benigni’s shuffle across chair tops when he won the 1999 Best Actor Academy Award for “Life is Beautiful.”
Life was certainly beautiful at the Morones’, where hugs and screams of “Viva L’Italia!” filled the air. Then it was out to the kitchen for a victory toast with Limoncello liqueur.
“That’s a dream, that’s a dream,” said Boss, 73, a parishioner of St. Lawrence in Greece along with his wife Lucy. He was born in Torrebruna, Italy, and has lived in the United States since young adulthood.
Moments later he was celebrating long-distance with Tony’s father, who lives in Florida. Boss shrieked “unbelievable” into the phone and then listened for a few seconds. He put his hand over the receiver, and remarked in classic do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do fashion:
“He’s got to calm down.”