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Andrés Escobar, an Own Goal, and Tragedy at the 1994 World Cup

The story of Escobar’s death is tragic and violent. His life was anything but.

Daniel Zalkus

The Ringer’s 22 Goals: The Story of the World Cup, a podcast by Brian Phillips, tells the story of some of the most iconic goals and players in the history of the men’s FIFA World Cup. Every Wednesday, until the end of Qatar 2022, we’ll publish an adapted version of each 22 Goals episode. Today’s story involves Andrés Escobar, an own goal, and tragedy in 1994.

1. The End

Today we’re going to start with the ending. Because if we don’t talk about it now, we’re going to feel it waiting for us at the end of everything we do talk about.

On June 22, 1994, Andrés Escobar, the captain of the Colombia men’s national soccer team, a widely respected player, a widely loved player, a player known as a quiet, serious, disciplined, courteous, and thoughtful human being—Andrés Escobar scored an own goal in Colombia’s match against the United States at the World Cup.

Colombia lost the game, 2-1, and was eliminated during the group stage of the tournament.

Ten days later, on the early morning of July 2, 1994, Andrés Escobar was confronted by a group of men outside a club in his hometown, Medellín, the second-largest city in Colombia and the namesake of its most infamous drug cartel.

The men taunted Escobar for the own goal. He tried to reason with them. He was sitting in his car. He said the goal had been an honest mistake. He insisted that they treat him with respect.

One of the men drew a .38 caliber pistol, shot Escobar six times, and killed him. According to CNN, the man yelled “goal” each time he pulled the trigger.

The next night, police arrested a person whom they believed to be the gunman. Humberto Castro Muñoz was a bodyguard and driver for the Gallon brothers, a pair of powerful criminals and drug traffickers.

The Gallon brothers had reportedly lost large sums of money betting on Colombia’s matches at the World Cup.

Prosecutors believed—but could not prove, or were somehow convinced not to try to prove—that the Gallons had ordered Muñoz to kill Escobar in retaliation for the own goal.

Muñoz was sentenced to 43 years in prison. He wound up serving just 11 years before being released for good behavior. The Gallon brothers, who had powerful political connections, did a couple of months each for trying to cover up the murder.

Escobar’s funeral drew thousands of Colombians, who followed the car carrying his body on a 10-mile walk to the cemetery.

When he was buried, the second round of the World Cup had just gotten underway in the U.S.

This story ends with a coffin.

There’s no way around it. There’s no plot twist in store for us. There’s no revelation that reverses the tragedy in the third act. There’s no third act.

Andrés Escobar lives for 27 years, and then he’s murdered. That’s what’s coming. We all know.

And now I want to ask you to do something almost impossible. I want to ask you to put all that out of your mind.

OK, that’s actually impossible. I can’t do it. So I’ll ask you to do what I’m going to try to do, which is to put it out of your mind as much as you can. Forget about the ending as much as you can.

Andrés Escobar’s life has been, in many ways, and inevitably, defined by his death. I want us to try to see him differently. That may also be impossible. But I want to try to see him as he was before the ending was written.

I want to try to see him as he was when he was alive.

2. If I Had a Bell (And I Do)

Before we go on, can we talk about my bell for a second?

I have this bell sitting on my desk. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it. I’m hoping you can help me.


My bell is a nice bell. It’s a hotel desk bell. You know, a sort of brass dome with a button on top, and you press your finger on the button to ring it and summon the clerk? Who should really—where is that clerk—do they really just leave this place—well!


Ding. Ding. Ding ding ding ding.

Look, no one’s judging you. You had a long flight.

It’s that kind of bell. It’s got these ornate Victorian leaves and flowers carved on it. A fine bell.

The story of how I got this bell is perhaps the single most embarrassing story I could possibly tell about myself. Should I share it with you?

OK. Fine. The story of my bell.

Longtime readers of this series, which is now in its 10th installment, may be aware that I have a couple of dogs. Two whippets named Lilybean and Simon. I am trying hard not to talk about them constantly, even if they are the two most magical creatures in the universe.

That’s not fair. They’re not the two most magical creatures in the universe. They’re tied for first with your dogs.

Lilybean gets cold easily. She’s a little white whippet with fawn spots. Very thin. Short coat. She gets chilly. She’s a princess. You know how it goes. If you put Lilybean in a fairy tale, she wouldn’t just refuse to sleep on a pile of mattresses with a pea underneath them, she’d refuse to sleep on a pile of mattresses that had once had a pea underneath them one time in the distant past.

She’d be like, “Oh, no. I’m not getting back up there. The horror is still fresh from last time.”

The horror being one pea.

So because Lily gets cold while she’s lounging all day on our softest and most legume-free pieces of human furniture, she likes to be under blankets. She likes us to put blankets on her. I think she sees my wife, Siobhan, and me as her blanket concierges. We’re employed by the establishment to perform this service for her.

And the way she lets us know she needs another blanket is that she starts digging at the furniture. Scrabbling at it. Not great for the sofas. Dogs dig holes to get warm, blankets make her warm, this is a perfectly coherent logical chain in her highness’s royal brain.

We were trying to figure out how to stop her from digging the stuffing out of the sofa. And we had this idea.


What if we could train her to ring a bell whenever she needed assistance with a blanket?

People train dogs to ring bells when they need to go outside. How is this different?

I have no idea how we came to the conclusion that furnishing our dog with a hotel desk bell was the right tactic for this assignment. Was she going to press it with her paw?

I think we had this vision that it would sit on the side table by her favorite chair, and she’d ring it with her little foot.

What is wrong with us?

For about five weeks, every time we put a blanket on Lily, we would ding the bell. Learning by association. This plan … was unsuccessful in teaching her not to dig at the couch. All we did was teach her to hate bells.

About half the time, when we’d ding the bell, she’d just bail on the blanket and walk off. She’d sneeze in a really huffy way and withdraw to her private chambers upstairs.

You know more about me than I’m comfortable with.

But as a result of this story, I have this bell that I’m trying to find a use for. I have some ideas.

We’ll talk about it.

3. Really That Guy

OK. Bells or no bells, this is a hard one.

This is the hardest one. This one is hard for a lot of reasons. There’s the obvious reason. We’re here to talk about Andrés Escobar’s own goal in the 1994 World Cup and what came after it.

And the murder of a soccer player, seemingly over a soccer match, is hard to think about. Especially a player as widely loved as Escobar was. As Escobar still is.

This is not a soccer essay, this is a … well, today this is a place where we’re gonna spend some time feeling pretty sad. We are. But it’s not all sad, I promise.

Andrés Escobar’s death was tragic and violent. His life was anything but.

But it’s hard for other reasons, too.

I’m about to tell you a lot of really nice things about Andrés Escobar. A lot of really warm, endearing stuff. That part isn’t hard.

But if you’re anything like me, maybe you find it a little hard to trust stories in which a young person dies tragically, and then some media guy like me swoops in and tells you how great they were.

He was the perfect son. She was the ideal partner. They were so respectful. So hard-working. So considerate.

When I hear that—maybe it’s just lifelong exposure to sports media, but I start squirming a little, if I’m honest. I think to myself, OK sure, but what were they really like?

Well. As far as I am able to make out, Andrés Escobar truly was most of those things. Maybe all of those things. The way people who knew him talk about him—you can be as cynical about media narratives as you want, but you can still hear the difference between genuine, deep admiration for a person and the forms of polite praise.

And the way people tend to talk about Andrés is the way you talk about someone whom you genuinely trusted. Someone you relied on.

During the 1994 World Cup, the brother of one of his teammates was killed, and it was Andrés who stayed up—the night before the match in which he scored the own goal—to support his teammate in his grief.

He was that guy. Sometimes he was annoyingly that guy. He read a little bit of the Bible every day. OK. He kept two bookmarks in his Bible. Fine. The two bookmarks were a picture of his mom and a picture of his fiancée. Come on!

But that’s who Andrés Escobar was.

He believed that there was a connection between the way you lived your life and the way you played soccer. He said that if your life is disorganized, you’ll be a mess on the pitch. So maybe it’s fair to look at his game to help us understand how he lived. Why people felt that way about him.

He was a defender. His game was disciplined. Calm. If you watch him, he doesn’t seem clinical or cold so much as he exudes a sort of purposeful tranquility.

There are some defenders who have this wonderful quality—an easily overlooked quality—of calming everything down wherever they go on the pitch.

An attack is a really exciting thing. It makes your heart beat faster. It makes everything seem frantic and thrilling. And I love that, but if you’re a defender? No, that is not what you want. You want heart rates to go down. You want excitement to dissipate.

And there are a few defenders—it’s a weird magic trick—who seem to dissipate frenzy through sheer personal gravity. Paolo Maldini was like that. I never understood how he did it. I always got the impression that if you randomly stood next to Paolo Maldini, like, in a line at the airport, you’d feel really centered all of a sudden.

It would ground you.

Ahhh. Everything is actually fine.

And that’s great, if you’re in line at the airport. But if you’re an attacking midfielder, and you’re leading the forces of mayhem on a shrieking charge through the gates of the enemy fortress, the last person you want to meet is a defender who grounds you and makes all the tension drain out of your legs.

And that’s how Andrés Escobar played soccer.

I think he really was the guy people talk about. But at the same time, partly because he was a genuinely admirable person, because it’s so easy to celebrate him, Andrés Escobar the human being has gotten a little hard to make out.

He’s become a symbol to millions of people. His death represents the dark side of soccer. An era of Colombian history. The victims of drug cartels.

But no one is a symbol on a Tuesday afternoon. No one is a symbol to themselves.

So there is a question hanging over this essay like a church bell over a cathedral. The question is, How can we see Andrés Escobar now? Where do we look for him?

How do we find the person behind the martyr? Behind the icon? The person who didn’t always know what he was doing, the person who had whims and foibles, and who worried about stuff, and laughed about stuff, and liked one kind of cereal better than another kind of cereal, and lived his life never expecting it to end the way it did?

How does that person relate to Andrés Escobar, the figure of official memory?

4. The Gentleman and the Mullet

He was born in Medellín, Colombia, in 1967. His father, Dario, was a banker, which meant that the family was pretty well-off.

Most soccer players in Colombia—like most good soccer players almost everywhere—came from poor neighborhoods, but that wasn’t Andrés’s situation. He went to private schools. Catholic schools.

Every morning before school, he went to mass with his mom. He was devoutly religious. He was a disciplined student in class, serious about his schoolwork. But after school, he was single-mindedly focused on soccer.

He was good at it.

He was snapped up in 1985 by the youth program at the Medellín club Atlético Nacional, one of the biggest clubs in Colombia. He moved to the senior team in 1987, the year he turned 20. The next year, he got his first call-up to the Colombian national team.

And here is something I really like about Andrés at the age of 21.

To me, this is a little window, a little glimpse through the image and into the person. And I say this with respect: 21-year-old Andrés Escobar has awful hair.

Look, I am someone who, in grade school, once sported the absolute coolest youth haircut available in Oklahoma in 1985. Straight on top and permed in the back.


Now I’m bald, and honestly it’s a relief to be spared these decisions. I’d probably still have that haircut.

You know way too much about me.

Andrés’s hair is not that bad. It’s not 1985 Oklahoma bad. More New Jersey bad, I want to say?

Imagine if Bon Jovi had a saxophone player.

There’s a video I adore from 1988. Andrés is a rising star, only a couple of months into his career with the Colombia national team. And he does something amazing. He scores a goal against England at Wembley. Colossal header from a corner kick. Salvages a 1-1 draw for Colombia.

Always a big deal when a defender scores to secure a result at Wembley, which may be why the Colombian commentator treats the moment like he’s Pavarotti onstage at La Scala.

Really good goal. His first and only international goal except … well.

And if you watch the video, you see that—well, Andrés was known for his serious demeanor. And he clearly already has it, even though he’s only 21. I think he probably had it when he was 12.

His nickname was “El Caballero de Futbol”—the Gentleman of Football. Great nickname.

He scores. And he celebrates. He’s happy! But then, quite quickly, his heartbeat seems to slow down. He collects himself. He’s a gentleman.

He makes a solemn-looking sign of the cross and gets back to the game.

That’s his vibe. But not too long ago, I left this video paused on my screen. And when I came back to my computer and jiggled the mouse, I didn’t remember what this image was for a second.

And my brain went, Who is this dude with the mullet, and how badly does he want girls to compliment his Trans-Am?

Awful hair. I say it with love.

I guess this gets to me so much because he doesn’t seem here like a martyr or a symbol. He seems like a young person with a lifetime of choices, and experiences, and regrettable hair decisions ahead of him.

Which is of course what he is. In addition to all the other things he is.

5. You Rang?


Here’s one idea I had for what I could do with my bell, since Lilybean doesn’t seem to want it.

You can tell me if you think this is dumb, but I was thinking I could use it to help me in my job as a writer. I could ring it in moments when I can’t find the right words. Or when an idea is eluding me. Whenever I come to a point halfway through a sentence where the rest of the sentence is a blank. In those moments, maybe I could ring my bell and summon the next line, the next phrase.

Like I’m standing at the unattended front desk of creativity, and I could use some help checking in.

I know it would just be a psychological shortcut. Obviously I do not believe my bell can open a portal to the spirit realm of divine inspiration. I’m not some kind of weirdo. I just thought that the blanket bell I bought for my frosty whippet could perhaps finish my sentences for me.

I don’t know. There’s something pretty satisfying about the thought. Words are such slippery little creatures. The idea that I could smack my bell when I don’t know what to say and the right words would be like, “You rang??” It’s appealing.

Sometimes a little mental trick is enough to help you make an unexpected connection, or at least help you identify the point at which a thought escapes all words.

For instance:

Lionel Messi takes on six defenders and somehow weaves his way through all of them, like ...


To see the erosion of democracy in our lifetimes, while millions cheer on the people making it collapse, leaves you feeling ...


The precise flavor of a Cool Ranch Dorito combines the chemical tang of mouthwash with the smoky paprika of a Hungarian goulash with an ineffable bouquet of ...


As a soccer writer, my main weakness is ...


Ask not for whom my bell tolls. It tolls for thee, in the sense that I just rang it for you.

This may or may not work. But anyway, it’s the top contender for bell repurposing at the moment.

6. The Two Escobars

Did you watch The Two Escobars? I’m kind of assuming you did. That’s the acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary that talks about Andrés’s life. It’s a terrific movie. Super interesting movie.

Interesting partly because it kind of shows you the process of turning Andrés into this public symbol. And it also shows you why that’s not a bad thing—why that kind of symbolism matters.

The Two Escobars juxtaposes Andrés Escobar’s life and death with the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, the head of Colombia’s most powerful drug cartel during the ’80s and early ’90s. This was an era when Colombian drug cartels were more or less running the country, and the country seemed to be sliding into anarchy and violence.

Andrés and Pablo aren’t related at all. They just have the same last name.

I created a whole podcast around repetitions of the number 22. Content loves an echo.

They’re not related, but they’re linked. Pablo Escobar was a huge soccer fan. During the 1980s, he basically bankrolled Nacional, which made him Andrés’s de facto employer. Many of Colombia’s drug lords were passionate about soccer, both for sporting reasons and for money-laundering reasons. Combine your hobbies!

Colombia rose as a soccer power in the ’80s, and a major reason was the cash that the cartels poured into the game.

A whole new generation of Colombian stars emerged. Andrés was one of the most popular, but there were also the flamboyant goalkeeper René Higuita and the great attacking midfielder Carlos Valderrama. A couple of guys who know about hair choices. Players like that.

With better training facilities, better pitches, better coaches, and better salaries, these players were able to stay in Colombia, and play together. They got really good. Andrés’s Atlético Nacional team won the Copa Libertadores, the club championship for all of South America, in 1989.

The players were also semi-required to pal around with the upper echelon of cartel bosses.

The Two Escobars talks about how the country’s biggest stars would be flown out to Pablo Escobar’s ranch. They’d stage private soccer games for the top leaders of the Medellín cartel. That kind of stuff. They’re sort of pawns in the system as Colombia is falling into what’s essentially a civil war between the cartels and the government, and also between the cartels and the other cartels.

Politicians are assassinated, the murder rate skyrockets, gun battles in the streets. Not a good time.

Footnote 1, see the American cocaine market.

The movie is mostly about that story. And in the movie, everything we hear about Andrés is about fitting him into that story. Making him represent one side of that story.

He’s the honest upstanding citizen who pays the price for the violence. He represents the victims of the era. So we see a lot of footage of him, we hear a lot from people who knew him. We hear from his sister, we hear from his teammates, we hear from his fiancée. He was engaged to a dentist, which I always found incredibly charming for some reason. That’s another little glimpse of the human being.

But everything we hear about him in the movie works toward the purpose of constructing this historical figure. We hear how uncomfortable he was associating with Pablo Escobar. How much he hated violence. How much he wanted soccer to offer an alternative.

And again, I think all that is true. And as a metaphor for Colombian history, it’s powerful. It’s valuable. Having a face to put to that history—having someone like Andrés to embody those ideas. It means so much to people.

But I just keep thinking that this version of the story is so focused on his death. His death is what makes his life so meaningful.

And maybe that’s inevitable. Maybe I’m wrong to worry about it. Maybe I’m like, sure, Aslan died on the stone table in order to save Edmund from the White Witch and eventually free Narnia from eternal winter, but did you know he also enjoyed Chex Mix?

But I just keep wondering, what happens to the version of the story that Andrés himself experienced? What happens to the version where everything is still ...


7. A Brief Detour Into Etymology

Anyway. Sorry if I’m rambling. I don’t think this bell strategy is going to work.

I may still fall back on it if I’m desperate.

But you can’t just summon the right words out of thin air. Partly because … what the hell was I even talking about. And partly because words don’t come out of nothing.

Words come out of history. They come out of other words.

OK. I’m gonna keep rambling for a second.

One of my favorite word origin stories—just quickly, and I promise this is going to come back to soccer—belongs to the word salient.

A long time ago, in the 1600s, the word salient is part of a term called salient point, which refers to the first moment when a heartbeat can be detected in an embryo. Comes from the Latin word salire, which means “to jump.” The salient point is when you can feel the heart jumping.

Because jumping also implies emerging or standing out, the word “salient” also starts to be used to describe things that are conspicuous or things that project outward. The most prominent part of an argument is now also called the “salient point.” And soldiers start using “salient” to describe a kind of warfare in which a military force controls a small strip of land in enemy territory.

By World War I, “salient” has evolved to the point where you can have the Ypres Salient, a narrow strip of land in Belgium that saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire 20th century.

And so a word can start out meaning a heartbeat and end up denoting a place where 600,000 people died by violence. Language just goes where it goes.

Another story like this is the story of the word glamour. This is counterintuitive, but glamour, with its suggestion of style and fascination and charisma, started out as the same word as grammar, meaning, like, sentence diagrams.

Because centuries ago, most people in Europe couldn’t read. And so reading was imbued with a kind of magical quality. If you could read, if you were a scholar, then you were assumed to be privy to all kinds of secret, and perhaps forbidden, knowledge.

So an old word for a magical spellbook—maybe you know this if you ever played Dungeons & Dragons—is grimoire. Grimoire, grammar. And over time, that sense of grammar as magic and the other sense of grammar as the structure of language started to pull apart. And the magic version became glamour. Which then evolved to mean spellbinding style.

And so there’s this invisible but intimate connection between our word for this vibrant, intoxicating beauty and our word for technical study of sentence forms.

8. 1994

Alright. Ramble concluded. Sorry!

By the time the 1994 Men’s World Cup kicks off in the United States, Andrés is one of the most popular athletes in Colombia. He’s the captain of the national team. He’s got endorsement deals. He’s in a ton of commercials.

You can go on YouTube today and see him advertising Speed Stick deodorant. I love this, actually, because—well, I don’t know if it’s a glimpse of Andrés the spontaneous human being. But it’s a glimpse of Andrés completely outside the memorialization-industrial complex.

Here’s Andrés, now with slightly shorter hair, in a clean, bright locker room, taking the Speed Stick off the top shelf of the locker and holding it up for the camera in the universal TV-commercial deodorant grip.

You know the one where you raise the deodorant up to shoulder height like it’s your phone and you’re trying to show someone a photo?

Shirtless Andrés with a towel around his shoulders looking directly into the camera. Wearing a gleaming smile on his face, because his girlfriend is a dentist, and Speed Stick keeps him dry.

It’s a lot to process.

By the start of 1994, Pablo Escobar has been killed—gunned down at the end of 1993.

This has not made Colombia safer. It has made Colombia more violent and chaotic, because now all the lesser drug lords are fighting for the scraps. Colombia’s international image is more or less in ruins. It’s the murder capital of the world. Bombings. Kidnappings. Profound fear. Profound unrest.

This causes Andrés a lot of distress. He worries about his country. He’s a thoughtful man. Everyone agrees about that. Quiet and thoughtful. He thinks about the relationship of soccer and life. And he wants soccer to show people a better way to live. One of his friends, the journalist and diplomat César Mauricio Velásquez, says he saw soccer as “a school of life to teach values and tolerance.”

Andrés himself will later say, “We have only two options: either allow anger to paralyze us and the violence continues, or we overcome and try our best to help others. It’s our choice.”

The nation is going through hell. But the national team is in great shape. In the years leading up to 1994, they roll over pretty much everybody. They beat Brazil. They beat Argentina 5-0, in a high-stakes World Cup qualifying match in Buenos Aires. They earn a standing ovation from the stunned Argentine fans.

In 26 matches ahead of the World Cup, they lose only once.

Pelé is asked who he likes in the tournament. He says Colombia.

In Bogotá, in Medellín, the anticipation is acute. Expectations are high. People think Colombia has a legitimate chance to win the World Cup.

Andrés’s parents fly to the United States to watch Andrés in the tournament.

And then the team lands in California. And things just … don’t go their way.

It’s sports. It happens. On June 18, they have a nightmare match against Romania in Group A. They lose 3-1, in front of almost 92,000 people at the Rose Bowl.

And now the real nightmare starts.

The players start receiving death threats. Someone hacks the TVs in their hotel room to display a message. The message says that if the manager plays the midfielder Gabriel Gómez in the next match, the entire team will be killed.

The players are worried about their families back home. Only a few months earlier, the infant son of one of Escobar’s fellow defenders had been kidnapped in Medellín. Now people are whispering that powerful cartel leaders are losing money betting on the team.

Andrés’s friend Velásquez says, “There appeared a sort of ‘dark hand’ that was very upset with the team’s performance.”

The manager, Francisco Maturana, shows up to a player meeting in tears. He’s decided to pull Gómez, the player the hotel TVs warned him not to play, from the squad. Gómez is a key member of the team, but Maturana is afraid to put his players’ lives at risk.

This is the atmosphere leading into their second game of the tournament. They’re playing the U.S., once again at the Rose Bowl. June 22.

They’re terrified. They barely speak before the match.

The game kicks off. Colombia throws everything they’ve got into attacking what should be an overmatched American side. Colombia dominates play.

The ball will not go in the net.

And then, in the 22nd minute, Andrés Escobar is tracking back to defend in the area, when the American midfielder John Harkes plays a diagonal cross from the left side of the goal.

I said earlier that this wasn’t going to be an unremittingly sad episode, and I meant it. This isn’t an unremittingly sad episode, or an unremittingly dark episode, because Andrés Escobar was not a dark person.

Andrés Escobar is not the cartels. Andrés Escobar is not Colombian history. Andrés Escobar is not the murder of Andrés Escobar. At this moment, with the ball flying in from the left, he’s a particular person, experiencing his own life from moment to moment, just as we all are. And I don’t want to erase him by letting darkness define his story.

Soccer promotes joy. Soccer also, sometimes, leads to violence. People sometimes talk about this contradiction as if it’s surprising. I don’t know. I guess I really don’t think soccer is all that unusual in this regard. Anything that provokes strong feelings can lead to violence.

People commit murder for love. The same word can mean a heartbeat and a battlefield. Soccer isn’t immune from human contradiction.

But the question is: How can we respect the symbol, respect the historical significance Andrés has assumed, without erasing the kid who probably daydreamed sometimes when he was sitting in church with his mom? The person who said wise things about the nature of sports, but also the person who drove to the studio muttering his Speed Stick script under his breath? The person who saw the Bon Jovi haircut and said, Hell yeah? The person who listened to his girlfriend talk about teeth, and thought, This is what I want to do for the rest of my life?

What happened to Andrés was dark. But Andrés’s life wasn’t dark to him. It was just life.

I believe all that.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a sick feeling in my stomach about what’s coming next.

He turns to clear the ball. He hits it awkwardly. There’s not much to it. He just hits it awkwardly.

It flies past the goalkeeper. It goes in the net. Goal, USA.

How many worse own goals have I seen in soccer games? Dozens.

And if you listen back to the calls of the goal at the time, in Spanish, English, doesn’t matter, you hear that it sounds … just about like any other World Cup goal. It’s a mistake, sure, but not a horrific one.

Andrés lies on his back for a few seconds. Then he gets up and gets on with the game. Same seriousness, same aura of purpose he had after scoring at Wembley. He gets on with it.

It’s the first own goal of his professional career.

9. The End, Again

OK. Well. A bad thing happened. But you are a 27-year-old player with your life ahead of you. Soccer is your career, but it’s also a game. It’s not the most important thing in the world.

Your team is eliminated from the World Cup in the group stage. What you want to do now is look ahead. You want to move on.

Andrés has a contract offer from AC Milan. He’s excited to move to Italy and see how he ranks among the best defenders in the world. He’s getting married soon. The World Cup disappointment hurts—it hurts a lot—but life is still full of things to look forward to.

After the tournament, his parents stay in the U.S. for a little while. Little vacation. They fly to Nevada. He could go with them. He decides not to.

He’s also invited to stay in America to do some commentary for a big Colombian radio station. They want to fly him to Dallas and put him up there till the end of the tournament. He considers it.

But what he really wants is just to go home.

So he goes home. Back to Medellín.

He knows Colombia fans are devastated, and he knows many fans blame him. He wants to help them move on from the loss. So he writes a column for a Colombian newspaper called El Tiempo. In the column, he asks readers to look ahead and move on. He says the World Cup has been a phenomenal experience for him, despite the disappointment of the ending. He says he’s looking forward to seeing fans again soon, because “life does not end here.”

The big story at the World Cup at the start of the second round is Diego Maradona being kicked out of the tournament after failing a drug test in Dallas.

Two nights later, Andrés decides to meet some friends in Medellín for a drink. And then …


10. Words Like Memories

That’s the end of the story. We knew it was coming.

And I don’t know the answer to my question about where to find Andrés Escobar. I don’t. I haven’t figured out how to resolve those contradictions of memory. Andrés seems to mean more to people all the time. He gets easier to admire and harder to see. That’s how it goes.

But you know, I do think about how words change. How meanings change. You can’t stop that process from happening. Meaning is not stable in language. It’s shifting all the time. But the best thing about language, in my opinion, is that old meanings—well, they don’t quite disappear. They inform the new meanings. They give our speech overtones, suggestions, hints of things we may not even be conscious of. When we say an actor is glamorous, we’re connected to this ancient story about literacy and magic that maps in the strangest way onto what we’re saying. The old meanings talk to our new meanings. They enliven each other.

Maybe it works that way with memories, too.

Maybe that’s incoherent. But I still took a minute just now to look up the etymologies of some of the words in this episode. And I was relieved to learn that our word bell doesn’t seem to be related to the Latin root in words like belligerent and bellicose, meaning angry or warlike. Bell comes from the Old English word belle, with an e at the end.

Which means a loud noise. A great roar.

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