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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

July 15, 2016
Remembering some nice times in Nice and in Paris on Bastille Day during more innocent times

This Eiffel Tower certainly got a kick out of this soccer ball, as it is one unique, kitsch souvenir.
This Eiffel Tower certainly got a kick out of this soccer ball, as it is one unique, kitsch souvenir.
By Michael Lewis Editor

My heart, thoughts, sympathies and prayers go out to the victims of the latest tragedy that occurred in Nice, France Thursday night.

The world has gotten to be much more of a dangerous place to live in as these senseless attacks come out of nowhere and it seems everything can be considered a target, soft or hard.

My thoughts today wander back to a couple of times in the past in which I was in Nice for perhaps a 24-hour stay and in Paris for Bastille Day

And before you think of it, of course, they were soccer-related.

I flew in and out of Nice to get to Marseille for the 1998 World Cup draw in December 1997. I remember taking a train on the south coast of France, stopping in Cannes, among other stations.

On my return journey to the United States, I had to stay in a Nice hotel for a night. Alfonso Mondelo, now director of player programs at Major League Soccer and I attended a league match that night. Nice and whatever team it was playing were in the middle of the table at the time and we both agreed the quality of play was somewhere in the old A-League (now essentially the North American Soccer League and perhaps some USL sides).

We went out to dinner after the match and for some mysterious reason our credit cards could not work (I still think it was the restaurant owner who wanted the money up front, so to speak, from Americans. Because we were low on French francs, we had to scramble to get some cash to pay for our meal.

Flash forward to July 14, 1998. Bastille Day in Paris.

I had just finished covering the World Cup, probably my most memorable competition out of the eight I have written about in person. It was an emotional finish as the French not only surprised their critics, but their countrymen and the rest of the world with a rousing performance by a new generation of players that dominated international soccer for several years. Players like Zinedine Zidane, Youri Djorkaeff and Thierry Henry. Some of those names you might be familiar with.

France rolled to a 3-0 win over Brazil that night, the same in which there were rumors swirling around about the condition of Brazilian striker Ronaldo.

Since the game was played in St. Denis, a suburb of Paris, getting back home to my hotel that night turned into an adventure because the metro had been shut down. I took a cab and was dropped off somewhat near the apartment. I said somewhere near because the cab driver could not find the street. I saw a monument with which I was familiar and said this was as good a place as any.

It might have been 2 a.m., but it could have been 2 p.m. because Paris streets were streaming with people, not just soccer fans, but men, women, families, young and old, so excited and exuberant about this monumental national accomplishment. Whether they couldn't sleep or just want to be part of and celebrate history, it didn't matter. They were there.

And while the French had a reputation of being perhaps snooty at time and unemotional, you could not see it that night and early morning. They had passion and they were letting it out.

Yours truly was so caught up in the moment that I even had a drink with someone I had not known until minutes prior, to celebrate France's astounding achievement.

This weary sportswriter finally found his way back to his hotel at 4 or 5 a.m. I remember turning on CNN International and watching more celebrations. Amid fireworks in the background, the Eiffel Tower was lit up in blue with the words, Merci, Zizou.

I slept late the next day (because there was a six-hour time difference to the states and since this was before the internet as we know it today, I did not have to do any instant reporting). Before I went to the media center, I took the metro to watch the victory parade on Champs-Elysees for my follow-up piece for the New York Daily News.

As has been my custom covering many World Cups, I stayed a couple of days after the final whistle and had an opportunity to witness another celebration -- one might call it a double celebration since it was Bastille Day.

Champs-Elysees was packed that Tuesday with an energy I have not felt many times in my life. Still wild about their countrymen making history, they were out in force, whether it was to be seen or to watch whatever victory celebration might pop up..

Why was I there? I just wanted to feel the excitement of the aftermath of this rare historic event.

I wound up venturing into a store and saw one unique souvenir -- the Eiffel Tower kicking a soccer ball. I knew it was a kitsch souvenir, but I had to have it. It turned into one of the most unusual artifacts of my soccer souvenir collections through the years as it represents better times for France and the rest of the world.

I am glad I experienced that Coupe du Monde and both celebrations on Champs-Elysees.

Without getting too political, I wonder if France ever again will feel that way it did on those incredible July days and nights.

Today, the French are mourning for what is a national and international tragedy.

Whatever innocence they and the rest of the world had left, it is long gone.

Vive la France! Vive le monde!

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