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The World Cup vs. brother Bill

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Although he wasn't quite 3 years old in the summer of 1978, placekicker Martin Gramatica vividly remembers the important things going on in his life.

The World Cup, soccer's quadrennial extravaganza, was held in his native Argentina throughout June, and the home team won the championship. That touched off a gala celebration that transformed Buenos Aires' famed Avenida 9 de Julio, the world's widest boulevard, into the site of the world's biggest block party.

A couple of weeks later, Martin's brother, Bill, was born.

Remember that, Martin?

"Nah. That wasn't as important as the World Cup," he said, laughing and glancing at a blushing Bill.

Martin admitted that he does recall -- sort of -- his mother going into labor and heading off to the hospital, but that's not as ingrained in his psyche as the World Cup. He and his father, William, made the 500-mile trek from their home in Chaco to the nation's capital for some early-round games.

Neither father nor son remembers Argentina's opponents.

They didn't save the ticket stubs.

They bought no programs.

They took no pictures.

"But when I go back and watch highlights from the World Cup, I can see myself there," Martin said. "I see the fans and how excited they were. It was the first World Cup Argentina won. I see myself in my cleats. I see myself in the Argentina jersey I wore. I still have that little jersey."

That's a poignant reminder of how integral soccer is in Argentina, and many countries around the world.

When Martin was born on Nov. 27, 1975, his proud father rushed out and bought him a pair of gifts: a T-shirt from the famed Argentine club team Boca Juniors and a soccer ball.

"He learned to walk and kick the ball at the same time," William gushed.

By the summer of 1978, Martin was getting more adept at both.

"My dream was for him to play for Boca Juniors," William said. "That's the dream of all fathers in Argentina for their sons."

An avid fan of sports of all sorts, William had heard of American football, but he didn't know the rules and saw only enough of it to think it was "very dangerous."

After bringing his family to America in 1984, he learned more about American football, and to appreciate it. He didn't protest a bit when Martin went out for football as a senior at LaBelle High, a season he parlayed into a scholarship to Kansas State, where he emerged as one of the nation's best kickers.

"Now he plays football in Tampa," his father said, "and that's my dream. He's fulfilled all my dreams."

* * *

Q: If you could go back to 1978 and tell yourself something, what would it be?

A: I probably would tell myself to take a camera (to the World Cup games) so I could have pictures of everything. When you're there, you're just enjoying the event. But as time goes by, you kind of forget about it, and pictures can bring back a lot of memories.

SUPER BOWL XII

Jan. 15, 1978

New Orleans

Cowboys 27, Broncos 10

MVP: Harvey Martin, Cowboys defensive end, and Randy White, Cowboys defensive tackle (the defense forces eight turnovers and holds Denver to 8 of 25 passing).

IN THE NEWS: Feb. 15: Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian D. Smith and three black leaders agree on a transfer to black majority rule. Aug. 6: Pope Paul VI, dead at 80, is mourned. Sept. 28: New pope John Paul I, 65, dies unexpectedly after 34 days in office. Oct. 16: Karol Wojtyla of Poland is elected pope and chooses the name John Paul II. Sept. 17: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin sign a "Framework for Peace" after a 13-day conference at Camp David led by President Carter. Nov. 18: Jim Jones's followers commit mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana.

BEST PICTURE OSCAR: Annie Hall

MUSIC OF THE MOMENT: Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

EVERYBODY'S WATCHING: Lou Grant

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