As we headed for the stadium to face Ghana, our 1st opponent of the group stage, we saw an ever increasing show of the Brazilian military presence. It had been announced that our Vice President would be attending the game so the path to, and perimeter around, the stadium was quite the spectacle.
The day before I had attempted to get a photo with a large truck full of very stern looking fellows and their "take no-shit" man in charge. It seemed as though a number of them were fully willing, and rather eager, to pose for a photo with someone brash enough to approach the 5th Battalion with a smile and a camera. The front line looked back at a man who was, I'm certain, quite steely-eyed if not for the jet black glasses he had attached to a face that looked as though it hadn't cracked a smile in days. He was tall and lean, though obviously hadn't been doing the same number of push-ups those looking for his approval have been doing. My request was met with an immediate and universally understood "NO!" which caused everyone within earshot to snap back to attention, including myself. I hopped back into formation with my own troops figuring I must have just caught them at a bad time, the World Cup.
So, back to the march to the stadium. As usual I am adorned with my face paint, flag, US flag shorts and a red US National team jersey that was purchased for me as a gift from my friend Shane Carver. Shane and I have seen a bit of the world together and for 2 short weeks in '98 Shane was with us in France. I have worn that jersey to every US match since then and will continue to wear it until it falls tattered from my back. A somewhat common occurrence during the World Cup is the trading of jerseys between people of differing countries, just as it is common for players to trade jerseys after the game. I have been offered a trade for that jersey numerous times, but the answer has always been, "no thank you, it is too valuable to me".
As we have grown older the number of my clan that applies the war paint for these games has decreased to one, me, but I wear it proudly and it still gets plenty of attention. In France we applied our paint for the 1st time and I have always had some variation of that first application. A white star with a blue outline and red & white stripes going out. Unfortunately, on this occasion I have no cowboy hat. I've been looking here.
As we get closer to the stadium the festival atmosphere begin to grow. We see that the number of US fans has increased and it is nice to see that there are so many people beginning to make it a point to come and support our team. As usual we are asked to stop for pictures and we trade stories with strangers on the path. Everyone seems very excited about our chances against Ghana and we sing our songs louder as we approach the stadium. As we round a corner I again see a large truck with police standing guard, so once again I ask for a photo. Perhaps it is the paint because this time I get an affirmative. I excitedly move into postion amidst the 3 of them and when I attempt to put my hand on the back of the man who is obviously in charge he calmly turns his head and says to me, "No hands! Be a man.". That my Brazilian friend is an absolute classic! No hands, just a big smile, no problem!