I was out at one of my favorite local bars over the weekend, sitting around a fire pit outside when I ran into a fellow from Stoke. Now that may not seem all that irregular, except that I live in the very middle of the United States. We don’t exactly get a ton of folks from Stoke here. The conversation naturally drifted to football and Stoke City and Arsenal, all the usual stuff, which led me to make an admission to my new friend from across the pond: that my mood on match day is far too tied to the fate of the Arsenal. He quickly told me that I’ve got to sort that out, that sport is not worth getting worked up over, and, at the time, I agreed. Just a couple of days later, however, I find that my opinion has changed, and I think my friend from Stoke was missing something.
Monday night I saw one of the most remarkable happenings I have ever seen in my entire life. I jumped off my couch, I yelled so loud that my girlfriend (who was in the other room) came rushing in asking what had happened, by which time I was already queuing up the replay to watch it again… and again. What I had seen was more than remarkable, it was unbelievable. They say you can’t go home again, and I’m sure a thousand articles being written today are saying the same thing, but damnit, if you’re Thierry Henry, maybe you just can.
I saw a man return home as a legend, after a five-year absence, and not just for a curtain call and a bow, but to show that he still had some magic left in him.
As a fan of more than just football, upon the close of Arsenal’s 1-0 win against Leeds I immediately started groping for another moment in sport that compared to Henry’s game-winner on his return. Only one moment came to mind, and that was the return of Rick Ankiel to the St. Louis Cardinals in the fall of 2007.
The circumstances around Ankiel’s return differed greatly from those of Henry’s. Once the hottest young left-handed pitching prospects in Major League Baseball; Ankiel’s career seemingly went down in flames on a national stage during the 2000 playoffs. When he returned to play for the Cardinals seven years later, this time a power-hitting outfielder rather than a flame-throwing pitcher, he hit a homerun in his first game in the majors in seven years.
Henry’s return was not that of an unlikely underdog who battled the odds, as Ankiel’s was, but rather a victory lap of sorts. That being said, the anticipation surrounding his return mirrors the feelings Cardinals fans had back in 2007. Wanting so badly for it to work out well, fearing that it may disappoint and forever put a sad cap on the player’s career with the team. Thankfully, in both cases, the fan was rewarded with a moment that they will likely remember for the rest of their lives; the moment that we as fans barely dare to hope for, the fairytale ending.
Coming back around to my new friend from Stoke (you thought I’d forgotten about him, didn’t you?) and his advice that I disengage emotionally from my sports teams. On second thought, I think he’s wrong. While most of the time it would be perfectly sensible advice to not get emotionally involved in the fate of your football team, for those moments of magic, like we witnessed in Thierry Henry on Monday night, it’s all worth it. I’ll take all the bad, if it means I get to cry tears of joy because a man, that once was greatness personified, came back to his club, pulled on the jersey again, and put the ball in the back of the net one last time. And if that moment is all Henry gives us in this, his two-month encore, well that’s plenty for me, because I got to witness greatness one more time, and I’ll be damned if it all wasn’t worth it.