It seems like yesterday but it was 20 years ago last Sunday when Slava Bilic did his corny little death rattle on the lawn at Stade de France.
He had been tapped lightly on the upper chest by Laurent Blanc of France but he fell to the grass like a man hit by a baseball bat – clutching his forehead. That’s how badly the pain was radiating.
The ref went for it and showed Blanc a red card, which meant the steady French defender would miss the next match, which, as a result of the French victory, turned out to be the World Cup final.
Blanc was on the sidelines, agonizing, when Zinedine Zidane played the most beautiful final in World Cup history in a 3-0 victory over Brazil.
In those days, FIFA executives were so busy stuffing their gunnysacks that they had no time to update their product.
Nowadays, the ref would hear a voice in his earphone and would trot over to the little VAR unit at the edge of the field to see for himself that Bilic had faked it.
That was the last time Croatia was in the semifinals. On Wednesday they will be playing England in the second half of the all-European Union semifinal, after France meets Belgium on Tuesday.
The two men were familiar figures in world soccer. Both played and coached all over the place, intersecting on occasion, like 2011 when Bilic coached the Croatian national team and Blanc coached France and they met in a friendly.
The men chatted amiably, but if Bilic has ever apologized, it is between the two of them. At the time, Bilic – a lawyer, by education -- said he was afraid he would get a yellow card for faking, and miss the final, so he exaggerated his motions. After that match, he said he told Blanc he was sorry for causing him to miss the final.
“I guess I should have hit him right there,” Blanc said.
Flopping is still a plague on the sport, but enlightened physicality in the scrum is done by everybody, both sides. (Where were the Croatian defenders on the late header by Russia on Saturday? All flat-footed, as if stricken by Putin nerve gas.)
Bilic employed the tactics of the sport, for better or worse.
In the age of VAR, he just might be rewarded with a card for bad acting.
Even FIFA, with its Qatar World Cup and its threat to hold a bloated 48-team extravaganza in 2026 gets something right, once in a while.
My 1998 column on the Bilic flop is here. It begins: "I once met a man who had died 100 times."
For other information on the Bilic-Blanc meeting:
7/9/2018 11:32:16 am
Not really germane, but if I were casting a British woman sports announcer for Saturday Night Live, I could not do better than this real person, “ A Really nice bloke.” Meanwhile, Peggy has turned into a real WC fan, she has had to relearn the game, of course, after watching me at Muhlenberg. I hung a Do Not Resusitate sign around the Mets’ figurative necks. Ciao.
7/9/2018 12:25:45 pm
Ed: Where is Kate McKinnon when we need her?
7/9/2018 12:29:14 pm
I had the same question ("Where were the Croatian defenders on the late header by Russia on Saturday? All flat-footed, as if stricken by Putin nerve gas.") and was actually starting to worry about the conspiracy theory. But then they advanced.
7/9/2018 01:25:49 pm
George & Andy - Be nice. Flat footed? Perhaps technically you are right. Those guys had played close to 120 minutes at the time. There were no slackers out there as far as I amconcerned (same opinion for many pundits I've been listening to via podcasts, etc.). Every player on both squads had given it their all but there was little "all" left at that point. That is why the next step needs to be a PK shootout. Can't wait till tomorrow (and Wednesday). Best, Michael
7/10/2018 10:42:52 am
Michael, thanks for that. I didn't mean to suggest they weren't trying; they were gassed. who wouldn't be? People keep coming up with goofus suggestions about playing til a goal, or going 7 v 7 til a score. It's all torture. You're exactly right....still, it was strange to see so many players not go up with their marks. Joe Scarborough (I seldom watch in AM, but he knows the sport) as yapping about it. He should play 120 minutes in midsummer heat. GV
7/9/2018 03:40:32 pm
Oh, right, the Mets. Wow did they break our hearts early this year. 12-2, and then the abyss. At least they find new ways to do it each year with such ingenuity.
7/9/2018 03:53:01 pm
I rooted for Eovaldi to throw a perfect game against us. It was fun, until the NYM even blew that chance.
7/9/2018 08:29:56 pm
Sorry, George, can't resist.
7/10/2018 10:49:26 am
Andy, you are on the cusp of two great sports, parking where you do.
7/10/2018 11:01:27 am
Twenty years to the day. That wasn't sports commentary; that was literature. We should send it to Stockholm. If a hermit lyricist that doesn't always make sense can snatch the Big Kahuna, then maybe it's time for a sports columnist who does (unless he gabbles in politics).
7/10/2018 10:49:47 pm
George, dunno if you noticed how I positioned my flip phone for this past preseason's "Wet Paint" shot from the Willets Point platform so that a tree would block the bank's four-letter word. :-)
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.