We've spoken at length about the unique relationship between Roma fans, the players, and the club itself. This close tether is part of what continues to make Roma special, and it's those little provincial bonds, which may seem silly stacked up against Juve's trophy case, that has helped AS Roma retain their identity in the face of an ever-corporatized sport.
This relationship reaches its apex when the Romans in the stands become the Romans on the pitch. From Agostino Di Bartolomei and Giuseppe Giannini to Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi, all the way down to today's stewards of the capital, Alessandro Florenzi and Lorenzo Pellegrini, the club has seldom been without a local tie on the pitch, which now extends into women's football as well, with Elisa Bartoli and Giada Greggi carrying on that proud local lineage.
While that's an exclusive club, every so often, an outsider earns their way into the warmest cockles of the Roman heart. It's not easy, and it takes years of hard work, passion, and a genuine commitment to the club, but every so often, a non-Roman is embraced alongside the likes of Totti and De Rossi. It's true that no one will ever be exalted quite like those two, but players like Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman have reached that rank through the years. They weren't natural-born Romans, but they're embraced just the same; they get it—they understand what makes Roma so unique, and they appreciate why millions of people the world over defend the crest so fervently.
The path of Nainggolan and Strootman is hard-earned, but there are other ways non-Romans can endear themselves to the Giallorossi faithful. Throttling Juventus players is one way (thank you, Kostas), but scoring a crucial goal in the derby will give your name added weight in the City of Seven Hills.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa's football career has been pretty forgettable, right? Solid but not spectacular, but thanks to his winning goal in the 2015 derby, he'll never be greeted with anything but a smile around the Stadio Olimpico.
We can safely say the same about Federico Balzaretti. No one will confuse him for Roberto Carlos, but thanks to the pride and passion with which he played in Rome, he's reached an elevated status among the Roma faithful.
And it's all thanks to one goal and one incredibly emotional response:
With Roma and Lazio knotted at 0-0 in the 63rd minute of the Fall 2013 derby, one that came some four months after Lazio defeated Roma in the Coppa Italia finale, Balzareti stole back a bit of the dented Roma honor when he lashed his left foot on the end of a sublime Francesco Totti cross (and thank god Gervinho didn't get his head on it).
While the goal was spectacular, the celebration that followed made it truly legendary. Without even thinking, Balzaretti immediately leaped over the running track barriers and headed for the stands. He ran like a madman, arms spread out, his jaw screaming with joy before his teammates descended on him.
In the wake of this joyous scrum, and perhaps finally sensing the weight of the moment—the importance of what he'd just done and what it meant to the tens of thousands of Romans in the stands—Balzaretti was overcome with emotion, trying in vain to mask his tears with his palm.
This goal may have been a match winner, the fourth in Roma's astounding ten straight to start that season, but it resonated well beyond the 63rd minute. With a single strike of his foot, Federico Balzaretti reclaimed a bit of Roma's pride, erasing some of the pain and misery of May 26, 2013, but his tears completely eroded the line between player and fan.
At that moment, Federico Balzaretti was one of us, one of the millions of Roma fans who have no earthly attachment to the Eternal City but rise and fall with the fate of its true football team. His joy was ours, his pride was ours, and his tears were ours because at that moment, in that emotional release of emotion, Federico's face said it all—you don't have to be from Roma to appreciate and love Roma.