We often lament about Francesco Totti's “retirement” in these spaces, but, well, we're the Church of Totti, what would you expect? And while the manner in which they disposed of him grieves me to no end, he was over 40-years-old, and while he was damn good for a player that age, the end was always near. The ending of Totti's career was well and truly fucked, but we at least had time to prepare, to celebrate, and to praise Totti for all that he meant to us, something I'm still not sure we understand.
To date, our year long coverage of Totti's ignominious exit remains one of my proudest moments running the church that bears his name. But the funny thing about singing Totti's praises was...well, it was easy...sort of. Few players on Earth could match his skill and grace, so in a sense, writing about Totti was like describing a mythical creature. Totti was ethereal, and you can't understand something that special and that delicate, so you do the best you can to capture your appreciation and amazement for his talents and hope you did him justice.
It wasn't long after Totti's "retirement” that I began thinking about how I would encapsulate the end of Daniele De Rossi's career. I like to think I have a certain way with words, but articulating my love and admiration for DDR has always been an insurmountable task. Even here, right now, I've deleted and re-written this paragraph several times.
But there's always been something different about Daniele De Rossi compared to Totti. I could never do a fraction of what either men could on a football pitch, but something about the way in which De Rossi played, the way he expressed himself, the way in which he appeared to truly love and appreciate the game, made him seem more, well, more human.
That's not to denigrate his talent—at his peak, he was the best at what he did in the global game—but his approach to the game, and the simple fact that every single moment, every single tackle and every swing of the ball mattered to him, made everything he achieved (which was a lot) seem more hard earned. If Totti descended from heaven, De Rossi was wrought from clay, shaped and molded by those same divine hands into the perfect steward for Roma's midfield.
It's not a qualitative comparison, De Rossi is just different, and to see him ousted like this feels more personal—it's almost like your own brother lost his job thanks to some loud mouthed prick who phones it in once a month, or like your sister was jilted by some conniving and cheating asshole.
It's unjust, it's unfair, and it hurts. But more than anything, De Rossi's ousting represents something much larger, the death of Roma. Of our Roma.
I've followed and played a host of sports my entire life. I have Cubs hats strewn all over my house, a Mario Lemieux jersey hidden somewhere in my closet and stacks of basketball cards in my basement. And while I enjoy those players and teams, I never felt compelled to share those feelings with anyone. I never entered a contest to write about them. I never spent every ounce of my free time for nearly a decade writing about them and I never cared about them beyond the boundaries of the game.
In short, I never loved them. So when I say I never experienced a day quite like today, I mean it. My love for Roma was completely unexpected, but it has become an all encompassing affair.
I mentioned it a few days ago, but thanks to my ignorance of Serie A at the start of this millennium, I came to Roma thinking they were a powerhouse. Not only is Rome the seat of government and the most populous city in Italy, it is quite literally one of the oldest and most renowned locales in the world, so I thought their football team would follow suit. To quote the sage words of James Pallotta, it's fucking Rome.
And while my assumption was well off, it didn't take me long to fall under the spell of La Magica. Whether it was the kits, the echoes of Francesco...Totti after Totti scored, or the ferocity with which De Rossi celebrated every victory, big or small, I soon became enraptured with this club.
Still, it could have been a passing fancy, a simple infatuation rather than true love, but once I dug a bit deeper and learned the history of the club, that passing fancy became real, and (crazy as it might sound) it became embedded in my very identity, not only as a fan but as an Italian.
Roma have never been blessed with money to spoil, but thanks to names like Tonetto, Cassetti, Perotti, Aquilani and Brighi, Roma were able to compete with the more metropolitan clubs up north. And while all those players were professionals through and through, they were workaday players, not stars.
But by remaining local as it were, they gave you a new sense of pride as a Roma fan, as an Italian, turning the term provincial into a badge of honor. You didn't simply jump onto the Barcelona bandwagon, you sought out this specific team for specific reasons—whatever they were—and the club responded not only with authenticity but with results.
Not being able to afford the Ronaldos and Ronaldinhos of the day, Roma were buoyed by two men who, with every beat of their heart, lived and breathed for their club, two men who shunned greater glory to remain true to their city, to their fans...to their home. And in doing so, almost through some modern day footballing version of transubstantiation, Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi became Roma.
And through it all—the constant string of managerial changes, the litany of second place finishes, the World Cup victory, the changes in ownership, the tiki taka, the new crest, ill-advised purchases, disheartening sales, Zeman's return, Spalletti's return and Pallotta's many disgraces—there they stood, inexorably linked, the mind, body and soul of Associazione Sportiva Roma.
For the reasons we counted above, Daniele De Rossi—Danielino, Il Capitano Futuro, DDR—has always been the more relatable of that divine duo, but he's also what made Roma truly special.
If you needed a game saving tackle, he was there. A thunderous goal from 20 yards out, he was there. If you needed him to play center back, he was there. If an opponent needed to be straightened out, he was there. And when the only man with a Roman legacy greater than his needed help saying goodbye, he was there, arm in arm with his brother...in tears.
To Roma, Daniele De Rossi has always been the energy driving it forward, the wrench in its guts, its clenched fist, the swelling of pride in its heart, and the flick of instinct that protected it, that kept it alive.
To Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi was Roma: the myth, the romanticism and the personification of everything that made Roma different, that made them special.
And now he's gone, and so, too, I fear is the Roma he made us love. But that doesn't diminish our bond with De Rossi—in fact, the grace with which he handled this betrayal has only made me love him more.
Roma...our Roma...may be gone, but no man did more to protect it than Daniele De Rossi.
Grazie, Daniele. I'm sorry this happened to you. You deserved so much more.