I'm not sure if it's coincidence or something more foreboding, but it's awfully ironic that SB Nation's Sports Moments That Made You Cry week just happened to fall on the anniversary of the final matches Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi played for Roma in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Earlier in the week, we remarked on DDR's final match in a Roma shirt, which was also an emotional thank you/farewell for Claudio Ranieri, but today we must unfortunately turn our minds and our hearts back to the darkest day in recent Roma memory: May 28, 2017.
On that afternoon, Francesco Totti made his 785th and final appearance for his beloved A.S. Roma, the club he carried for over twenty years. I've struggled with how to appropriately frame this anniversary, but my vitriol for the decisions that conspired to create this moment (this “retirement”) are well documented, so I'm not going down that well again.
In reading some of the work of my colleagues around the network this week, there were well-written reflections on crushing defeats and reverential pieces for other legends in other sports, but I'm not sure any of them can hold a candle to what transpired three years ago today.
Seven years ago, while explaining to American fans what made Totti so special, and trying in vain to come up with a North American comparison for Totti, it dawned on me; that comparison was impossible because no one in the history of professional sports has meant as much to one club, to one city, and to one fan-base as Francesco Totti meant to AS Roma and to the people of Rome.
Or, as we put it way back in 2013:
As I try to wrap this up, I’m faced with the nearly impossible task of describing what makes Totti so special, what his career, his legacy and his mere existence means to the people and city of Rome. Words will never do this relationship justice, because it’s not about words, it’s about a bond between a man and a city; a city that, for all intents and purposes, should be the center of power, of finance, and of football in Italy.
But it’s not, nor has it ever been, but they’ve had this one thing. One thing that they could hold in the face of the northern elite; one thing that was truly theirs, one thing that represented the struggles and successes of the city, one thing that could intrinsically understand why a city that’s existed since time immemorial would feel inferior to anyone. This one thing knows why Roma is special, why she’s persisted for millennia and why she can’t be measured my material gains.
This one thing is the embodiment of that city, of that identity crisis and of that indomitable sense of pride.
This one thing is Francesco Totti, and for that, there is no comparison.
Roma have had some horrible and embarrassing defeats over the years, and they've finished second more times than many of us care to remember, but as upset as you might have been, did you actually cry? Was a match that you had no part in really that upsetting to you?
I've pounded my fists into my couch and cursed up a blue streak, but I never actually cried while watching Roma. Until I saw this:
Seeing a man who gave every ounce of himself to the club for twenty years reduced to tears was just too much for me. I couldn't help but feel his pain and his sadness thousands of miles away. And it didn't take long for my sympathy to turn into disgust. Not at the “retirement” ceremony itself, which was actually quite touching, but at the decisions that conspired to push this man away from the club that was his very identity. And some might even say he was the club's very identity.
And then, when you saw the images of his teammates and the tens of thousands of his fellow Romans in the stands crying, those emotions became almost too much to bear. I shudder to think what the CdT Twitter account looked like on that day, but that's how you react when someone you love is in pain; it's visceral.
While I'm able to appreciate that entire season with more context and greater nuance now, show me that video and those emotions—the sadness, the pain, the anger—are as fresh as they were three years ago.
But the extremity of our reactions proves just how much Francesco Totti meant to us. For so many of us, Totti created and shaped our Roma fandom; he brought us to Roma and taught us, through his actions and decisions, just how special this club can be.
So while this ceremony still angers me to no end, seeing Totti choking back the tears as he delivered his farewell address, even three-years later, still produces something primal within me, something I struggle to describe, but above all else, I'm just grateful.
Grateful to have witnessed Francesco Totti for so many years and grateful to him for making Roma such an important part of my life.