It’s May 18, 2018.
It’s about 7:15 in the morning in Medford, Oregon.
I’m sitting in my ratty old recliner, hood over my head since the mid-May mornings in this part of Oregon can be a total mixed bag and my apartment at the time had a heater that was about as reliable and effective as Marco Motta’s defending. I was sitting there watching a Juventus game against Hellas Verona that meant absolutely nothing in the standings. Juve had already clinched their seventh straight Serie A title. It was a festive atmosphere at Allianz Stadium — despite the pouring rain that was going to be arriving shortly in Turin — because it was the day that the latest Scudetto was hoisted into the sky.
This day, however, wasn’t about Juventus’ latest title as much as a season finale usually is.
This day was about Gianluigi Buffon and what was — at the time — his final game as a Juventus player and the club’s beloved captain. My friends, this is my tale for SB Nation’s latest theme week: the sports moment that made you cry.
And, oh boy, those tears were flowing two years ago. Maybe not at the opening kickoff, but when the 60-minute mark arrived and Max Allegri decided to sub Buffon off and replace him with Carlo Pinsoglio, it was like a dam breaking and all the waterworks came to the forefront.
As the sub was about ready to happen and you could sense the crowd quickly growing with that feeling that the inevitable emotion hanging over the stadium was about to take over, the vibe in a certain still-frigid Southern Oregon apartment went a little something like this:
Oh god. Here it is.— Black & White & Read All Over (@JuventusNation) May 19, 2018
Then, as Buffon embraced the likes of Andrea Barzagli and Claudio Marchisio with hugs that you just didn’t want to see end and then made his way over to the sidelines, it progressed to something like this:
For anybody who is a longtime reader around here, the fact that I became filled with emotion and turned into a blubbering mess of a man on what everybody thought was going to be the last time they would be seeing Buffon as a Juventus player isn’t much of a surprise. Buffon is the reason why I became a Juventus nearly two decades ago. He is the person who I jokingly blame for what my fandom has become today. He’s a goalkeeper, I was a goalkeeper. He’s Italian, I’m Italian. He has cool hair, I can only hope I have cool hair like his when I hit my 40s in a few years.
I could go on. But I won’t.
This wasn’t the same kind of farewell match as Alessandro Del Piero’s a few years earlier in the fact that you truly felt like this was Buffon’s decision. This wasn’t announced by Juventus President Andrea Agnelli at a shareholder’s meeting, but rather at a press conference a couple of days earlier where Buffon got to explain and go into detail as much as he so desired about why he wanted to experience a new adventure after spending 17 years with Juventus. (That new adventure turned out to be playing a season with Paris Saint-Germain.) This was clearly a decision that Buffon put a whole lot of thought into, and one that clearly had the support of the club no matter what the end result actually proved to be.
That didn’t make that day any easier.
Buffon didn’t grow up at Juventus — that was done at Parma before he officially arrived in Turin in the summer of 2001. But in the 17 years that Buffon did spend at Juventus before his relatively short time in Paris and then his unexpected return to his beloved Old Lady, he became the kind of club symbol that is up there with the most elite of the elite who have ever worn bianconero.
Seeing Buffon say he was leaving wasn’t necessarily a surprise. At the time of his announcement, he was 40 years old, an age where pretty much every other goalkeeper who broke into the game around the same time Buffon did have long called it quits. He was the outlier of them all. You knew the day when he said he was going to leave — and we initially thought that it was going to be as he headed into retirement — was going to come. Hell, at 42 years old, he continues to be the outlier even though he’s no longer a full-time starter and appearing in 30 league games a a season.
But, I mean, this was Gigi freakin’ Buffon. There’s nearly two decades worth of emotion attached to a farewell match of that magnitude.
The fact that there was nothing riding on the game made it solely about Buffon. This was his day, his game, his moment to soak it all in and, for what we thought would be the last time as a Juventus player, be applauded for being such a massive part of the club’s history.
And the fact that Buffon got to lift another Scudetto come the end of the two-hour party,
(You know you’re jealous of them. You should be — because you wish that was you.)
The weird part in all of this is that just over a year later, Buffon was back in Turin, signing a new contract with Juventus to have another go with the club. It’s obviously in a different kind of role now compared to when we previously saw him as Juventus’ starter in goal and adoring captain. But to see him back, even though it is now over 10 months after the fact, is still quite the different scenario from where we were on that mid-May afternoon where we thought we were saying farewell to Buffon for good. That goodbye won’t be forgotten even though Buffon is a Juventus player again. The emotion shown that day won’t be forgotten, either, because it’s simply one of those games — even though there was nothing on the line — where you know where you were when everything went down.
There will be another goodbye when Buffon says farewell to his playing days for good. His second stint with Juve will be a fraction of what his first one was. We don’t know when that will be for sure since rumors persist that he is going to sign on for at least one more season and play the role of Wojciech Szczesny’s backup once again during the 2020-21 campaign. And the hope is, at least from this side of the isle, that his second farewell will be just as emotional as the first go-around was two years ago.
There will be tears that day, too. And they will be worth it.
Why? Because there’s only one Gigi Buffon. For that, we are thankful.
The same can’t be said for that damn heater at my old apartment. I wish it worked a lot better than what I was paying for.