June 25th, 1980
It’s been 2 years since we won. Two years to the day since Gauchito plastered the streets of our country. Two years since I vowed to end my silence, and exactly 727 days since I was dragged – beaten and bloodied – out of my apartment by the Junta’s men.
The night of our World Cup victory was the most important of my life, but not for the reasons I had always dreamed. June 25th, 1978 was the night I realized I was a courageous man making concessions to live the life of a coward, and the night I vowed to change that.
As I drunkenly stumbled out of the restaurant that held the team’s celebration on that Sunday night, I broke down, overwhelmed by the a tsunami of emotion that threatened to drown me underneath its furious blue current. I didn’t understand, a World Cup victory was the dream that shaped me into the man I had become, but it all felt wrong. Videla had morphed my dream into a living nightmare, and as I staggered down the streets of Buenos Aires, surrounded by screams of elation, all I could think about was the tortured screams of those who had disappeared.
The next morning I began planning – my futbol fame has made my face a recognizable one, and the rage that had been building within me spurned a desire to use it as a means of speaking out.
On the 27th, I shared my feelings with Luis Montini, a former teammate of mine and someone whom I thought I could trust my life to. On the 28th, I was awoken to the sound of my door splintering and military-issued boots scraping across my hard wood floors.
I was held captive for fourteen days.
Blindfolded and bound – confined to a dank, gray room that echoed with the screams of those who had been tortured there before me, I thought my life was over. I hadn’t even spoken a word in protest, and Videla’s malevolent feelers had sought me out and wrapped themselves around my throat. I was given one meal – if it can be called that – a day, and I lapped each up as if it were my last. In retrospect, I’m not proud of the fear that I allowed to consume me, nor the tears that forced their way out of me in an almost constant stream. The things I heard – the guttural, animalistic cries – emanated from beings stripped of their humanity, more beast than man in their desire for survival. And as I laid on the cold, wet cement, hour after hour, day after day, I could feel a darkness start to creep from the dark abysses of my mind.
And I was only held for fourteen days.
Experiencing the flood of emotions that accompanied being hooded and thrown into the hard bed of a truck was inexplicable. There’s a strange relief that comes with knowing you’re going to die – the sour taste of fear was made sweeter, the pain becoming bizarrely comforting.
But I didn’t die.
Quite simply, futbol saved my life. I was recognized by a general who knew me from my Boca days – knew that I helped bring the Copa Mundial to Argentina – and because of this, Videla allowed me to live. But life since then has barely been worth living. The last two years have passed me by, muddled by the constant, foggy gray of depression.
And hardest part for me to come to terms with is that in all practical regards, Videla became my god – my life was in his blood-stained hands, to set free or to crush – and knowing this will haunt me from this life to the next. Those fourteen days made me realize I’m not the man I thought I was.
Those fourteen days changed me forever.