I once spent a week in Rome by myself. I was visiting my brother, who lives in Spain, and figured: why not hop a puddle jumper to the Eternal City? I was obviously crazy-lucky to be in Rome, but it turned out to be not the best decision of my life. I had a great time touring the Vatican, eating insanely good food, but didn't really have anyone to share the experience with. And then, one night at a restaurant close to my cheap-ass AirBNB way out in the sticks, I mentioned Francesco Totti's name and quickly became the mayor of a small restaurant for a night.
I had settled down at my table with a glass of wine at a place that my guidebook recommended, surprisingly close to my rental, which I thought was in the middle of nowhere. I was greeted with a lot of weird stares as I, an obvious-looking American, had shown up at a local mom-and-pop hang spot to eat by myself. It didn't feel right to the surrounding Romans for me to eat by myself, so my very kindly neighbor, wearing a Roma jersey, soon started talking with me. It started out with whatever boring, lost-in-translation chit-chat we could find. Finally, I found a way to mention that I'm a big fan of Michael Bradley, which was easy enough of an intro—MB90 played for Roma for two years and was warmly regarded as "Il Generale." But when I was asked who my other favorite players were on Roma, I stalled for a second. I had paid attention to the team, but not enough attention to develop a love outside of one of my favorite USMNT players. Eventually, I went with the easiest option I had: Francesco Totti?
It turned out to be a great decision.
I honestly didn't know much about the legend himself. I knew his position on the team, his long tenure as captain, but didn't really know how much he meant to the city. Totti is regarded as something of a god in Rome—appropriate for a place with a history that blends heaven and earth so freely. And I'm not really exaggerating here with this deity stuff; as my neighbor started talking about Totti, the other curious tables around us started chiming in with their heavily accented English, "Totti is a god!"
My neighbors espoused the gospel of Totti—his loyalty to one club alone, his seemingly endless supply of energy, his ability to finish even at the age of 40, his bronzed skin. I felt like one of my audio tours about the Colosseum had jumped the rails and started playing to the tune of soccer.
Well, today, Totti's career finally found some mortality, as he hung up his boots after playing his final and 786th match for Roma and it was a helluva way to go out:
The post-game ceremonies came after an absolute thriller against Genoa. With Napoli nipping at their heels in the standings, Roma needed a win to secure second place and a guaranteed Champions League berth. The game felt all but over when Daniele De Rossi netted a 74th minute goal (which Totti almost got a piece of), putting Roma up 2-1. But an equalizer came just five minutes later off of a Genoa header to break Roma's hearts. Then, Roma's late-substitute Diego Perrotti struck a beauty in the 90th minute that would eventually end the match 3-2. You could have flooded Stadio Olimpico with tears of joy. Roma clinched the match.
Totti didn't score, Totti didn't assist, Totti only came on in the 54th minute. But you could feel his captainship, and everyone around the stadium willing Roma to victory.
The win made the fanfare around Totti all the more grand, the confetti thicker, as he passed the captain's armband to the next generation. (As a young boy, Totti dreamed of playing for Roma and Roma alone—and so he did.) He cried, fans cried, everyone cried.
It all brought me back to that night in the outskirts of Rome, hearing people pour their hearts out about their hometown hero. People bought me shots, the waiters brought me extra dishes, we all went out drinking afterwards—all because I mentioned Totti's name. I was, truly, the mayor of a small restaurant that night. But if I was mayor, well then Totti was certainly my King.