Red Singh, the old-time scribe with the New Delhi Independent,
lifted his fedora to the cloudless sky, mopped his brow and
said, "Doesn't look good for the boys." It was eight minutes
into yesterday's U.S.-India men's field hockey match at Morris
Brown College, and India, mighty India, had yet to score on the
Singh tore a yellow sheet out of his old Royal, held the page up
in the air and yelled, "Copy!" A kid in a beanie ran it to a
teletype operator. In Singh's homeland, millions of people
awaited news of every pass, steal and shot. In the stands at
Morris Brown, there were 4,628 souls.
Sitting in the last row of the stadium was an eight-year-old
boy, Billy Bathedinlight, freckle-faced and gap-toothed. A year
ago Billy was in a Nebraska hospital bed, his broken left leg
elevated, his skin drained of color, the result of a freak
accident in a peewee field hockey game and the ensuing viral
complications, for which there is no known cure. Steve Wagner,
the great American goalkeeper, had heard about Billy's accident
and visited him at the hospital. He told Billy that if he ever
made it to the Olympics, he would get Billy a ticket to the
India game, give him a pin, too. Billy's recovery was nothing
short of miraculous. As he watched yesterday's game with his
fingers crossed, he continually whispered, "C'mon, Stevie. C'mon
Stevie. You can do it. You can do it."
And for a while Stevie was doing it. Then, bam! India broke the
ice in the 10th minute of the match. Eighteen minutes later,
another India goal. Two-zip, India, and up in the press box Red
Singh's fingers were dancing merrily over his Royal.
Halftime came without India's scoring again, but the U.S.
remained bageled. Men with cigars gathered by the telephone
booths, and one man could be heard to say, "Operator, get me
Brooklyn." Another man, his voice fraught with fright, said,
"They ain't gonna cover. The margin's too thin, Sammy, too thin!"
At halftime in the U.S. locker room, Father Sunkist performed
his customary ritual, handing out orange slices. The youthful
American coach, Jon Clark, wore a grim face. His team had
already lost its first two games. But India was struggling too.
India had lost to Argentina 1-0, drawn with Germany 1-1.
"The pressure's not on us, boys," Clark said. "It's on India,
mighty India. If we play our game, if we can score more goals
than they do, my god, we can beat them."
Father Sunkist smiled. From the back of the room came a
quivering voice and the first, unmistakable notes of America,
the Beautiful. First, just a single voice. Later, several more.
By "shed His light on thee," the chorus was two dozen strong:
the equipment manager, the water boy, even Father Sunkist,
off-key but passionate. The players sprinted back onto the
scorching field, yelling in unison, "Team! Team! Team! Team!"
Anything seemed possible.
On the other side, Cedric D'Souza, India's coach, spoke sternly
to his players, the volume all the way up. "If I said it once, I
said it a thousand times," the coach intoned. "Don't take these
guys lightly, 'cause they'll eat you right up like so much
dessert! Danggoneit, we can't be looking ahead to the Pakistan
game or thinking about dinner plans or gazing into the stands
for our girlfriends." Suddenly his voice turned warm and
comforting and very, very quiet. "Fellas, we're India, mighty
India. We've got a reputation. Let's show these good folks why."
There were nods of agreement and not a few wet eyes.
In the end the second half was much like the first, and the 35
minutes flew by as if in a dream. The Americans could not buy a
goal, and the Indians found the net twice more despite Wagner's
best efforts. When the game ended, the scoreboard showed the
numeric tally--4-0, India--but there was so much the scoreboard
did not reveal. Red Singh put a fresh piece of yellow paper in
his Royal and started pecking away at an advance for the
Pakistan-India match on Friday. The American players nursed
their bruises, disappointed, of course, but content in the
knowledge that they had given India, mighty India, a scare, a
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Wagner gave it his all, but the Americans lost to mighty India 4-0. [Steve Wagner and opposing team player]