Rob Larkin and James Cumiskey brought a scuffed soccer ball with them to Jacksonville’s EverBank Field on Friday afternoon for the U.S. national team’s training session.
Not just any ball.
It was the one that Landon Donovan booted into the crowd at the final whistle of the Americans’ pulsating victory over Algeria at the 2010 World Cup in Pretoria, South Africa.
The boyhood friends from St. Augustine, Fla., were in the U.S. supporters’ section near midfield, about 40 rows up, when Donovan, the heroic goal scorer, launched the ball toward them. They aren’t 100 percent certain it’s the ball that Donovan tucked into the net in added time to send the Americans to the top of the group ahead of England.
But after watching video – their own and the commercial broadcast – they were sure it was the ball used for the restart after Donovan’s goal.
Larkin, who has attended the past two World Cups and the 2009 Confederations Cup, was aiming his camera at the referee in anticipation of the final whistle.
“I moved into the center aisle and I missed the final whistle because some folks stood up in front of us,” said Larkin. “I was looking down at my camera, thought I had missed an opportunity, and next thing you know, I see the game ball at my feet. It came out of nowhere and I jumped on it like a hot potato.”
Larkin’s video of the scramble for the ball exists on YouTube, but the minute-long clip doesn’t reveal anything other than commotion.
When they told their friends of their souvenir, “Everybody couldn’t believe two guys from St. Augustine halfway around the world got it,” Cumiskey said.
Larkin and Cumiskey, both 34, reached out to the U.S. Soccer Federation via e-mail just this week to see if the federation would be interested in seeing the ball. The USSF, in turn, arranged for them to pose for a photo with Donovan field-side after practice, the ball taking center stage.
Every World Cup ball is specially labeled for each match: teams, venue, date. This one is scarred by grass and dirt marks.
“I thought it was going to the upper deck, and it kept dropping and came right to us,” Cumiskey said. “Rob put it under his shirt. We had an American flag with us. We wrapped it, waited for the crowd to calm down a little bit and then ran to the train and got the hell out of there.”
Said Larkin: “There was a little bit of a wrestle for it, but for the most part, everybody was fair. It wasn’t like a home run ball.”
Since returning home from the World Cup, the ball has sat in a protective box. “People want to kick it,” Larkin said, laughing.
Other than the photo with Donovan, Larkin and Cumiskey aren’t seeking anything. Ultimately, they would like to donate it to the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, whenever a permanent home is found following the closure of the museum in Oneonta, N.Y., a few years ago.
“It’s not for sale. They won the group with this,” Cumiskey said. “It’s important for U.S. soccer. We’re fine with letting them have it.”
The timing of the meeting with Donovan – at the halfway point between the South Africa and Brazil tournaments – wasn’t lost on Larkin.
“I’m glad it’s happening now,” he said. “This is closing out 2010 and opening up 2014.”