Christmas came early for me this year.
The boys at U.S. Soccer loaded up my stocking with the must-have gift for every soccer enthusiast this holiday season: the "Our Way" DVD.
This exclusive, behind-the-scenes story of the USA's run to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup is simple as far as its setup.
There is a "memorable moments" section that features each of the squad's seven goals, as well as every other meaningful play - Friedel's PK stops, the "Hand of John", Kahn's miracle save, Germany's goalline hand ball, etc … -- throughout their five games in the Far East.
Also included is a special collection of "outtakes" for those who feel the need to watch DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Mathis sing a mean karaoke version of "Billie Jean" on the team bus or witness the attempted "pants-ing" of assistant coach Dave Sarachan by Kasey Keller on the practice field.
What makes this 70-minute documentary a true keepsake is the riveting footage that comes from within the team's locker rooms and strategy sessions that are weaved in between footage that chronicles the team from the plane ride from JFK to Korea right down to the final bus trip back to the hotel when Sinatra's "My Way" was belted out by a spirited bunch just hours after reaching the end of the line in Ulsan.
From the beginning, the DVD's central character and most intriguing personality is that of head coach Bruce Arena. Revealed behind the sometimes harsh and always flippant exterior that the public sees is a humble man with extreme patriotism and someone - and maybe the only one - who truly believed. He didn't rant and rave or try to reenact Al Pacino's inspiring "That's football" speech in Any Given Sunday during his pregame and halftime talks in the locker room, but it is his words that induce the most powerful emotions.
You'll get chills upon listening to his Nostradamus-like pregame message before the Portugal match when he says with complete confidence: "When we win today, I'm not going to be surprised."
You'll feel a rush of pride each time he lowers his voice in the huddle and reminds his men that they "play for the greatest country in the world" before heading out to the field.
If you're anything like me, you'll feel like throwing on the Copas and running through a wall when Arena says, "This game is going to be won by (expletive) men" before the Round of 16 grudge match against Mexico.
Without giving up too much of the goods, here are some of the other highlights:
U.S. - Portugal:
-- After staring out the hotel window, Frankie Hejduk turns to Landon Donovan and reminds him to "keep the elbows high."
-- Arena in the pregame: "First tackle today. First foul. First shot. First goal." How prophetic.
-- Beasley, Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart dancing in the locker room after the win.
-- Eddie Lewis looking into the camera and saying, "Don't sleep on the U.S."
U.S. - Mexico:
-- A respectful exchange on the phone before the game by Bruce Arena and George Bush as the whole team sat dead-silent around the speakerphone intently listening like a bunch of excited kids.
U.S. - Germany:
-- Arena in the pregame: "Don't give them any respect" and "We should be in the semifinals."
-- Arena postgame: "You showed the world you can play."
Actually, that final quote could have been the title of this DVD. And it's one of the reasons the U.S. players didn't hang their heads after losing a 1-0 game that they deserved to win.
Knowing that they forever changed the mindset of the soccer snobs in England, Germany and everywhere else where our players have been discriminated against as far as how the Yanks play soccer, the team broke into a spirited version of "My Way" on the bus with Stewart leading the chorus. As the camera scanned around the dark bus, one could see that no pity party was being staged.
Whether it was veterans like Joe-Max Moore and Cobi Jones, who have probably seen their last World Cup, or youthful talents like Donovan and Beasley with their whole soccer lives ahead of them, they sang.
Whether it was players like Mathis, who desperately wanted more PT throughout the World Cup, or someone like McBride who came through with two goals, they sang.
Same goes for Steve Cherundolo, who didn't get one minute of action due to a training injury, and everyone else in sight. They all sang with vigor, with joy, and with pride.
Thankfully, it was all captured by the steady hand of press officer Michael Kammerman and his camcorder, and can now be shared with everyone from the casual observers who want to relive they excitement they watched this summer to the scarf-wearing, soccer bar-dwelling crazies who routinely went without sleep last June.
"We're extremely proud of our accomplishments in Korea," said Arena. "Fortunately, we had the opportunity to document what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the players, coaches and staff and bring it to our fans."
When I cover U.S. games, practices or anything soccer-related, I'm strictly business. No one has ever and will ever have to remind me that there is no cheering from the press box. But when I plopped this DVD in, I was a fan. And despite seeing each goal dozens of times before, I found myself cheering.
So will you.
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor's note: This DVD/VHS is available at www.ussoccer.com).