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LoveFound: The Game

Written by on February 17, 2023

“LoveFound” explores how love can be found by making deeper connections to the people, places and things around you.

Our series, “LoveFound,” hosted by Vocalo’s producer of community and audio storytelling Ari Mejia, features stories from our listeners, telling their real-life tales of finding love — and the role Chicago played. When we say “love,” we mean love in all the ways it shows up in our lives — not just romantic love. “LoveFound” focuses on sharing stories of what it means to experience love in its expansive nature, and how love can come from the most unexpected places. For the next four weeks, we bring you those stories.

This week for “LoveFound,” Vocalo listener Gabe Paredes explores a particular moment at O’Hare International Airport. It was there that he found a love so powerful, it brought a bar of complete strangers together. Vocalo production intern Joshua X. Miller brings us this story. 

Artwork for “LoveFound” by Ivan Vazquez for Vocalo.

Joshua X Miller: My name is Joshua X. Miller, production intern here at Vocalo Radio and associate producer of the “LoveFound” series.

Today’s story showcases how the love of sports can bring complete strangers together. Loyola University student Gabe Paredes shares how the 2022 World Cup game forged new friendships and community in the United Airlines terminal at O’Hare International Airport.

Gabe Paredes: I’m a student at Loyola University. On the afternoon of this year’s World Cup final, I was flying out of O’Hare International Airport to visit family for winter break. I’m Hispanic, so the World Cup is very important to me… nevermind the implications this game had on the sport’s biggest stars. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I wanted to treat it as such.

Unfortunately, since we were on break and I was traveling that day, I couldn’t make plans to watch the game with my closest friends or family. I was lucky, however, that the game was in the morning and I was not flying out until later that day. So, I decided to head to the airport early, in hopes of finding some fellow travelers to watch it with.

JXM: Gabe’s love for soccer started at a young age. He recalls his first introduction to the sport and why it’s so important to him.

GP: My dad definitely got me into it when I was very young, and I remember the first game that I watched — or at least, where I knew what was going on — was the game, Chile and Honduras in the 2010 World Cup. We woke up at, like, 5 in the morning, because we were in Alaska for a trip, way back when. And it was just really special to root for your country and the stars that are in your team, because they’re part of your nationality, but… they’re great players as well. And it’s a great tournament. For the most part, it’s part of our everyday life.

As I arrived at the airport, I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed. I couldn’t believe that the building wasn’t buzzing like I was inside. I passed through security and started looking for a place to watch it in. It seemed like any other day at O’Hare, but I finally found a bar where they ensured me they would tune into the game once it started.

JXM: Gabe recalls that the bar’s cozy atmosphere, wood finishing, and interior and exterior seating reminded him of something he would find in Streeterville.

GP: I recall that the bar was called Berghoff, in the United Terminal, and it’s just got this bit of an Irish theme, but it’s just like any traditional sports bar. You know what I mean? It had a bar, but then also a place where you can get your normal food, like a pizza or something like that. And I just felt at home in the bar, really.

I sat down at the bar and ordered a drink. At first, I kept to myself, but once the game started, the lady next to me couldn’t help but notice my excitement. We introduced ourselves, and she started asking me about what we were watching. I talked her through the background of each team, and what it meant for the legacy of the sport: Lionel Messi, who’s the greatest soccer player of all time, was trying to win his first World Cup trophy against the defending champions, France, who had the next up-and-coming star, Kylian Mbappé.

Soon enough, I was the third commentator for the few that were at the bar.

The lady next to me learned a lot about soccer, but I learned a lot about her, as well. She’s not from Chicago, but she makes a stop at this specific bar at O’Hare every other week due to her frequent travels. She’s spent so much time there that the bartenders and staff were like a second family to her, and I was grateful to be included.

We cheered and celebrated Argentina’s first two goals together — I was rooting for them, by the way. She unfortunately had to go at half time, and although I was already super appreciative for my new friend, the game and this bar had so much more in store.

Other people started sitting at the bar, and the game was the perfect ice-breaker. I talked to so many people from all around the world, with different backgrounds, ages and motivations to travel.

By the end of the regular 90 minutes, France had tied up the game, and it was going into extra time!

France’s Raphael Varane, left, and Argentina’s Julian Alvarez challenge for the ball during the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

JXM: For those listening who, like me, are unfamiliar with the rules of soccer, extra time consists of two 15-minute halves and is used to break a time at the end of a regular playing time. Similar to American football, whoever scores the most points at the end of extra time wins the game. If there is still a tie after the two 15-minute halves are complete, then the winning team is determined by penalty kicks, known by soccer fans as penalties.

GP: I looked back for the first time since the start of the second half, and noticed the out-the-door crowd. Everyone’s eyes were peeled to the screen. No matter who we were rooting for, we were all in this together. My dream had become a reality, and there’s nowhere I would have [rather been].

Extra time was tense. Every play was met with cheers, “Oohs” and “Aahs” from the crowd. Argentina scored a goal, but so did France… we were going into penalties.

Soccer penalties are an anxious affair. With every kick, my fellow travelers and I gripped each other tighter in anticipation of who would be crowned champion. When Argentina slotted the winning penalty, the bar exploded with shouts, cheers and hoorahs. I hugged, laughed and cried with absolute strangers like there was no tomorrow!

That final is now deemed by most as one of the best of the modern era. Messi was finally graced with a World Cup victory, but I was also graced with the miracle of universal friendship — all thanks to the beautiful game. The World Cup truly brings everyone together.

FILE – Argentina’s Lionel Messi celebrates with the trophy in front of fans after winning the World Cup final soccer match between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Dec. 18, 2022. A World Cup that ended with Lionel Messi finally holding the golden trophy in his hands produced some unforgettable images from the staff of Associated Press photographers at the tournament in Qatar. Through the 64 games over nearly a month of soccer, the AP deployed dozens of photographers to the eight stadiums in and around Doha.(AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

JXM: Winning the World Cup is no small feat. This win meant much more than just a victory for Argentina. It was a prime example of how we all can achieve our dreams — and how sharing our love can create environments, foster community and turn once-in-a-lifetime events into moments of magic.

This segment of “LoveFound” was produced by me, Joshua X. Miller. Producer/editor of the “LoveFound” series is Vocalo’s audio and community storytelling producer Ari Mejia.

Produced by Joshua X. Miller

Written introduction by Ari Mejia and assistant producer Joshua X. Miller

Transcription, editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

Illustration by Ivan Vazquez 

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