Sports·The Buzzer

There was no one like Diego Maradona

CBC Sports' daily newsletter appreciates the one-of-a-kind life and career of the soccer great after his death at the age of 60.

On and off the field, you couldn't look away

His thighs were just one of the otherworldly things about Maradona. (Steve Powell/Allsport/Getty Images)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Diego Maradona was one of a kind

One of the greatest and most interesting players in soccer history — a man who lived as hard off the field as he played on it — Maradona died today after reportedly suffering a heart attack at his home in Buenos Aires. He was only 60.

Maradona's early death isn't exactly a shock. Even at the peak of his powers in the '80s and early '90s, he was tough on his body. His epic booze-and-cocaine binges sometimes lasted days — even during the season — and his overeating left him with a noticeably thicker figure toward the end of his career. In retirement, Maradona's bad habits really caught up to him as his eating, drinking and drug use contributed to his weight ballooning. In 2000 and 2004, he suffered heart scares blamed on his cocaine abuse, and he's been in and out of the hospital with various physical issues. A few weeks ago, he had brain surgery. Even as he toned down some of his excesses with age, it always seemed like he was on the edge.

Bad as that stuff was, though, it was part of the package that made Maradona one of the most compelling athletes of all time. You can't help but marvel at how someone who partied that hard could dominate like Maradona did on the pitch. It simply wouldn't be possible for today's athletes. Standing only 5-foot-5 but blessed with tree-trunk legs, blazing speed and insane ball skills, he'd slalom through opponents who were no match for his combo of speed and strength. The guy was pure joy to watch.

Better yet, he translated all that talent and skill into some immortal moments. On the international stage, Maradona's "Hand of God" goal to help Argentina beat hated England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico is one of the most famous/infamous plays in sports history. It also perfectly captures the mix of brilliance and controversy that defined Maradona. He clearly committed a hand ball and only got away with it because the refs didn't see it. But when confronted about it after the match, Maradona coyly insisted he scored partly with his head and partly "with the hand of God" (hence the name).

1986: Maradona Hand of God

11 years ago
0:50
In Mexico City during a quarter-final match against England, Argentine striker Diego Maradona scores "the goal". 0:50

Maradona added an even prettier goal a few minutes later (that one's known as the "Goal of the Century"), scored twice more in the semifinals vs. Belgium and helped Argentina beat West Germany 3-2 in the final for its second (and to date last) World Cup title. At the next World Cup, in 1990 in Italy, Maradona went without a goal but was still instrumental to Argentina's run to the final, where it lost a rematch vs. the West Germans.

Italy was also the stage for Maradona's greatest work as a club player. He reached Beatle-like celebrity status in Naples by leading SSC Napoli to its first (and still only) Italian league titles in 1987 and '90. He'll always be a hero in that city for lifting its team above the despised clubs of the wealthier north, like Juventus and A.C. Milan.

In Argentina, though, Maradona is on another level. His rags-to-riches story (he grew up and learned to play soccer in a barrio on the outskirts of Buenos Aires) is classic. And his two legendary goals in that '86 World Cup quarter-final created more than just a soccer victory. Argentina was still stinging from its humiliating defeat to England in the 1982 Malvinas War (what we call the Falklands War) so Argentines adore Maradona for using any means necessary to earn a measure of revenge. Today, Argentina's President declared three days of national mourning in honour of Maradona.

To get an idea of what Maradona means to that country, I asked my colleague Ignacio Estefanell, who's part Argentine, to put him in a context Canadians can relate to. He says Wayne Gretzky would be the closest thing, but even that comparison doesn't quite capture it.

"For all the reasons people revile Maradona for the Hand of God, Argentines love him," Ignacio says. "He stuck it to England in such a way that they are still talking about it. You can call it cheating, but it was brilliant.

"Off the field, he made every mistake possible. But on the field it was art. And that's what people remember."

Read more about Maradona's life and soccer career here.

What will be Diego Maradona's legacy?

Sports

3 months ago
3:44
Legendary soccer player Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60. John Molinaro joins CBC Sports to discuss his legacy on and off the field. 3:44

Quickly...

The NFL postponed its Thanksgiving night game. The Baltimore-Pittsburgh matchup scheduled for 8:20 p.m. ET on the American holiday was moved to Sunday because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Ravens. Running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins were among the four players who'd been placed on the team's reserve/COVID-19 list. The Steelers were also forced to adjust earlier this season when their game at Tennessee on Oct. 4 was pushed back to later in the month. Read more about the Ravens-Steelers postponement here.

The entire National Women's Hockey League season will be played over two weeks. It'll take place in a bubble setup in Lake Placid, N.Y., from Jan. 23 to Feb. 5. The six teams (including the expansion Toronto Six) will play each other once, followed by a playoff round that decides which four teams advance to the Isobel Cup semifinals. The winners of those face off in a one-game final. It appears the NWHL season will again take place without the members of the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association, which includes most of the Canadian and U.S. national teams. Instead, that group is planning a second run of the barnstorming Dream Gap Tour launched last year. Read more about the NWHL's plans here.

All the Canadian MLS teams are now eliminated. Toronto FC, which was seeded No. 2 in the Eastern Conference, lost its opening playoff match last night 1-0 to No. 7 seed Nashville. Montreal lost its play-in game last weekend and Vancouver didn't qualify for the post-season. Read more about Toronto's defeat here.

And sadly...

Fred Sasakamoose died. One of the first Indigenous men to play in the NHL, Sasakamoose appeared in 11 games with Chicago during the 1953-54 season. After his career, he was involved in youth sports programs, including a national championship for young Indigenous hockey players. He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and became a member of the Order of Canada in 2018. Sasakamoose died at 86 after being hospitalized with the coronavirus. Read about how his friend and former NHL player Reggie Leach remembers Sasakamoose here.

You're up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now