On Christmas day in 2013, my father gave me the best gift I’ve ever been given. It was a Pachuca jersey from their 2010 Club World Cup campaign, wrapped so that the first thing I saw when I opened it was Miguel Calero’s signature. Calero, el Cóndor, el Show, the goalkeeper who was not the reason I started following the Tuzos but was the reason I fell in love with them, who had suddenly and unexpectedly died of cerebral thrombosis the previous December.
I started following Mexican soccer when learning Spanish in college. I paid particular attention to Pachuca because they had some American players, but it was the goalkeeper who caught my eye. At first I didn’t understand anything the announcers were saying, but before long I got used to picking out “¡Grande Calero!” after each spectacular save.
I watched every game. I put on the closed captioning and tried to understand the announcers. I spent hours each week painstakingly translating MedioTiempo articles. But it was no longer a means to an end; somewhere my priorities had shifted. I wasn’t following Pachuca to improve my Spanish. I was improving my Spanish to follow Pachuca, and to follow Calero.
Calero, who was larger than life with a personality to match. The 6’3 keeper was nicknamed “Show” for his theatrics, but he backed them up with his play on the field.
He spent more than a decade with Pachuca, as captain, as icon, as hero. He backstopped the Tuzos to no fewer than 10 trophies: four league titles, four CONCACAF Champions League titles, one SuperLiga title and, historically, one Copa Sudamericana. Calero’s Pachuca was the first – and remains the only – Mexican team to have lifted a South American trophy.
It wasn’t just the silverware that made him a legend. It was how he won it.
Calero wore baseball caps and bandannas as a trademark until Liga MX banned the headgear. But some of his most iconic moments came while wearing them.
Stoppage time of the Clausura 2006 semifinals against Chivas. Pachuca had won the first leg but was now trailing by a goal on aggregate. The Tuzos got a last-gasp free kick and everyone came up for it. Calero, baseball cap and all, headed the ball into the net, leveling the aggregate and sending Pachuca to the final. Pachuca won.
Facing the LA Galaxy in the 2007 SuperLiga final. It went to penalty kicks and Landon Donovan had the chance to win it. Calero, bandana in place, stared him down, stopped the penalty, and sent the shootout to sudden death. Pachuca won.
When Calero was on the field, Pachuca won. When Calero was on the field, he was Pachuca. It was a rare year when he played with no trophy to show for it. But even when there was no silverware, just watching him play was enough.
There was always something worth seeing.
Even his not-so-heroic moments somehow managed to add to the legend: sent off late on in a 1-1 game against Monarcas Morelia for a foul in the box, defender Juan Carlos Rojas had to take Calero’s gloves and jersey and face the penalty; all three subs had already been used. And Rojas made the save.
That was just the sort of thing that happened around him. Calero could do no wrong, no matter the circumstances. I referred to him as “everybody’s favorite goalkeeper” because I couldn’t conceive of anyone not admiring him. Even opponents had no choice but to respect him. He was certainly the favorite of every Pachuca fan – and the sentiment was returned. The Colombian-born Calero proudly became a naturalized Mexican. He raised his family in Pachuca and his youngest son joined the Tuzos’ youth academy. He loved the team. He loved the fans. We loved him back.
His retirement in 2011 was painful.
His death in 2012 was devastating.
I cried for a week. My father wrote me a lovely sympathy card and it made me cry harder. More than 12,000 fans went to the Estadio Hidalgo to mourn him. A statue was built. Pachuca permanently retired his number 1. It was the end of an era. The death of a legend.
But legends have something of immortality about them, and Miguel Calero’s lives on at Pachuca. On August 13th, his youngest son, Juan José, came on as a sub and scored his first goal in Liga MX just a minute later – against Pumas UNAM, the last opponent his father faced before retiring. The Calero Center, a goalkeeping school, opened earlier this year. The fans remember him. They won’t ever forget.
I won’t ever forget.
Calero made me un Tuzo de corazón.
And I will treasure that jersey for the rest of my life.