Salvatore Schillaci is best remembered for one month of soccer in his 15-year career. But what a month it was. From June 8 to July 8, 1990, Schillaci emerged from seemingly nowhere to lead Italy to the semifinals of the 1990 World Cup. Runty and prematurely aged, he looked like he'd just downed an espresso doble, hacked a butt, and wandered on to the pitch. Unless you were a fan of Juventus, for which Schillaci scored 15 goals in the 1989-90 season, you would have known almost nothing about the crafty, feisty striker from Palermo. (I believe "scrappy" is now the en vogue adjective.) Yet there he was, banging in goal after goal on his way to winning the golden boot in front of his countrymen.
Schillaci was the ultimate garbage man. He scored off rebounds and miscues, always in position to pounce, as if he had a precognition for weird bounces. Then he'd take off in delirious celebration, sometimes punctuating his exuberant dashes with a leap and a whirling pump of the fist. Even if you disliked the Italian style of play, you couldn't help but root for Toto. For one month, he was a joyous revelation, a testament to what a player in form can do when given the chance. He was never a superstar and he disappeared as quickly as he arrived, beset by injury and exile to the Japanese league. But today is his 47th birthday, and that is a fine opportunity to remember (with abominable pop music) what Italians refer to as the "notti magiche di Toto Schillaci." They were magical nights indeed.