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Gold-Medal Save : Cabbie Keeps Brazil’s Goalie From Losing Big

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after Brazilian goalie Claudio Taffarel’s nail-biting World Cup win, it was cab driver Juan Blanco’s turn for a huge save.

Blanco found a fanny pack with a World Cup gold medal, the Taffarel family’s passports and $60,000 in cash, which Taffarel had left in the cab after a ride to the Fullerton Marriott on Monday.

And the 32-year-old Blanco, who had driven his cab to the Rose Bowl on Sunday in an unsuccessful search for an affordable ticket to the final game, ended up with a champion’s reception of his own.

Blanco, a self-described soccer nut who rooted for Brazil after Mexico was knocked out of the World Cup tournament, knew his rider was a player when he picked him up Monday at the Anaheim Marriott, but didn’t know which one. They chatted about the game on the way to Fullerton and Taffarel subsequently introduced himself.

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The cab driver then dashed home for breakfast and a quick nap. When he climbed back in his leased cab, he spotted the pink-and-black fanny pack in the back seat.

He was stunned when he checked the compartments inside.

“I opened the front bag. I noticed a bunch of key rings and tie clips. I opened the second one. I saw a passport and visa for him and his wife and his daughter,” Blanco said. But the rear compartment held the big find: A wallet with the World Cup gold medal tucked inside, and $60,000 in four neat packets of cash.

“I started shaking,” Blanco said. “I thought, ‘I’m holding a gold medal in my hand.’ . . . I was going crazy.”

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For a moment he thought about how much the money could buy in Mexico. But the lure was brief: “It’s not for me. It’s not inside me to keep it.”

About the time Blanco was showing his find to his brother Roselio, Taffarel had discovered his mistake and contacted Cal State Fullerton police with sketchy information: A cab, white and yellow. No number. No driver name.

But the white-and-yellow description fit Blanco’s cab firm, A-AAA Yellow Cab of Santa Ana.

By the time police contacted the company and a call went out to drivers, the brothers were already on their way to deliver the pack, said Michael Casey, the company’s general manager. On their way out, the pair grabbed a camera and Blanco took along two videotapes he had made of the final World Cup games, in hopes the goalie would sign them. Roselio Blanco clutched the medal all the way to Fullerton.

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Blanco handed the pack to a police officer at the hotel, but Taffarel demanded to meet his driver in person. Blanco remembers a dreamy encounter: Star players he knew only from TV, big hugs and profuse thanks from a much-relieved Taffarel.

Blanco said Taffarel gave him $1,000 from the wallet, souvenir tie clasps and a team sweat-shirt. The goalie even autographed the shoulder of Blanco’s white driver’s shirt. And before he knew it, he was standing with Taffarel in front of a television camera broadcasting the tale to Brazil.

Casey has plastered news of the good deed around the cab firm and has plans to buy a special dinner for Blanco and his girlfriend.


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