Chapecoense: Brutal ‘Celebration’ For Brazil’s Tragic Cinderella Team

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Brazilian Chapecoense goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, a survivor of the LaMia airplane crash in Colombia, holds the Copa Sudamericana trophy. Jan. 21, 2017. Getty Images.

CHAPECO, Brazil (CNN) — It was a trophy presentation that will stay with me forever.

No fist pumps, no back-slapping, no shouting and screaming. There was barely even a team, just a handful of players choking back the tears as they lowered their heads to receive their medals.

It was not a happy occasion. It was a brutal ordeal.

Neto, Alan Ruschel and Jackson Follmann — whose right leg has been partially amputated — are Chapecoense’s only survivors from the team that set out to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. Their salute to the crowd, with Follmann clutching the cup in a motorized wheelchair, was unforgettable — pitiful and uplifting in equal measure.

It wasn’t how they thought they’d be returning to Chapeco, but they were lucky to have made it back at all.

Saturday (Jan.21) was another extraordinary day for Chapecoense, a day of mixed, not to mention extreme, emotions.

Chapecoense was playing its first game since the team was nearly wiped out in a plane crash on November 29.

In the space of just a few short weeks, 22 players have been recruited to form a brand new team, a band so hastily arranged that one player was even pulled out of training in front of me on

Thursday to quickly sign his contract on the sideline. But yet, Chape held the national champions to a 2-2 draw, each of the goals, from Douglas Grolli and Amaral, aiding the catharsis.

The players were joined on the field by the families of the victims, strong and dignified people who could never have imagined that one of the most unlikely stories in sport would end in such tragedy.

Emergency workers search the wreckage of the LaMia airlines charter plane after it crashed in the mountains of central Colombia. Getty Images.

Emergency workers search the wreckage of the LaMia airlines charter plane after it crashed in the mountains of central Colombia. Getty Images.

The wreckage of LaMia airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real soccer team, Nov. 29, 2016, after it crashed in the mountains of Colombia. Getty Images.

The wreckage of LaMia airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real soccer team, Nov. 29, 2016, after it crashed in the mountains of Colombia. Getty Images.

They accepted medals on behalf of their dads, husbands, boyfriends and fiancés — what should have been symbols of triumph, instead were very bittersweet tokens.

Most wept openly on the platform, supporting each other, trying to hold them up. One man held his medal aloft as they returned to their seats, but this was no celebration.

These families had to watch as new players took the field wearing the shirts and numbers of their loved ones, and as most of the fans in the stadium cheered what will be the dawn of a new era and the first match for the new team.

This all played out less than two months after the crash, gaping emotional wounds can’t possibly heal that fast, if at all.

The only ones immune to the suffering were the youngest: the widow of Marcelo Augusto returned to her seat, baby son Joao sleeping with his dad’s medal around his neck.

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