The newly crowned German champions were scheduled to begin their parade at precisely 12:09 p.m. Sunday. They'd end Bayern Munich's decade of dominance, etch their names into Dortmund's ceremonial Golden Book, then roll through yellow-lined streets in an open-top bus. They'd take a lap and a half around the Borsigplatz, Borussia Dortmund's birthplace. They’d snake southwest, and through downtown, saluting hundreds of thousands of gleeful fans as they went.
Or at least that's how Dortmund, the city and its soccer club, had planned to celebrate their impending 2022-23 Bundesliga title.
Instead, on Saturday, Borussia Dortmund blew it — and Bayern won it again.
All Dortmund needed was a win over Mainz, a nondescript team that had lost four straight games and had nothing to play for. Instead, before an expectant and ear-splitting crowd of 81,365, with thousands more preparing to explode in celebration outside, Dortmund conceded an early goal, then missed a penalty, then conceded again.
They gleaned fleeting hope and jubilation from Bayern's simultaneous finale in Köln. The hosts erased Bayern's 1-0 lead, and for four, five, six, seven minutes and counting, the title was Dortmund's. News filtered through to the Signal Iduna Park and reignited it. Dortmund was still losing, 2-1, but its fans nonetheless began their eruption.
Then came the cruel, crushing blow. Jamal Musiala spun and fired Bayern into a 2-1 lead, back to the top of the table, and to an 11th consecutive title.
JAMAL MUSIALA SCORES AND BAYERN ARE BACK ON TOP OF THE LEAGUE 🤯 pic.twitter.com/rDEE8ksIEt
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 27, 2023
Dortmund equalized with a minute of stoppage time remaining, but needed a winner, and couldn't find one.
After a frantic final push, with Bayern players watching on Thomas Müller's phone in Köln, Dortmund players heard the final whistle and sunk toward Earth. Their stadium, one of soccer's great cauldrons, fell as silent as can be. And Bayern's streak entered its second decade.
This, quite clearly, had been Dortmund's golden chance to end it, a storybook season of dramatic goals that happened to coincide with Bayern's worst campaign since 2010-11. The Bavarians had surged to the top of the table in November, as they always do; but over the winter, they'd uncharacteristically stumbled. They dropped point after point in January, February and March — at which point they uncharacteristically panicked.
They were still heavy Bundesliga favorites and, by most metrics, the second-best team in all of Europe. But they sacked manager Julian Nagelsmann, and hired former Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel, and accelerated their spiral. They won just five of their next 11 games. They exited the German Cup and the Champions League, and, in the 11th, threw away the Bundesliga, losing 3-1 at home to RB Leipzig last weekend.
Dortmund won the following day, and, hand in hand with a buzzing city, began planning the parade.
"Several hundred thousand people would be expected in the city for a possible title celebration," the club explained on its official website. "Several hundred security personnel would be deployed. Glass would be banned along the route. There would be temporary road closures."
Dortmund mayor Thomas Westphal even declared: "We’re assuming the team won’t let it slip.”
But it was another politician's bold declaration that proved prescient. Amid the Bayern slump, back in April, Bavarian prime minister Markus Söder had said: "The Dortmunders are actually almost too stupid to become German champions. I am very optimistic."
Those Dortmunders ascended to the top of the table three times, once each in March, April and May. And each time, they failed to win their very next game. The first of three was an implosion at Bayern's Allianz Arena on April 1. The third, though, on Saturday, was the most heartbreaking.
Dortmund's players sat motionless on the field, under a beaming early-evening sun, as Bayern's players sprinted toward their traveling fans in Köln. They sat there, empty, as Bayern's stars received their annual winner's medals and kissed the trophy.
As if to add injury to insult, amid the celebration, German media reported that Bayern would sack its CEO and sporting director — that's how unacceptable this Bayern season had been, and Dortmund still couldn't top it.
Players eventually rose to meet their fans, all of whom had stayed and none of whom were visibly angry. Manager Edin Terzic, with emotion crunching his face, stepped forward to salute them, but almost couldn't bear to show his face and keep it lifted.
The fans responded with claps and scarves and song. "We will always be Borussia," they chorused. "There is never, never, another club."
♾️ „Und wir werden immer Borussen sein, es gibt nie nie nie einen anderen Verein…“ pic.twitter.com/1CQe0Me6a2
— Borussia Dortmund (@BVB) May 27, 2023
But beneath the scarves, there were tears. Ugly tears. This had been the chance, the chance to topple a machine. And Dortmund, unequivocally, had blown it.