His shin guards tell you everything. Since FIFA mandated the gear in 1990, Cesar Martinez has met the requirement in a style of his choosing, and like other secret idiosyncrasies that might surprise non-soccer players, Cesar’s shin guards say a lot.

Cesar and I first played together with Chivas de Denver at the 1994 Silver Mug Tournament in Las Vegas, Nevada. Cesar heard people call him “El Mago,” the Wizard. But the humble center midfielder tried to play down the praise. After a couple years confounding opponents for Chivas de Guadalajara in a packed Estadio Jalisco, Cesar joined the growing group of Tapatio fellows in Colorado. Cesar wanted to quietly enjoy his sport with friends, and he had to wear shin guards just like everyone else.

I asked him what they looked like, barely perceptible under his socks. “These are my Taco Bell specials,” he said, offering a conspiratorial peek, “my secret weapon.” Sure enough, he had cut the bottom off a Taco Bell soda cup and separated the remainder for his left and right.

No one told me that Cesar would be playing with us in our over-40 indoor game before Christmas 2012, nearly 20 years after we met. I was really happy to see him stroll up before kickoff. He’s such a pleasure to play with because he tilts the game in your team’s favor while maintaining a vibe that reminds us we’re at play. “Tranquilo” is his most common phrase on the field, along with “Take it easy, Pat” for me.

So after we dismantled our over-40 opponents, Cesar showed me his new shin guards. He pulled out a rectangle no bigger than a postcard. You could see most of Tony the Tiger’s face on the Frosted Flakes cutout. The other one? Froot Loops.

Cesar is kind-hearted. He could have gone with Cap’n Crunch or Crunch Berries, but it’s not his style. He could have taken the lazy route with Lucky Charms. But that’s not his style either. When he recounted the stories of Chivas de Denver playing exhibition matches against the SuperMax prisoners in Florence, Colorado (twice), Cesar didn’t focus on his experience. Instead, he showed empathy for the inmates. According to teammates, Cesar put on a show that prisoners probably still talk about today.

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