Without doubt, my best Mandela moment in football took place on July 12, 1994. That was the day he was inaugurated as South Africa's first democratically elected president.
It was also matchday at Ellis Park, where Bafana Bafana were playing host to a powerful Zambia, in Clive Barker's second match in charge.
The stadium was crammed beyond capacity with 60 000 people eager to enjoy 'Mandela Day'.
The action was end-to-end and the atmosphere pulsating, but at half-time the match was scoreless. But this was the cue for the big moment as Madiba arrived by helicopter, direct from the inauguration ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Kick-off for the second half was delayed as the new president met the players on the pitch. And when the game was restarted, we were treated to our first bit of 'Madiba Magic' in football – it was as if the great man had transferred some of his power to each Bafana player, because they hit Zambia with two quick goals within five minutes of the restart.
First the darling of Soweto, Doctor Khumalo, scored, then Brendan Augustine made it 2-0 – I recall being embraced by the burly S'bu Mseleku of The Sowetan as the second went in. This was also the cue for Barker to make the first of his trademark aeroplane celebrations that we were to see so much of over the next three years.
Not even the harsh sending off of Doctor Khumalo and a late Zambia consolation goal could take the gloss off the day, which marked the beginning of the annual Nelson Mandela Challenge.
There have been other happy Madiba moments, like seeing him hand the Nations Cup trophy to Neil Tovey on February 3, 1996 and being present in Zurich in May 2004 to hear Fifa president Sepp Blatter announce South Africa as World Cup 2010 hosts.
As Madiba stood to acknowledge the accolades, I turned and hugged the nearest South African. That it was the gorgeous Khanyi Dhlomo made the moment all the more memorable …
But not even that beats that afternoon in May '94, Mseleku's bearhug notwithstanding. I can hear the crowds' massed chants today, as if the late Sizwe Motaung was still overlapping down the right: "Sizwe, Sizwe, Sizwe!"
Yes, that day marked the rise of Bafana Bafana and the rebirth of our nation. Unforgettable.
KICK OFF editor