August 29, 2010
Thanks for 35 years of memories
There is a line in the epic baseball movie Field of Dreams, where James Earl Jones says baseball has marked the passage of time in America. Maybe so, but in my life it has been soccer. Sure I have been to many memorable sporting events, the World Series, Super Bowl, U.S. Open and New York Marathon, but it has been soccer that’s been there almost every step of the way.
Recently, when the Philadelphia Union presented me with a #35 jersey to commemorate my 35 years in the game, a friend suggested I make a list of everything I’ve done in soccer. That would probably require a book. But when Seattle Sounders play-by play announcer Arlo White mentioned during his commentary on last night’s Fire-Sounders FC match that yesterday was the anniversary of the Cosmos’ Soccer Bowl win over the NASL Sounders, I thought picking out some of the highlights over this morning’s coffee might be a fun trip down memory lane.
So, we can start with that game and packed to the gills Civic Stadium in Portland, which will make its return to the big time next year when the Timbers join MLS. That August afternoon, in what was to be Pele’s last competitive game, the Cosmos beat the Sounders 2-1 thanks to a heads up goal by Stevie Hunt, who stole the ball from Sounders goalkeeper Tony Chursky as he rolled it in front of him for a goal kick.
The journey for me had actually begun two years earlier, some weeks before Pele signed with the Cosmos. The legendary story, retold in the movie Once in A Lifetime, is true. I was one of the handful of people out painting the dirt at Downing Stadium green hours before the great Brazilian was to take the field with his new team for the first time.
Fast-forward a couple of years to 1978, and the Cosmos winning their second straight Soccer Bowl title. For the second straight year, I wound up as postgame custodian of the championship trophy, this time carrying it through a packed stadium club at Giants Stadium headed toward the victory celebration.
Four years later, when I stood on the field at Jack Murphy Stadium watching the Cosmos defeat the Sounders in the Soccer Bowl for the second time in four years, I had no idea it was the sun setting on a dynasty and a league.
By that time I was no longer in the employ of the Cosmos, but still part of the extended family.
The NASL folded two years later, and I was among the group of “lifers” who worked during this period to keep the game moving forward. It was in 1988, when perhaps the most significant occurrence in my life occurred at a soccer game, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was at the New Jersey Eagles inaugural game that I met Linda, who was to become my wife some four years later.
I perhaps had no greater satisfaction of being at a game than in July of 1989 when Penn Jersey FC played a friendly against a Selection from the League of Northern Island. As President and part owner of the team, I stood on the landing at the top of the stadium at Trenton State College watching fans pour into the game, nearly 4,000 of them for a match we had set up on two weeks notice. I had no doubt soccer had a future.
Two years later, across the river in Oakford at the United German Hungarian Club, I watched the U.S. Women’s National team prepare for the first Women’s World Championship. Seeing that lineup, featuring Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, play in front of some 3,000 fans, there was no way of knowing some eight years later what an impact they would have on the American sporting public.
Of course, before there was a Women’s World Cup in the U.S., there was the 1994 World Cup. Working for the organizing committee at the Opening Draw at Madison Square Garden and helping stage the announcement of the venues, knowing along with a small handful of people the final nine cities that would host games, were thrilling, but not nearly so as being at the first World Cup game at Giants Stadium, where more than a decade earlier I was privileged to be part of the Cosmos phenomenon.
The years and decades have passed very quickly, and seeing new soccer stadiums open in both New Jersey and Philadelphia this year, have certainly added to the memories that still come with every trip to another game.