I don’t know if Pele, 82, will be alive when you read this. But as I wrote, he was at the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo, lost to colon cancer and blood disorders.
I was still wet behind the ears and years old when I revealed a lie that I had arranged to be with Pele when he was touring North America in his final competitive year.
It was March 1977. I was a kid – 24 years old, 12 years in newspaper years – who told someone.
Joe Marcus, who in 1975, when Pele came out of retirement in Brazil, played in the glassy, glassy, bloodied Randalls Island in the Cosmos’ early years. , who drew football for The Post, has died.
I was an employee at the gym, a golfer taking home $90 a week, usually six days a week.
Ike Gellis, our rough and tumble Edward G. Robinson lookalike sports editor—so help me, straight out of central casting—asked a question out loud one morning: Who knows anything about football?
The Cosmos were going to Giants Stadium and he needed a replacement for Marcus.
I was not the heir to the next blow, but I took a quick and blind shot: “I do!” All I knew about football was that I worked summers as a bodyguard for swim club director Bill Leid, the football and wrestling coach at Wagner University.
I had cheated.
And so it settled. When the Cosmos moved into Giants Stadium and with more rapid success and sales than the North American Soccer League could sustain, I became The Post’s new soccer guy, without credentials or credentials.
And within days, I was shoulder to shoulder and pen to paper with the man everyone on every continent knew about soccer, the most famous and admired athlete in the world, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who traveled from Timbuktu to Totowa is known as Pele.
Surprisingly, Pele did not like his nickname, given to him at school because he named Bilé for his favorite player, the goalkeeper of the Brazilian Vasco da Gama team. He said he was named after Thomas Edison and preferred “Edson” because it was both serious and dignified.
Hmm, Pele’s favorite as a child was an actor hold up goals
It was impossible not to like Pele. We didn’t bother him in the local press beyond football issues. He appreciated this, so we got to know each other by our first names. The world’s press was swarming him, cameras and sound crews followed to capture the married man’s ultimate love, real and imagined.
Even Pele’s pint-sized, chain-link protector, Pedro Garay, a Cuban who invaded his country to oust Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs, knew we could be trusted, that we were neither publicly nor privately dangerous to Pele. Friday.
Garay was another interesting character in the Cosmos series. One night in Vancouver, BC, just before a game against the Whitecaps, he showed captain Werner Roth how his handcuffs worked. Then he could not find the key. He had left it in his hotel room.
Here’s what I knew about Pele almost immediately upon entering:
1. He and self-proclaimed star Giorgio Chinaglia both wanted – needed – a ball, the closer to the opposition’s goal the better. And Chinaglia made it clear unconditionally that he would use his muscle with Cosmos Warner Communications chief executive Steve Ross, a caring father figure, regardless of Warner co-chairs Ahmet and Nesuhi, the powerful and famous music and football giants. Ertegun wanted the opposite.
This international division house created the most famous team in the world from 1976 to 1983. And every day there was a mess behind every door. It did not really know about football, at that time, fun and educational! And the poor coach, Gordon Bradley, was a good man who had a daily crush on him.
He wrote himself. That’s why I wrote it. I didn’t know better.
2. I also knew at first what I couldn’t write, unless I wanted to bring up the infamy of Steve Marshall, Cosmos’ good-guy travel secretary and massive — like, 6-foot-5, 290 pound — nose and point man. as he signaled to stop “over there”.
In 1976, BC – before cell phones – the Cosmos returned from a game against New England at Boston University’s Nickerson Field. The bus did not have a room. So at night, with the team scrambling for help, Marshall drove to a nearby deserted field off Highway 84.
Fluid mission accomplished. The crew got back into the bus and got off the bus. Until Marshall noticed that Pele was missing.
As the bus returns to look for Pele, Marshall is haunted by a sense of impending history that left him with the world’s most famous athlete dead or hitchhiking, alone, in an abandoned field near Route 84 outside of Boston.
If I didn’t fully understand Pele’s fame and global appeal, he disappeared before a game against the LA Aztecs at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Word spread that Elton John, part owner of the Aztecs, would be in the parking lot to greet Pele. I was on the team bus and as we got closer to the Coliseum, the crowd started.
So my plan was: Get close to Pele and Garay. What possible harm can be done to them?
As we got off the bus—I was carrying a briefcase and an Olivetti printing press—the crowd swelled. Suddenly, I had no body control or balance; my hands were tied at my sides; if the crowd went left, I went left, once almost horizontally.
Completely helpless, I saw the headline: “Pele, 20 More Die in Stampede.” My name will make the agate print at the bottom of the story, then appear in the second edition.
(It’s so weird that I get offended when ESPN geniuses support field and court storming as good, clean, student body fun and ritual.)
I spoke to Pele about this after the game, asking him if he had ever had to run away from a crowd like that. Even though he is a modest person, he smiled. Then he made a circle with his hands:
“Yes,” he said in English, “All over the world.”