Pelé’s iconic Cosmos tenure sparked long sportswriting career

When you read this, I don’t know if Pele, 82, will be alive. But as I wrote, he was in Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein Hospital, fading from colon cancer and blood disorders.

I am still wet behind the ears and years when I told a flagrant lie that assigned me to be with Pele when he traveled to North America during his final competitive year.

It was March 1977. I was just a kid – 24, that’s 12 in newspaper years – who told a hopper.

Joe Marcus, who delivered soccer balls for the post during the Cosmos’ earliest years on grimy, gritty, glass-strewn, blood-stained Randalls Island to Yankee Stadium in 1975 when Pele signed out of retirement in Brazil, has died.

I was an official in sports, a gopher grew to 90 take-home bucks a week, which often included six days a week.

Ike Gellis, our tough, ruthless Edward G. Robinson Lookalike, acting sports editor – so help me, straight from the main casting – asked a question out loud one morning: Who knows anything about soccer?

The Cosmos had moved to Giants Stadium and he needed a replacement for Marcus.

I was not heir to the next hit, but I took a quick, blind shot: “I do!” All I knew about soccer was that I worked summers as a lifeguard for swim club manager Bill Leid, soccer and wrestling coach at Wagner College.

I’d committed fraud.

Pele came out of brief retirement to play for the Cosmos.
George Tiedmann / Courtesy of Miramax Films

And so it was decided. When the Cosmos moved into Giants Stadium and with more immediate, sellout success than the North American Soccer League could sustain, I was the Post’s new soccer hit man, without credentials or a clue.

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And within days, I was shoulder-to-shoulder and pen-to-paper with the one person everyone on every continent knew about soccer, the world’s most famous and admired athlete, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known from Timbuktu To Totova as Pele.

Oddly, Pele did not like his nickname, given to him at school as he mangled the name Bilé for his favorite player, the goalkeeper in Brazil’s Vasco da Gama team. He said he was named after Thomas Edison and preferred “Edson” as it was serious and dignified.

Hmm, Pele’s favorite as a child was a player who Prevent Goals.

It was impossible not like Pele. We in the local press corps did not bother him except for the soccer matters. He appreciated this, so he got to know us by our first names. The world media killed him, with cameras and sound crews to capture the married man’s latest love interest, real and imaginary.

Even Pele’s pint-sized, anvil-hard bodyguard, Pedro Garay, a Cuban who invaded his homeland to oust Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs, knew we could be trusted, that we were no threat to Pele in public or Private.

Geary was another spectacular character in the Cosmos’ retinue. One night in Vancouver, BC, just before a game against the Whitecaps, he demonstrated to captain Werner Roth how his handcuffs worked. Then could not find the key. He left it in his hotel room.

What I knew about Pele almost immediately after my entry was:

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1. He and the self-styled striker Giorgio Chinaglia both wanted – needed – the ball, the closer to the opponents’ goal the better. And Hineglia has made it absolutely clear that he will use his muscle with Cosmos’ primary Warner communications boss, father-figure and attention-hound Steve Ross, no matter what the powerful and famous music and soccer freak Warner co-chairs, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, Wanted to move.

Pele, right, with Giorgio Chinaglia while they played for the Cosmos.
Pele, right, with Giorgio Chinaglia while they played for the Cosmos.

This international house divided created the world’s most famous team from approximately 1976 to 1983. And there was dysfunction every day behind every door. Not really knowing much about soccer, at the time, was fun And Educational! And the poor coach, Gordon Bradley, was a good man daily squeeze in a musician.

It was written. So I wrote it. I didn’t know better.

2. I also knew, early on, what I couldn’t write unless I wanted to bring discredit to Steve Marshall, the Cosmos’ good-natured traveling secretary and massive — like 6-foot-5, 290 pound — nose tackle and pound man. , as he indicated to wait “over” a lot.

In 1976, BC—before cellphones—the Cosmos returned from a game against New England at Boston University’s Nickerson Field. The bus did not carry any toilet. So at night, with the team hollering for relief, Marshall had the driver pull over near a deserted field near Route 84.

Fluid mission accomplished. The team reentered the bus and left. Until Marshall discovered Pele was missing.

As the bus circled to look for Pele, Marshall caught the fear and sense of history to come, that he had left the world’s most famous athlete to die or watch alone in an abandoned field off Route 84 outside of Boston.

If I didn’t fully understand the universal fame and appeal of Pele, it disappeared before a game against the LA Aztecs at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Pele chases after the ball while in action for the Cosmos at Giants Stadium.
Pele chases after the ball while in action for the Cosmos at Giants Stadium.
Getty Images

Word spread that Elton John, a 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, mobs started to circle.

So here was my plan: stick close to Pele and gear. What possible harm could come to them?

As we got off the bus – I was carrying a suitcase and a portable Olivetti typewriter – the crowd grew. Suddenly, I had no control of my body or weight; My arms were stuck to my sides; If the crowd surged left, I went left, once almost horizontally.

Pele helped bring soccer to new heights in America.
Pele helped bring soccer to new heights in America.
Getty Images

Absolutely helpless, I saw the headline: “Pell, 20 others, die in stampede.” My name would make the agate print at the bottom of the story, then drop out in the second edition.

(Little wonder I get disgusted when ESPN geniuses endorse field and room-storming as good, clean, student body fun and ritual.)

I spoke to Pele after the game, and asked if he had ever been forced to flee from such a mob. Although a modest man, he smiled. Then he made a ring with his hands:

“Yes,” he said in English, “all over the world.”


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