November 7, 2013
By Charles Cuttone
Soccer Bowl trophy brings back memories
ATLANTA—I got my glimpse of the NASL’s Soccer Bowl trophy today. It’s a nice-looking piece of hardware that either the New York Cosmos or Atlanta Silverbacks will lift on Saturday.
While most sports leagues probably have someone who is in charge of their championship hardware, most famously the white-gloved guy from the NHL who gained a measure of fame for being featured in a TV commercial for a credit card, the NASL had no such person designated for its Soccer Bowl trophy. For three years, though, and quite by accident, it seemed like it was yours truly.
It started in 1977, Pele’s final year with the New York Cosmos, a season the team hoped to cap with a fitting championship sendoff for the legendary Brazilian.
The morning after clinching the Conference Championship over the Rochester Lancers in front of 70,000 fans at Giant Stadium, the Cosmos were big, big news and had the Big Apple buzzing. People on the subway were talking soccer. And why not? The Cosmos were plastered on the back page of New York’s two tabloids, the Daily News and the Post.
It was quite a summer in New York, the Yankees and the feuds between George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson simmered, the Son of Sam was on his diabolical killing spree, the city was still struggling with near bankruptcy and, oh yea—the power went out in one of the biggest blackouts to ever hit the metropolitan area.
Amidst all of that, the Cosmos still made the back page of the tabloids. That was such a big deal, the poobahs at the Cosmos wanted to show those back pages off to the rest of the league. One copy of each paper would not suffice. Neither would making copies on the office copier. In the typical grand style of Warner Communications, we needed bundles of full newspapers and I was dispatched by cab to retrieve them from the city’s newspaper offices -- no easy feat, hauling around two huge bundles of papers in New York City cabs.
That accomplished, I was given charge of the bundles of newspapers, boxes of publicity materials and 12 cases of champagne—for the anticipated victory celebration—and getting them out to Kennedy Airport for the team’s charter flight to Portland.
My room served as a warehouse for all the freight during the stay in Portland, with the clutter slowly dissipating as events transpired -- the Cosmos winning the title on goals by Steve Hunt and Giorgio Chinaglia and the champagne being uncorked in the Civic Stadium locker room.
I’m not quite sure where the championship trophy resided overnight, but as we gathered in the lobby of the hotel for the trip to airport, I wound up with it. Bags were loaded onto the charter flight and I walked with Stevie Hunt through the airport, he carrying the huge facsimile check given to him as MVP of the game and me with the trophy.
The trophy made the trip back to New York strapped in a seat. As we approached New York, the pilot informed us that some 5,000 fans had gathered at the airport to greet the team, the largest such crowd since the Beatles arrived more than a decade earlier. Warner security chief Lou Luca initially thought the team should de-plane on some back runway, but the players made the decision to meet the fans.
We started to walk down the gangway and a roar went up when fans got their first glimpse of the trophy I was carrying. I noticed captain Werner Roth a few steps behind me, so I turned and handed it off to him to carry through the crowd.
The following year, the Cosmos became the only team to host a neutral site Soccer Bowl as well as compete in it. They summarily dispatched the Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-1. Once the locker room celebrations ceased, the party was continued in a private half of the Stadium Club at Giants Stadium. With the locker room pretty much cleared out, there sat the trophy. I grabbed it, Luca grabbed me and said “let’s go up the back stairs and avoid the crowd.” We made our way up the staircase and swung open the door, only to discover we were at the far end of the wrong side of the stadium club—the public half. With Luca blocking, I and the trophy slowly made it through the dense crowd, stopping for people to touch it or take photos with it, I never letting go of it, and Luca never letting go of me.
The following year, the Cosmos hosted the Soccer Bowl, but did not play in it, knocked out of the semi-finals by the Vancouver Whitecaps in a shootout. The crowd at Giants Stadium was still very much pro-Cosmos despite it being the Rowdies and Whitecaps on the field, with the eerily haunting chant of “Cos-mos, Cos-mos” wafting through the stadium throughout the game.
I was dispatched to the tunnel to assist in the postgame preparations. NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam was there, and introduced me to the honorary chairman of the league, Dr. Henry Kissinger, who was to take part in the trophy presentation. Woosnam handed me the Soccer Bowl trophy, which we placed on the back of a gold car. Dr. Kissinger got in the passenger seat, Woosnam sat on the back with trophy, and, with me at the wheel, we drove down the center of the Giants Stadium field, the crowd continuing its Cos-mos chant as we made our way out to the center.
That was the last time I would ferry the NASL Soccer Bowl trophy, but not my last trophy escapade. A dozen years later, in 1992, while working with the 1994 World Cup organizing committee, we staged an event at a swanky Central Park area hotel in New York. After the event had been broken down, and most everyone had left, it was noticed that the case for the World Cup trophy—yes that World Cup trophy -- had already been packed up and was gone, with the trophy still sitting on a table.
I grabbed the Trophy, stuck it in my gym bag and walked down Avenue of the Americas back to the World Cup offices in Rockefeller Center, with it tucked safely next to my sneakers.