November 15, 2015
Looking back at five Cosmos NASL championships
By Michael Lewis
Sunday will be my eighth Soccer Bowl.
In other words, I have witnessed five of the six Cosmos' North American Soccer League championships.
I did not attend the 1972 NASL final. At that time I did not care for the beautiful game. And besides, my parents had just tdropped me off at Syracuse University in late August, 1972.
Here are some personal memories from those games:
At the time, I was working in Rochester, N.Y. and covering the Rochester Lancers, who reached the conference finals against the Cosmos. I decided to make an early decision and book a flight and a hotel room for my first national championship game in Portland. The Lancers lost to the juggernaut Cosmos in the series, but I ventured across the country for the very first time to attend Pele's final competitive match.
Like the Wizard OZ movie going from black and white into color, I was mesmerized by Portland its endless flowing green forests on my cab ride into the city. Because I was not among Cosmos, Seattle Sounders (their opponents) and Portland media, I was assigned to an auxiliary press box at Civic Stadium behind one of the goals. At first I didn't like it, but as a young sportswriter, I learned a very important lesson that day. Being there is important and what doesn't seem to be the best seat in the house turn into one under the right circumstances.
I wound up having a front-row seat for one of the most remarkable goals scored in a soccer championship game. The match was only 19 minutes old. Seattle goalkeeper Tony Chursky dived to gather in a long feed by Giorgio Chinaglia that was out of the reach of Steve Hunt. Chursky got up and started to dribble away, ignoring everything and everyone. In came Hunt, who stole the ball and knocked it into the goal for the first goal of a 2-1 Cosmos triumph. Hunt lost his left shoe in the process.
Chursky, a Canadian international at the time, was deaf in one ear and could not hear his teammates' warnings over the loud crowd.
Four minutes later, the Sounders equalized on Tommy Ord's goal but Chinaglia's six-yard header -- off Hunt's left-wing cross on the 77th minute -- decided the matter before packed house of 35,548.
The scene in the Cosmos' raucous locker room -- yes, media was allowed into team locker rooms after championship games in those days -- was surreal.
The Brazilian media kept singing and chanting the Black Pearl's name, "Pele, Pele, Pele!" before they took him on their shoulders and paraded him through the room.
Later, sitting at his locker, Pele was serene. "God has been kind to me. Now I can die," he said.
Of course, Pele has not died. He is alive and kicking,
After a 10-goal result season, Dennis Tueart struck twice for the Cosmos in their 3-1 win over Rodney Marsh and the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Giants Stadium. Tueart scored in the 31st minute and Chinaglia added a goal with only 22 seconds remaining in the opening half. Mirandinha closed the gap for the visitors in the 74th minute before Tueart's second goal in the 77th minute gave the Cosmos some breathing room.
What I remember most about the championship weekend was a meeting -- it could have been the very first meeting -- of the Professional Soccer Reporters Association. There was so much to tackle on Friday that the group voted to continue the meeting on Sunday morning, the day of the Soccer Bowl. I did not attend. I came down with a real bad cold and needed a lot of tea to get me up to par just to have my head into the game.
As it turned out, I learned another lesson: attend meetings. While I was gone, the powers that be noticed my interest in soccer and wanted to know if I wanted to become treasurer. Being a math major in college before turning to journalism, I decided to give it a try. The try lasted five years.
It's incredible what you remember 35 years later. I remember participating in the media game, which was sponsored by Special Olympics. Because I was the PSRA treasurer, I received a photo of my team from the game, with a frame and autographed by Eunice Shriver. I still have it. I consider it one of my most cherished part of my soccer collection.
On the way back from RFK Stadium to the media hotel, the bus broke down -- not in the best part of Washington, D.C. This was in the days well before cellphones, so it took quite a long time before they could get a replacement bus for us.
As for Soccer Bowl, the Cosmos struck for three second-half goals en route to a 3-0 victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. J.C. Romero found the back of the net in the 48th minute before Chinaglia connected in the 71st and 88th minutes to seal the deal. If my memory is correct, Marinho was not in the Strikers' starting lineup and he said he wasn't going to sit on the bench if he wasn't going to start.
Incredible as it may sound, it was the first and only time I have been in San Diego. Beautiful weather. The game? Eh, not so beautiful or perfect.
In a rematch of the 1977 final, the Cosmos prevailed on another Chinaglia goal in a 1-0 result. No one realized it at the time, it was the Cosmos' last championship in 31 years.
This time they won for another Brazilian legend -- central defender Carlos Alberto, who was playing in his last competitive game.
"It was a special game, my last official one, but emotionally I felt about the same before," Alberto told me. "I was worried and I smoked a lot of cigarettes today. I wanted to be a champion again. ... I am very happy now and that's not because I'm stopping play, but because we won."
While Alberto was talking to reporters, a makeshift samba band -- composed of Cosmos players, onlookers and fanatics chanted the names of the players to the music of Jose Marti's "Guantanamera."
The samba started with Alberto, went to Hunt, then to Davis before serenading goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier.
Birkenmeier did not appear to be in a celebratory mood He had registered his third consecutive Soccer Bowl shutout -- the others being Fort Lauderdale in 1980 and Chicago Sting in 1981) and he extended his personal scoreless streak to 285 minutes in a Soccer Bowl.
"I dedicated this game to my mother when she died in August," Birkenmeier told this writer. "I promised we would win the Soccer Bowl for her."
Birkenmeier and his Cosmos teammates came through for his mother with their fifth NASL crown.
Besides the game, what stands out? The traffic in Atlanta. It took a looooong time to get from here to there. The Silverbacks stadium wasn't huge by any means, but it had a fabulous atmosphere.
The match was significant for one thing -- the Cosmo won their first title in the first competitive season in 29 years, a 1-0 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks.
Quite appropriately, Marcos Senna converted a free kick for the lone goal in a 1-0 Cosmos triumph.
I was covering the game for Newsday and I needed to get quotes for my story. During the postgame celebration on the field, a number of well-wishers were congratulating head coach Giovanni Savarese. I got in line, congratulated him and got a minute's worth of quotes for my story.
With my computer in the press box (it was behind the goal in which Senna did not score), I typed in the quotes into my IPhone and emailed them to the paper.
“I am very proud of the guys. It was well deserved, this championship. They've done great throughout the season.
They've done great throughout the season. They've worked very hard. It paid off today.
For them against all odds they did an amazing job.”
Most importantly, they got to the paper on time and made the correct edition. That's what it was all about.