August 27, 2016
Learning that it doesn't matter where you sit at a stadium, as long as you get a seat
By Michael Lewis
This is my Soccer Bowl '77 press pass. It has become a bit battered over the years. Originally, it was made out to someone else, but their name was crossed off for mine. It doesn't matter. It got me into one memorable, historic game.
Photo by Michael Lewis
Even when we are not in school or have graduated from either high school or college, life still offers many special lessons.
I know I have had plenty of them and one of my earliest lessons as a journalist happened so many years ago.
Sunday marks the 39th anniversary of Soccer Bowl '77 and a special goal that Steve Hunt scored for the Cosmos, one of the most unusual and unforgettable goals in the history of U.S. pro soccer.
Let's set the stage.
At the time I was working for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and covering the Rochester Lancers in the original incarnation of the North American Soccer League. The Lancers went on an incredible run in the playoffs and reached the semifinals against the Cosmos. Rochester lost to Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia and company in a memorable series to clinch a spot in Soccer Bowl.
Before the series, I made up my mind that I was going to fly out to Portland, Ore., the site of the championship game, regardless how the Lancers fared against the big, bad Cosmos. I wanted to witness, in a person, a national championship game
I flew out to Portland (I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of the area, seeing it for the very first time) to watch Pele's final competitive match. It was history, after all.
Unfortunately, I was unaware of Powell's Bookstore at the time or my baggage would have been ridiculously weighed down by a ton of books, but I enjoyed my short stay there.
Of course, the big day was Sunday, Aug. 27 -- the Cosmos vs. the underdog Seattle Sounders.
My press credential said I was sitting in the auxiliary press box, wherever that was.
The Portland, New York/New Jersey and Seattle area writers got first preference. No problem.
The auxiliary press box was behind one of the goals. I had a whole three years of covering pro soccer games under my belt and I had never watched a game from behind a goal. Little did I know I was going to have a front seat to history.
In the 20th minute, Seattle goalkeeper Tony Chursky gathered in a long pass down the left side from Chinaglia, which was intended for Steve Hunt. As Chursky turned toward to the goal, he started dribbling the ball ball toward the six-yard box. Hunt decided to follow him, managed to kick the ball towards the net while both players tried to reach the ball first. The ball trickled into the lower left corner while Chursky tackled the Cosmos winger.
I couldnít believe what I had seen.
New York and a goal that I would never forget because it happened right in front of me in a game that turned into a 2-1 Cosmos win (the seen in the Cosmosí locker room afterwards was surreal in so many ways, especially with the way the Brazilian media put Pele on their shoulders and marched him around the crowded room, but thatís another story for another time).
And the lesson was unforgettable as well. Sportswriter shouldn't worry about where you sit in stadium.
After the United States was eliminated from the 1998 World Cup in France, all of sudden American writers were getting less and less priority seating. For the Argentine-Netherlands game in Marseille, I managed to get a seat on the sidelines. I had a fabulous view of one of the penalty areas.
Now I said I had a seat. I had no desk. No electricity. Just a seat.
So guess what happened? The Netherlands' Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the great goals in front of me and yes, I had another ringside seat to witness it happen.
So, would I like to have a seat across from the center circle?
Of course, but as I learned long ago, as long as I can get a seat (and a table top and electricity for my computer in this digital age), everything else in my soccer writing universe will be just fine.
I learned that lesson 39 years ago today.