January 16, 2017
When Michael met Alan (1979, 2016)
By Michael Lewis
It was 39 years between interviews, but Alan Hinton (above) and Michael Lewis finally got together again to talk via the telephone in April 2016.
Photo by Michael Lewis
BRENTWOOD, Calif. -- I'll never forget the day because it was one of the most surreal days of my professional writing career and at that point I was barely five years into it.
I was in Tulsa, Okla. on April 15, 1979, the day of the great North American Soccer League players strike. I wound up in Tulsa for exact 24 hours, cranking out three rather unusual stories.
Let's start at the beginning.
Earlier that week, the NASL players’ union voted to strike that weekend's games. No one knew whether the strike would actually be held.
I went on with business as usual, heading to Cleveland, Ohio for a few days off to help put the finishing touches on the plans for my wedding.
While I was in Cleveland, I got a phone call from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle desk that Friday, informing me that there was indeed a strike and that I was needed to fly to Tulsa to cover the game.
Now, back in 1979, also known as the stone age to many members of Generation X, Y, Z and millennials, we did not have cell phones. Heck, we did not have portable computers. So, I had to fly back to Rochester, get my typewriter and a machine called a telecopier (clunky device that was heavy, bulky and a headache to bring on the plane -- but it sent my pages of copy back to the newspaper) and order plane tickets (had to transfer in Chicago).
I get to the hotel and I wind up doing interviews with replacement players before I had an opportunity to check in at the Williams Plaza hotel. After getting a room, I rushed out to Skelly Field, home of the Tulsa Roughnecks, where Rochester head coach Don (Dragan) Popovic was holding a tryout session with local players and others that were flown in from New York as replacement players and/or scabs.
It was chaotic, to say the least.
Popovic tried to mesh these new players together with his foreign players. After practice, the backup goalkeeper drove off in his van without Popovic ever knowing his name (he later was identified as Dan Snow).
“This team,” lamented one player, “is a joke.”
Wayne Jantis, a native of Derby, England who had been training with the Roughnecks, was among the players who participated in a 30-minute scrimmage. Asked what position he played during the half-hour session, Jantis replied: “Nowhere. Actually, it was somewhere on the left side.
Jantis performed well enough to earn a spot in the Starting XI.
Former Cosmos and Washington Diplomat goalkeeper Kurt Kuykendall played as a favor to his friend, Lancers director of operations Mike Menchel. Kuykendall, then a real estate broker who had no ambitions of returning to pro soccer, admitted he did not know anything about the Roughnecks and predicted a 7-0 Tulsa win. And for good reason. He introduced himself to his defense just before the kickoff. The starting back four included Doug Pollard, a member of the team who wound up playing three games, and replacement players Milan Dovedan, Ron Schneider and Jantis.
I raced back to the hotel and wrote a pre-game feature about that mess, which stood up for all editions. I believe the headline was:
Lancers hold an amateur hour
Then it was back to the stadium for the game.
Actually, the Lancers made the Roughnecks sweat, pulling within 3-2 before the home side struck for a pair of late insurance goals to secure a 5-2 triumph.
Before I entered the Lancers' locker room, I visited the Roughnecks room and spent a few minutes asking head coach Alan Hinton some questions about the match.
Hinton admitted that his side might have taken Rochester too lightly. “My players were a sluggish bunch,” he said. “They might have been thinking they were playing a bunch of sluggish amateurs.”
As it turned out, I did not talk to Alan one-on-one for some 37 years (there was a press conference before Soccer Bowl ’82 when the Sounders played the Cosmos, but that was a group thing).
In April, 2016, I managed to corral Alan for a much longer conversation and dialogue about his remarkable career. Fortunately, it lasted more than five minutes as I wound up writing one of my favorite all-time pieces.
I finally got an opportunity to meet up with Alan at the MLS Cup outside the Sounders' locker room at BMO Field in Toronto Dec. 10. Needless to say, Hinton was ecstatic about the result, a Seattle win in the shootout. I introduced myself and he gave me a hug.
Sometimes you don't know where the long and winding road of life will lead you.
After all those decades, it certainly was worth the wait.