Pele composed music while New York was blacked out. (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
July 13-14 was the 41st anniversary of the great 1977 blackout in New York City. At the time, the Cosmos were preparing to travel to upstate New York to play the Rochester Lancers. Here is what it was like for the Cosmos as they tried to get out of the dark and the city.
By Michael Lewis
Rochester, N.Y. – Who says Rochester doesn’t offer anything to the world?
It has electricity and hot and cold running water. In fact, it seemed like the Garden of Eden to a pair of Cosmos superstars yesterday.
Because of the power blackout in New York City, soccer greats Pele and Franz Beckenbauer had their troubles finding their way to Rochester.
Pele and Beckenbauer, who live in Manhattan, were given misinformation about the departure time of the team plane.
“I heard from the radio that all flights were being delayed,” Pele said.
Most of the team lives in New Jersey or Long Island, which was unaffected by the blackout.
Both missed the flight and a big press conference in their honor, but eventually arrived here on separate afternoon flights.
“It’s great to be in Rochester, said Pele, whose team plays the Rochester Lancers in a North American Soccer League game at Holleder Stadium at 8 o’clock tonight. The Lancers expect to sell out the 18,000-seat stadium.
“And their water is so beautiful,” Pele added.
Both players came in unshaven. “We had no water, no electricity,” Beckenbauer said. “Nothing.”
Beckenbauer said he paid out of his pocket for the trip — $12 for the cab far and $42 for the one-way flight to Rochester.
“I called Mike Martin [Cosmos general manager] at 8 in the morning and he told me that maybe we’d taken an afternoon flight,” he said. “But when I got to the terminal for the flight, the team wasn’t there.”
Only the night before, the two players spent an evening unbecoming to soccer superstars. They were having dinner with coach Eddie Firmani and nine other guests after the apartment of Cosmos assistant coach Julio Mazzei. That’s when the blackout struck. Elevator service was knocked out and they were 33 stories up and too far from home. So Pele and Beckenbauer roughed it and slept on the floor with the guests.
“I finally left in the morning — down 33 floors, then up 11 to get my equipment and then down 11 again. It’s good training and practice.”
Firmani stayed at the offices of Warner Communications, the club’s owners, for the day. He is expected in Rochester for tonight’s game.
“It was a very exciting night,” said Mazzei, Pele’s confidant. “I never realized something like this could happen in New York.
“People were screaming in the elevator. For Pele, it was time to relax. We had dessert, then he telephoned Brazil to tell his family everything was all right. A little later he composed some music.”
Mazzei and Pele found their own ways to the airport. Mazzei had to leave at 6 a.m. to pick up new teammate Carlos Alberto from Brazil at JFK Airport.
Like the adventures of Pele and Beckenbauer, the Cosmos’s season has been one surprise after another. In certain respects, it sounds like the New York Yankees all over again.
They were a team picked to win it all by many experts. The Cosmos are in first place in the Eastern Division, but they have only a 12-9 record.
When Beckenbauer arrived from Germany last month, forward Giorgio Chinaglia said that the German defender was not needed. The team’s management has been accused of picking players for the starting lineup.
There have been reports of fighting among the players. Team president Clive Toye, who coaxed Pele out of retirement, was forced to resign. And it was only last week that Gordon Bradley resigns to become director of player personnel so Firmani could be named coach.
\”With all the personality problems we’ve had we’ve tried know to let them snowball,” Cosmos captain and defender Werner Roth said. “There have been a lot of changes made this year and whether they’re for the good or bad of the team, changes always seem to upset a team more. We’ve had our waves and I think there’s calm waters in the future.”
Well, perhaps not in the near future as the Cosmos fell to the Lancers in a North American Soccer League-style shootout that Friday night. However, calmer waters did appear in August as the Cosmos won their second NASL crown, the Soccer Bowl, defeating the Seattle Sounders in Portland, Ore. But that’s another story for another time.