Pedro Garay (left) guarded Pele (right). (Photo courtesy of John McDermott)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Pedro Garay remembered the incident well. It was 1975 and Pele and the New York Cosmos were visiting the Boston Minutemen.

“We were at Boston University’s Nickerson Field and from what I understand, they sold 21,000 tickets in a stadium that seated 11,000,” Garay told me years ago.

“The fans were around the field like ants. Pele scored a goal, but it was disallowed because of a foul. The fans raced onto the field and went after Pele, who had fallen to the ground. I found him and I draped over him. At that particular time, it was a matter of ducking and trying not to get hurt.”

Punches were thrown and kicks were attempted, but Pele and Garay, the 39-year-old Cuban refugee, survived in one piece. Garay, who became Pele’s bodyguard, made sure it never happened again.

[Garay left during the 1959 revolution for the USA. He worked for a while as a credit and collections manager for New York hotels, according to newspaper reports. There also were reports that Garay was part of the United States’ Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba in April 1961. Then 37, Garay was moonlighting as a security man for Warner Communications (the Cosmos’ owners) when he was asked to be Pele’s bodyguard.

“Rumor was that he had been involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion, but I never got any sort of ‘proof,’ “ said Jim Trecker, the former Cosmos public relations director who went onto similar capacities with the NASL and World Cup USA 1994. “I always wondered whether it was a self-mythology.”]

Not surprisingly, Cosmos president Clive Toye was adamant about security at future games. “Unless I am personally assured, he is going to be safe, Pele will not play in Rochester or any other place in America,” he said. “He is too precious a person to be treated like he was here [Boston]. I am going to make sure of his safety, even if I have to get the United States Marines.”

Marines were not needed for the game in Rochester, though a club-record 14,562 fans jammed Holleder Stadium. It turned out to be a historic night for Rochester sports as another 14,081 fans, the largest crowd at Silver Stadium in nine years, watched the Rochester Red Wings lose to the Toledo Mud Hens (baseball fans had come to see a list of baseball personalities, led by then commissioner Bowie Kuhn and former Red Wings, as well as post-game fireworks).

Pele’s exit from Holleder after a 3-0 win was far different from his Nickerson departure. Instead of going home, fans stood outside the Cosmos locker room, hoping for a look at the superstar and perhaps an autograph. Garay was forced to use another strategy.

“There were so many people hanging around trying to get to Pele, to touch him or get an autograph, that to get him to the bus, Pedro, [Warner Communications head of security], Lou Luca and myself made a three-man wedge like blocking for a running back, with Pele in the center,” said Sports Vue Interactive executive editor Charlie Cuttone, who worked for the Cosmos at the time.

Pele left the stadium for a flight to Washington, D.C., where he met President Ford the next day.

While he downplayed his role as Pele’s bodyguard, Garay accompanied the Brazilian soccer superstar to ensure his safety, particularly from unruly crowds.

Back in the day, Pele was one of the few athletes in the world with a bodyguard. When he chased Babe Ruth’s baseball home run record in 1973, the Atlanta Braves’ Henry Aaron had one for several months after death threats were made against him.

“In the beginning, he [Garay] was primarily a bodyguard, but as time passed, he also became Pele’s private secretary,” said Prof. Julio Mazzei, Pele’s confidant. “He is with Pele most of the time. He has become a great brother.”

Garay added: “I think the word is a little bit misused. Pele doesn’t need any bodyguard. I’m not armed.

“I like security, but I’m not included to make a stadium a police state.”

Garay left Cuba during the 1959 revolution. After leaving the Caribbean, he lived in Miami and New York City. He was moonlighting as a security man for Warner Communications [the Cosmos’ owners] when he was asked to be the Black Pearl’s bodyguard.

“Pele’s a very gentle person,” Garay said. “He’s very humble. He’s not controversial. He’s not a put-on. What you see of him in public is really him.”

There were no major incidents since the Boston affair, Garay noted.

“The Boston incident was the worst security problem we’ve had,” he said. “It was just an over-reaction of people wanting to see and touch Pele. Most of the teams in the league really cooperate. They really understand where you’re coming from.”

The Lancers cooperated with the Cosmos for next time he played in Rochester in 1977. They had 20 policemen assigned to the stadium and parking lot, 12 more than usual, general manager Dick Kraft said. Ten security guards were added for crowd control at a place where fans have been known for their rowdiness. An additional eight policemen will patrol the stadium area in cars, Kraft added.

To accommodate the expected overflow crowd, temporary bleachers seating of 3,000 will be put up in the east end of the stadium. There were 10 tickets sellers instead of the usual two.

The Lancers also gave the Cosmos a police escort to the stadium.

“That will be a first for us,” Garay said. “There’s a fence around the field, but I don’t think that will be a problem. I want to talk to them about security in the locker room area. Two years ago, they had many fans asking for autographs.”