Actress Gina Lollobrigida at Holleder Stadium in 1974. That’s Charlie Schiano, then the Rochester Lancers’ chairman of the board, and Pat Dinolfo, then the team president, on the right. We believe that is TV sportscaster Ron DeFrance looking at the camera. (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Lancers)

Actress Gina Lollobrigida died on Monday. She was 95. Lollobrigida attended the Rochester Lancers’ home opener in 1974 and was scheduled to kick out the ceremonial ball. Here is a quick account of that story from Michael Lewis’ book ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers:

Finally, the Lancers played at home, at an improved venue at that. Aquinas Stadium was renamed Major Don Holleder Memorial Stadium, in memory of a former Aquinas Institute standout and Army All-American, who was killed in a Viet Cong ambush on Oct. 21, 1967. The City of Rochester purchased the stadium from Aquinas, which did not want to be associated by name with the venue, because many citizens assumed that the school was operating it.

Vice Mayor John Parrinello had proposed that the stadium be renamed Municipal Memorial Stadium, before Lancers chairman of the board and City Council member Charlie Schiano put forth a resolution that would use Holleder in its name. It was approved on Aug. 14, 1973.

The revitalized venue included locker rooms – the team had been forced to shower at Jefferson High School in recent seasons – and more grass on the field. As an added attraction at the home opener, actress Gina Lollobrigida was scheduled to kick out the ceremonial ball. There was one slight problem, however. She never got to the field. The game started while she was walking down from the press box to the field.

Lollobrigida wasn’t interested in the game. “I haven’t been to a soccer game in years,” she told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “The last time I was supposed to go to one, I was involved in a traffic accident on the
way, and never got there.”

What Lollobrigida and 7,555 spectators witnessed on a cold and windy Sunday afternoon on May 26, was another frustrating offensive display for the Lancers, who dropped a 2-1 decision to another expansion team, the San Jose Earthquakes.

Their performance was so poor that Lancers head coach Bill Hughes threatened some changes four games into the season. “We’re working on a short-term project,” he said. “The schedule is only 20 games long, and we can’t afford to stand pat. We gave a poor effort today — our worst game of the season — and there will be some changes.”

Boris Bandov gave San Jose the lead on the hour, before Tommy Ord equalized two minutes later. Paul Child headed in the game-winner in the 80th minute.

During his postgame press conference, Hughes didn’t make a positive first impression. Rochester dropped another game to an expansion team, in their home opener. “It was pretty embarrassing,” business manager and public relations director Jim Paglia said.

When Hughes was asked about the team defense, Hughes replied, according to Paglia: “He said,
excuse me, you need to speak to my assistant coach [George Burnett], he handles the defense.”

“I looked at Mr. Petrossi and said, ‘We’re screwed,’” Paglia added, referring to team owner John Petrossi said. “This guy, first of all, doesn’t take responsibility for his team. And No. 2, he thinks you can divide a soccer team into offense and defense. Sal DeRosa [assistant general manager] was sitting next to us. Sal had a way of slapping his forehead with the palm of his hand. Those two guys [DeRosa, the assistant GM, and Hughes] did not get along well. … I know enough about soccer to know there is no such thing as offense and defense. You play both at all times. It doesn’t matter what part of the field you’re on.”

If you want to read more about the Rochester Lancers, you can buy the book here: