By Michael Lewis
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Saturday’s gathering at the Jesse H. Geigle Funeral Home was a bittersweet reunion and experience for many of those who showed up.
Bitter because family, friends and the soccer community were mourning the death of former Rochester Lancers captain and U.S. men’s national team player Jim Pollihan.
Sweet because they got an opportunity honor and memorialize a man who meant so much to so many people for so many different reasons.
Pollihan passed away on Feb. 13, at the age of 68, one day shy of his 69th birthday.
Several hundred individuals packed a room in the funeral home.
Pollihan’s wife, Barb, daughter Madison, his family from St. Louis, and many friends and former teammates he made while playing for the Baltimore Blast and then coaching Harrisburg Heat attended the celebration of life.
That included four Lancers teammates – goalkeeper Jim May, defenders Nelson Cupello and Don Droege and midfielder Kevin Gannon and members of the 1974 Brockport State NCAA championship team – who traveled from afar to honor their long-time friend. After he retired, Pollihan played for a Brockport men’s team in many competitions.
Droege, a former USMNT teammate, roomed with Pollihan, and had known him for 50 years. He remembered a lesson in loyalty when the Lancers were in San Diego for training camp in 1978.
Dragan (Don) Popovic was Lancers coach back then. To say Popovic laid down strict rules was an understatement.
“We had a coach whose rules were: no drinking, no sun. and no women. But we broke all those rules,” Droege told the audience.
Several American players, including goalkeeper Jim Roth, May, Pollihan and Droege got a six-pack to drink some beers while they were doing their laundry at the team hotel. They threw the empty cans in a trash can.
“He [Popovic] saw that there were beer cans in the can. We’re in trouble,” Droege said.
Popovic sent trainer Joe Sirianni to their room to find out who was drinking the beer.
“Well, Jim, because he was the captain and he was the guy that would be getting the most trouble and not be in trouble, took the blame for it,” Droege said, adding that Sirianni said, ” ‘You’re gone tomorrow. They’re taking you back to New York, and they’re going to trade you.’ Little did we know that Popovic is listening outside the room here. I stood up and said, ‘Joe, you take Jim, take me out. I quit.’ ”
May followed suit.
No one was traded, as Pollihan had made his point with his stand.
“That the best of the best and I’m so proud to be a friend,” Droege said, adding that Pollihan embodied the philosophy, ‘I will be here for you for whatever you need guys.’ He’s the guy that I’d say I love. You don’t say that often to guys. But I loved him.”
Pollihan was godfather to May’s first son.
“Never met a better guy,” he said. “He just he was a gentleman. Great athlete, great teammate. He wouldn’t be just one of those guys. If you picked up the phone and said, ‘Jimmy, I need 20 grand or I need this or I need that,’ he wouldn’t even wave his hand. We were fortunate enough to have him.”
The Lancers have honored Pollihan with a moment of silence at their Major Arena Soccer League 2 home games at the Total Sports Experience in East Rochester, N.Y.