Reflecting on Pelé as he turns 77
Yesterday was soccer legend Pelé’s birthday. I spent some of the day contemplating the Brazilian great, particularly how our lives intersected. I, of course, never knew Pelé. I was too young to remember seeing him play, although my Dad assures me that I did. Pelé was an enshrined legend by the time I ever turned out for Atlanta’s Phoenix Sting U8s. Still his legend loomed over those suburban fields mobbed with a generation of American soccer players.
Soccer was already a part of my family life, so there is no doubt I would have touched a soccer ball. It was Pelé who made me want to live with a soccer ball. To proclaim myself Pelé as a tried to drive past my brother in the backyard, to practice wall passes against the garage door, to look forward with desperate anticipation to gameday when I dreamed of emulating the legend in front of the goal.
When I wasn’t playing I was devouring books and magazines about the Brazilian legend, along with any other great players in NASL teams. I’m relatively certain I met one of my best friends when I gave a book report to my fourth grade class on a Pelé biography, while dressed up in my soccer uniform. That struck up a conversation about soccer that we are still having to this day.
When the NASL, and with it, soccer’s celebrity moment in American culture faded, Pelé’s ghost loomed large. With no league and certainly no player to replace him, he was the forever “go-to” for greatness in the American game.
Here is a great read on the legacy of Pelé from Michael Lewis writing for The Guardian.