I’ve been extremely fortunate to meet some of my “heroes.” Are they heroes per se or just people that I admired that I knew a lot about them and wanted to mimic their actions and success? It could be one or the other…or both I suppose. The earliest memory I have of meeting someone I look up to was when I was a fledgling soccer player in Texas and thanks to some of my father’s contacts I was able to attend a camp for youth players with members of the Houston Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were part of the North American Soccer League in the 70s. They basically did what the MLS did and still does to a point; bring over popular European players that may have aged out. Players like Pele, George Best of England, Franz Beckenbauer from Germany, Johann Cryuff of Holland and many others. The marquee player for Houston at the time was the American Kyle Rote Jr.
Attending the camp was much as you would expect; about 20-30 kids, who couldn’t pass or trap a ball. Loads of yelling by players who were acting as coaches and so on. This camp was in the Houston Astrodome. It was turf. Nothing like the turf we have now. It was basically plastic blades of “grass” on top of cement. No padding. Nothing to protect you in case of falling. I’m not sure how the American Football players played for very long on that stuff.
Rote showed up about an hour into the camp and we all crowded around him. He talked to all of us and made time to ensure that we felt appreciated to be there. It just so happened that the Hurricanes were to play the NY Cosmos later that evening. And guess who played for the Cosmos back then? Pele. The one and only.
Pele showed up as the camp was finishing. We were given soccer balls and t-shirts as part of the camp experience. But guess who didn’t get their ball signed? Yep. I wasn’t sure who he even was, only that he could move the ball around, even in street clothes, as if it was a part of his body. Through the years, that ball would show up on occasion. My parents would remind me to get it from them and it would be forgotten. When my dad passed away my mother gave a lot of stuff away or threw it away to downsize to a condo from a house. After she passed and I was going through the remainder of their things she did keep, I remembered that ball. It was nowhere to be found sadly. It’s funny the little things that you miss the most when they’re gone.