The Miramax movie Once In a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos opens tomorrow. I found it enthralling and farcical. It deals with a great failed effort, to get soccer going in the United States, back in the 70s, when Warner boss Steve Ross brought Beckenbauer, Chinaglia and—yes—Pele to New York. Kissinger was needed to get Pele here. Kissinger sat down for the film; Pele didn’t.
The theme of the movie is sort of, You never know what can happen in life. Here were a group of schlemiels, the Cosmos, who were suddenly playing with the greatest soccer player in the world. The best of them, Shep Messing, accepted this sudden change with awe and humor.
The guy who covered the Cosmos for the Daily News, soccer rebbe David Hirshey, also shows up in the film, and makes the same point in his article about the movie on the ESPN site: “I realized my love of soccer was an easy pass to a life I would have never otherwise known. “
This World Cup has launched Hirshey (an editor at HarperCollins; he did my last book) as a writer. hen again maybe Dillon just wanted to get up close to the Gisele Bundchen doppelganger who was whispering in my ear as I scribbled my name on her program. Or perhaps he had overheard her opening line to me — “I’ve heard so much about you, I always wanted to meet you.” I’m just glad Dillon had moved on before the Brazilian bombshell uttered her next line: “My mother was Pelé’s longtime assistant. I wasn’t born when you were doing your book with him.”
Following my lifelong policy of always being gracious to 19-year-old, thong-wearing daughters of old friends, I said, “I remember your mother,” as memories of 1977 began dancing in my head like a Pelé stepover. There will never be another Cosmos. Big names may come over here eventually — Beckham, Ronaldo, Zidane — but they’ll all be past their prime, and they’ll be doing it for the money. We had guys who were at their peak — Beckenbauer, myself, [Johan] Neeskens — and we were on a mission.”
Whether the Cosmos accomplished the mission is open to debate. Certainly, they planted the flag of soccer in the soil of the grassroots movement that today has 18 million American kids playing the sport in the United States.
And they did one other thing that may be even more enduring: They made me into a movie star.