In 1975, global soccer superstar Pele had done it all, won three World Cups, owned the Guiness Book of World Record for goals scored, and was the greatest of all time. But somehow the New York Cosmos, part of the upstart National American Soccer League, convinced him to come out of retirement and join their club, hoping to spur interest in the game in America.
And on June 23rd, 1976. Pele and the Cosmos came to play the Chicago Sting at Soldier Field, home of course of the monsters of the midway, the Chicago Bears. Sting owner Lee Stern, never one to not see a good publicity idea, arranged for Bears owner George Halas to stop by before the game for a photo op.
And now here’s the classic Chicago backstory. Sting P.R. man Wally Elliott got his firefighter friend Mario Tricoci, who owned a super 8 film camera, a press pass that day. And it was good that he did, because Mario shot the footage we’re watching, the only known footage in existence, complete with old man Halas paling around with Pele. Two icons of sport, having a bit of fun on the gridiron. Says Elliott, “you could feel the aura around Pele, it was like being in the presence of greatness.”
As for the game that day? Pele and the Cosmos were overmatched by the Sting, losing 4-1.
Backstory airs Saturday nights at 7 p.m. and Sunday nights at 11 p.m. on WGN-TV and on the WGN+ app, available on Amazon, Roku, Apple TV, and any smart TV.
Check out the Backstory podcast at WGNtv.com/Backstory via Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.