July 14, 2006


Cosmos a 'Lifetime' of memories for Messing (JOHN GENZALE, 7/14/06, Chicago Sun-Times)

[P]erhaps the most interesting character in the drama of goals, greed and girls was Shep Messing, the U.S. goalkeeper who was a native New Yorker and probably the least comfortable of all the Cosmos.

Messing was a key character on the team of stars put together by Warner Communications chairman Steve Ross years before most American parents were driving their kids to soccer practice. The Cosmos roster also included Pele, the world's greatest player; Franz Beckenbauer, the German soccer icon who led his country to World Cup titles as both player and coach, and the charismatic Italian idol Giorgio Chinaglia.

Messing is a key character in a new documentary that chronicles the rise and fall of the Cosmos, a team that was playing in a dilapidated facility on Randall's Island when Ross tried to turn them into the world's most glamorous club.

''Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos'' has been released in the United States to coincide with the close of the World Cup in Germany.

''The film captures the chaotic story of the Cosmos,'' said Messing, who served as a color commentator for some of the World Cup matches on ESPN. While other North American Soccer League teams were drawing crowds that wouldn't fill an elevator, the Cosmos of the '70s were putting 70,000 butts in Giants Stadium seats and vying with the Yankees, Mets and Jets for the city's ink -- and were known as much for wild team parties and sex on planes as their on-field exploits. [...]

The reluctant goalkeeper, who excelled at baseball, basketball and football, became a soccer player ''because my high school stunk at the real sports but had a championship soccer team,'' he said. Messing hitchhiked to St. Louis in 1972 to try out for the U.S. Olympic team. [...]

He recently sold the rights to his 1979 book, The Education of an American Soccer Player, to Brian Helgeland, who optioned it to Sony and has written a script with the working title ''Messing.''

His book is worthwhile just for his first hand experience of the '72 Olympics (where West Germany peppered him with something like 70 shots on goal), where he'd befriended several Israeli athletes. If I recall correctly, he heard the games had been resumed from a stunned Duane Bobick, who was practically sleep-walking his way to the boxing venue where he'd been told on a moment's notice to go for his bout with Teofilo Stevenson. His impressions of Mark Spitz are interesting too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 14, 2006 1:43 PM

I interviewed Messing once, and his recollection of the Germany game in the Olympics was hilarious. At one point he was so disoriented from blocking the fusilade of shots that he had his back to the field, and a German forward's shot hit him in the back of the head and bounced away harmlously.

Posted by: Foos at July 14, 2006 2:27 PM