With Brazilian legend Pele celebrating his 70th birthday today, I asked coach Sigi Schmid and technical director Chris Henderson about the times they crossed paths with the man generally considered the sport’s greatest player.
“When I was a young kid … we were playing for a team called the Toros at the time,” Schmid said. “And one time we had the pregame before Santos played, and I was holding the ball for our team and they came off the field and Pele said, ’Hey.’ I threw him the ball, he juggled, knocked it back to me. I juggled a little bit – as best I could at that time. And I found a scrap of paper … on the floor, and somebody gave me a pen and I got Pele to sign me an autograph. It’s on a little green flier paper that I still have at home and saved. So, I crossed paths with him there. I crossed paths with him later … at a couple of symposiums, and we talked. It’s one of those things that I remember meeting him, he probably doesn’t remember meeting me.”
Henderson also had a Pele story.
“We did a video together before the 1994 World Cup,” he said. “It was me and three other national team players with Pele in Mission Viejo. He flew out and spent a week there, and we were with him every day. We were on the field doing the video and spending time with him and it was one of the best weeks of my life: to hear the stories and talk to him and hear how he was coaching kids. It was a great week. I still have the video. It’s on VHS, so my kids can’t watch it. It was great. When I was 8 years old I saw him play in the Kingdome. He was a legend.”