Pelé, Eusébio & Me: A Security Problem Waiting to Happen

[See here an excerpt from Chapter 1 of “Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, HiddenHistories and the Making of Soccer in America, a manuscript now in the final editing stage and scheduled for publication in 2021.]

1. Hotbeds
When they came for Pelé that brisk June night, the locals ripped the shirt from his back. They got one of his shoes, too, and tore his shorts. Not the way to treat a global sporting icon, we can agree, but those American soccer fans of pitch-invasion age (let’s call it eighteen to twenty-five) didn’t know from matters of soccer etiquette, not back then, not halfway through the ever-so-brief Ford Administration, not so early in the game’s modern evolution upon these shores. When, in their misplaced excitement, they had finished with the 34-year-old Brazilian and some semblance of on-field order had been restored, Pelé was not seriously hurt. But he did lie prostrate for a time (and a bit freaked out, surely) on the weirdly verdant Astroturf at Nickerson Field. His tying goal, late and dramatic, was exactly what we’d all come to see, or hoped to see. That’s precisely why and when stormed the field in communal spasms of ecstasy and adulation. That’s what happens, we the faithful discovered that fateful night, when a flesh-and-blood savior comes to town and over-delivers.

The year was 1975. I was ten and three-quarters years of age. My father had chaperoned a few soccer teammates and me to our first-ever professional match: Boston Minutemen home to New York Cosmos. Up and out way past our bedtimes, we innocents were eyewitnesses to this madcap scene, to its confusing aftermath, to the new era it signaled. Capacity had been greatly exceeded that late-spring evening. This was obvious in the moment. The next morning, that situation would form the basis of hand-wringing accounts from a variety of Boston-area journalists — “a security problem just waiting to happen,” they tut-tutted. To my friends and me, this judgment seemed tone deaf and priggish. The good-natured mauling of soccer’s most august ambassador was, in fact, just one of several equally important, thrilling takeaways. First, our Minutemen won this game, 2-1, in overtime. Next, we watched American-born Benny Brewster and Shep Messing help them do so, first hand. Yes, Pelé Salvador was carried from the field — but we soon saw him, with our own wide eyes, get up and walk the earth again, right there on the sideline below. What’s more, for us, it was the broader tableau inclusive of all this stimuli — almost cinematic in scope and shock value — that made our hair stand on end. It seemed to our impressionable, ten-year-old brains that most of metropolitan Boston had flooded these modest premises to experience something truly massive and historic, something uproarious and unpredictable. Something almost holy.

We stood the full 90. Our serendipitous place in this passion play was a mere causeway, an interstitial place between places: a featureless concrete thoroughfare raised up in Brutalist fashion behind the west goal. Before and below us the action unfolded unobstructed, the spillover crowd enveloping the field in a picture-frame of living, breathing, hooting and hollering humanity. During the match this pending security issue moved and morphed like an amoeba, fattening in places only to thin back out, shifting sideways and backwards but never losing its internal, rectangular integrity where it met the field of play — that is, until Pelé struck from just outside the box some 20 minutes from full time. Behind us loomed a trio of high-rise Boston University dormitories. I remember craning my neck to see their many windows all filled with young, ticketless spectators. Beyond the opposite goal, the Boston city skyline twinkled in dark repose over the monolithic man-made horizon that was the Massachusetts Turnpike. For a soccer-mad kid like myself, this was the stuff of some baroque fantasy become real, for I could never have conjured such a scene without having witnessed it with my own waking eyes. 


HH Flashback: Misery Can Neither Be Created Nor Destroyed

[See here an archival excerpt from The Harold Herald, the world’s first blog, a form I invented in the early 1990s. Yeah, I did… One of the things that made the HH special, and thereby transcend the as-yet-created blog genre, was a stable of talented contributors. Dave Rose was one of these, and here we reprint one of my favorite bits of his, first published circa 1995, when global CO2 levels were still rather quaint. Many have recognized The Small Batch as rivival of The Herald. See more archival tidbits here, here and here. It’s more accurate to call TSB a spiritual godchild of HH.]


BOSTON, Mass. — From a meteorological perspective, this winter has been a particularly difficult one in New England. The ground here has been snow-covered for at least a month, and each time the snow begins to retreat a new storm sets in, dumping a foot or two of the white stuff on the city’s long-suffering populace.

In times like these, even the most stalwart, Eastern masochist can cast an admiring eye to the South or West, imagining more comfortable — if less character-building — Februarys. In weaker moments we are all capable of believing we would be less miserable if only the weather were better.

What few people realize, however, is that misery — like matter, energy or gravity — is a measurable entity subject to strict physical laws. Paramount among these is the law of conservation of misery, which states that misery can be neither created nor destroyed. What the law of conservation of misery means is that each human being is subject to a fixed quantity of misery during his or her lifetime. This “misery quotient” is absolutely immutable, a constant that holds across socioeconomic groups and geographic boundaries.

The law can be demonstrated in the field by measuring and tabulating misery in test subjects by using sensitive, electronic monitoring equipment. In the following study, diary entries for three individuals are followed by the amount of misery experienced by each, expressed in misery units (MU).

Subject 1, Los Angeles, Calif.

Day 1: Beautiful day. Saw Erik Estrada at Arby’s (.002 MU)

Day 2: Beautiful day. Discussed Rolfing with a Scientologist. (22.001 MU)

Day 3: Beautiful day. Around noon my house ripped loose from its foundation, slid down a hill, burst into flames and was swallowed up by a huge fissure that opened in the Earth. I was trapped for four weeks and was forced to drink by own urine to survive. One of the paramedics looked just like Kevin Bacon in Footloose. (1223.12 MU)

Subject 2, Tallahassee, Fla.

Day 1: Beautiful day. Stayed in the trailer and ran the air conditioner. (.003 MU)

Day 2: Beautiful day. Noticed that some, but by no means all, of my neighbors bear a striking resemblance to Gomer Pyle. (12.4 MU)

Day 3: The morning was beautiful, but in the afternoon I was mistaken for a German tourist and shot in the head, doused with gasoline, and set afire during a hurricane that destroyed the entire trailer park. (1232.72 MU)

Subject 3, Boston, Mass.

Day 1: Mixture of snow and sleet. Frostbite in right foot. (415.041 MU)

Day 2: Mixture of snow and freezing rain. My right foot has become gangrenous, and the stench is unbearable (415.041 MU)

Day 3: More snow. However, I reflected today that my house remains intact and this gave me a sense of stability and well-being. Right foot amputated. (415.041 MU)

Note the three subjects had very different experiences during the test period. However, the total amount of misery endured by each subject is identical (1245.123 MU).

While life in Boston is characterized by an endless series of petty humiliations and annoyances, life to the South or West consists of long stretches of inane, vapid, colorless contentment punctuated by absolute cataclysm. You can take your pick, but you can’t avoid misery altogether.

And before you move to warmer climes, consider the fact that spring will bring nicer weather to Boston, whereas Gomer Pyle lives in Tallahassee year ’round.

Herald Science Editor David Rose, PhD, is among the world’s foremost authority on suffering. While he still gets a charge from the warranted misfortune of others, he specializes in chance trauma and self-imposed misery. He once dieted for two weeks on nothing but chicken boullion and carrots. His latest book, “I’m Wretched, You’re Wretched” (Knopf, $14.95), was published in February.