Forty years on, it remains a remarkable match. Not only did it captivate American soccer’s growing audience of the day and provide a fairytale finish for a global legend, Soccer Bowl ’77 also cast the pathway, for better or worse, for a club and a country seeking to development a professional presence.
For those who witnessed the NASL final between the glamorous New York Cosmos and unfashionable (outside Cascadia) yet fearless Seattle Sounders, it left an indelible mark on the memory. Just a glimpse of the video or photos awakens the senses.
Of course, there was the epic backdrop: a gray, late summer Sunday afternoon, Portland’s Civic Stadium crammed full of 35,548 spectators, some sitting cross-legged on the artificial turf, just a few feet from the field’s boundaries.
There is the ‘Oh, no!’ moment of a partially deaf Sounders keeper being fleeced of the ball for the game’s opening goal. There is the rapid reply of Seattle to equalize, the relentless pressure and the sheer openness–rarely found in a final–that leads to dozens of chances (22 shots on target, two others by Seattle off the frame itself). And there is the chaotic scene at the final whistle, the crowd streaming onto the pitch and the shirtless Pelé running and hugging his teammates.
To understand one fan’s fixation on the 1977 Sounders, chat-up a Mariners diehard born in the playoff drive of ’95. Or the Sonics reversal of ’78 or Seahawks’ ascension of ’83.
There have always been fans, vociferous fans, surrounding the Sound. Especially early on, they became enamored with any team courageous enough to stitch ‘Seattle’ on their chest. They go to games, they make a lot of noise and develop their favorite performers.
Yet when the stakes are raised and a potential title comes into sight, suddenly the relationship elevates to an emotional level bordering on kinship. Fervor takes hold. And at that point, it’s no longer casual; it’s a lifetime commitment. And so it was in the summer of ’77, for me and the Sounders.
Forty Years in the Making
This coming Sunday evening, some fellow Boomers will wax nostalgic as a few choice idols from our youth stride between the lines once more on Occidental. Ten in all, among them Davey Butler, Dave Gillett, Adrian Webster and their coaches, Jimmy Gabriel and Bobby Howe. It’s now been 40 years to the month since they took the city by storm.
Much like the ’95 midseason M’s, by June of 1977 Gabriel’s lads looked mediocre. A 3-nil defeat at Portland sank them to 4-7.
At just about the time everyone was writing off that team’s postseason prospects, Gabriel pulled the trigger on a deadline trade, acquiring a nondescript journeyman while effectively sending a longtime fan favorite (Butler) to the bench. Often times, however, it’s the subtleties that can produce pure magic.
No Ord-inary Tommy
Soon enough, their new everyman striker, Tommy Ord, became a local lord, sensationally achieving the club’s first hat trick to open his account. And Butler, who’d been mired in a two-month scoring drought, would spring to life as a supersub, scoring four times.
Contemporary Sounders fans recognize the formula. Remember late in 2016, the signing of Nico Lodeiro, the reemergence of Nelson Valdez and going from doormat to destroyer? Well, kids, that was the ’77 Sounders.
In winning seven straight to open August, the Sounders were transformed from unwatchable to irresistible, from also-ran to giant killer. In running the table over three weeks, Seattle first rose above .500, then clinched a playoff berth before proceeding to knock-out three higher seeds, all due to improbable road victories.
I listened to the radio call of the last of those away wins, 3-1 over Georgie Best and LA, while winding my way up the 101 to Port Townsend and a soccer camp run by ex-Sounder Roy Sinclair and Geoff Wall. Three days later, stricken by Sounders fever, I did something very un-Frank-like.
Along with three friends (and a willing ballerina from the dance camp next door) I went AWOL from camp. The reason: Seattle was hosting the Aztecs for a place in the NASL final that evening, and I felt compelled to be there. Heck, we all did. Even the ballerina.
It was worth it. We each converged on the Kingdome box office to buy singles for that night’s semifinal. Already 56,000 seats had been sold. Fortunately, I found space in the north end, where Jocky Scott headed home the only goal.
When Jocky scored, when that primal roar of the crowd was trapped within a concrete tomb, it was literally deafening, at least for the moment.
It’s a vivid memory: Scott hugging Ord in the corner. Strangers hugging strangers in the stands. Later, a lap of honor before the enraptured fans, Webster wearing a huge floral horse collar, a la Seattle Slew, that spring’s Triple Crown winner. It’s an experience that’s seared into your being.
This Sunday, I’m that 17-year-old all-in fan all over again. Although I’m now on a first-name basis with those protagonists of my teens, my admiration has only grown. I get to shadow them as they make the rounds from Fuel to the NINETY to the Golden Scarf ceremony, all the while renewing acquaintances with other fans of a certain age.
It wasn’t just a seminal summer for me, but for them as well. In the wake of that season, Doug Thiel published the first Sounders book, All the Best. Webster’s now written a book about that side. He and Butler have returned to the city after decades away to see firsthand what they hath wrought, those many years ago, a soccer community like none other in North America.
August of ’77 was a time to behold, no matter what the eventual outcome against the Cosmos. It was a tale of unfinished business, a task finally completed by the Rave 39 years later.
Times such as the ’77 Soccer Bowl run should be preserved, shared and, yes, celebrated with coming generations. Nine, 19 and 29 years from now, let’s make a pact to meet here again, to share a story or two from one special late summer and fall of 2016, stories of resilience and reawakening, to once again applaud the likes of Schmetz and Frei, Nico and Nelson, and to celebrate when you truly became a Sounder for life.
I became a Sounder ’til I die in August of ’77. How about you?
NOTE: 1977 Sounders will make a series of pregame appearances August 20. It begins at 3pm at Fuel Sports. From 5-5:40pm you can catch them at The NINETY and from 6-6:30pm at Soccer Celebration in the Northwest Marshaling Area of CenturyLink Field. Finally, they will participate in the Golden Scarf ceremony at approximately 6:50pm.
Play is about to begin in the English Premier League, and that means summer is over for Arlo White. The former Sounders FC broadcaster begins his fifth season as EPL play-by-play voice for the NBC Sports Group with a whirlwind of assignments. All this comes after the Whites vacationed at some iconic American destinations.
Arlo White may have returned to his native England, but he always holds America close to his heart, not to mention some clubs that, like his beloved Leicester City, enjoyed profound success in the past year.
Your summer is a short one and the English season is about to begin. Are you able to get breaks for off-field fun during the EPL season?
During the season–and it’s a long season, some nine and half months–every time there’s a FIFA break or an FA Cup weekend and the Premier League teams are idle, my daughters are in school. And every time their school is on vacation, I’m working on Premier League games. It’s very, very difficult to spend any quality time together. As soon as the season ends in May, we head off to some place nice, like the beach, just to decompress a little bit at the end of the season.
People following on Twitter saw you share postcards from some great destinations these past few years. How long were these trips in the works?
During winter months, we are busy planning our next American adventure. In 2015, we went to Florida to do Disney and did a bit of a road trip down to Naples, and it gave us a taste for something a little bit more expansive. Last summer we landed in San Francisco. We drove to Yosemite, we drove back to Los Angeles and did the great Pacific Coast Highway and it was fantastic. This year we differed slightly, and planned it meticulously. We landed in Las Vegas, drove to the Grand Canyon, then Palm Springs, Santa Monica, down to San Diego and then flew to Chicago where I spent four nights with my family which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Seattle. Hopefully that will be part of a future trip. We love our U.S. vacations and road trips. We’ve developed a little bit of a soft spot for California as well.